I always loved those long psychedelic jams, the real ones, back when the minds of players and fans were psychedelicized, to quote the Chambers Brothers. We were just on our way up Pacific Coast Highway a bit ago when the hippie station on Sirius (“Deep Tracks”) played “Liberation” by the Chicago Transit Authority. They were a pretty good band then, when they had the long name, doing an updated Electric Flag thing, I guess, less blues and more charts. Certainly sold a of records, too. I was 12 and listening to AM radio then and I remember them well. Switched over to FM a bit later and there was more of them, lots more. That’s where I would have heard “Liberation”. I had no idea that a fifteen minute song back then meant the deejay was out back getting stoned, or maybe in the john, or getting laid. All I knew was long tracks were cool. Heavy. Art. Significant. We were all impressed by long tunes, or suites, or movements, whatever, back then. It gave rock music that classical music cachet. Though let’s be honest, what no doubt happened was the Chicago Transit Authority had recorded enough usable tracks for three sides of a double LP. They needed another 15 minutes of music. Today you’d sit down and write another three or four tunes. But in 1969 every intelligent rock musician spent a lot of time out of his mind high listening to some totally gone John Coltrane. Trane doing a whole LP side of “My Favorite Things”. Trane and Pharoah Sanders doing that utterly mad 12 minutes of “The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost” that open Meditations. Trane just blowing free form, idea after idea after idea. His quartet doing the same. A lot of raucous soloing. Elvin Jones, baby. Elvin Jones. You’d get way high, you’d listen, maybe ohm a little. Ohm. Trane screaming, Pharoah screeching, Elvin pounding, you om aum ohming. Made sense at the time. So if the producer said we need 15 more minutes for that fourth side you just looked at the band, say yeah baby, fire up a jay and make free form rock’n'roll. Everybody was doing it. The Sons of Champlain, the San Francisco scene’s own horn band at the time, called their fifteen minute fourth side “Freedom”. Freedom, Liberation, what’s the difference? (The difference was that Chicago Transit Authority sold a million copies and the Sons’ Loosen Up Naturally sold a couple thousand). Both tunes are one of those demented aimless freak out jams that work only if the band never stops to think about it. They could do that back then, not think about something. You could get really really into something but not worry about it.. Just let it flow, man. Music–hell, creativity itself–was just a thing that happened. Not like accidentally happened, but just happened. That whole Jackson Pollack thing. Get the right mind vibe going down and let yourself go and man, look what happens. Free love happens. Free music. Free concerts. Free drugs. Freedom from barbers. Freedom from baths. From reality. That was 1969. The year opened up with Liberation and Freedom. Something in the air. Summer was Woodstock. By December bikers are beating up hippies at Altamont. Oh fuck. It all goes to hell eventually, of course. They should have known that. Pollack led to an army of wanna be pollacks, throwing paint around, making a mess. Free form played by amateurs usually completely fails. Free drugs leads to heroin. Free love to the clap. Free verse to words in heaps. But for that magic window when it does work, it’s beautiful. And even though it’s that rarely listened to fourth side of a double album, ”Liberation” sure sounded beautiful that sunny wind-blown day driving up PCH. Terry Kath does this insane guitar solo for I dunno how long, forever, it’s hysterical but hey it was 1969, they were some real musicians in that band, used to playing to midwestern dance halls full of kids absolutely out of their minds on some psychedelic or another and what the fuck, go for it Terry, just go for it. It’s not loaded, baby.
(2010–Brick’s Picks, LA Weekly)
And there’s a couple great events from other continents on Saturday. We’ve been digging Mali’s Tinariwen quite a while, with their mix of Sahel feeling and melodies set to a very gritty instrumentation. It’s very bluesy, like so much Malian music, and it strikes a deep chord with many of us, but the rhythms are often wonderfully alien, loping chunkachunk swaying stuff, and it’s absolutely irresistible. It’s rock’n’roll hard too, so that 2007’s Iman Aman was almost a Saharan Exile on Main Street. Their latest Imidiwan is a touch lighter and less gritty but just as good. The men in this band did a brief stint long ago as Taureg guerillas, a romantic story that pop journalists still mooning over Che Guevara just love. But military service is just an interruption in many a young musician’s career, and Tinariwen are and always have been musicians first and foremost, turning ancient music traditions into a formidable new style that certainly blows our mind.
Ya gotta wonder about the art on the guitar, in that eye, that eagle, maybe a setting sun? A rising moon? Ancient stuff. Christianity purged most of the ancient signs from western culture, protestantism left nothing but the true cross. A whole universe of magic symbols reduced to one. Rationalism dispensed with that one and left us with nothing magical at all. For everything there is a logical explanation. Everything. For me there’s no longer any magic, no miracles. I see a guitar like this covered in ancient magic and I feel envy for a second or two. That’s all, just a second or two. I listen to Tinariwen and hear one of greatest bands in the world and all makes perfect musicological sense.
(2009–Brick’s Picks, LA Weekly)
The Lanny Morgan Sextet (or more accurately “6” for you minimalists) at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach from 11 a.m. till 3 p.m. on Sunday…..with Lanny on alto, trumpeter Bob Summers, tenor Doug Webb, pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Steve Schaeffer., a helluva band. We think their new 6 release is one of the best local straight ahead things we’ve heard in a while, with plenty of that bop he’s famous four (he’s got the Bird thing down, you closes your eyes and your back a half century ago) and a lot more quality straight ahead…the thing is just solid, some great freeway music (only in L.A. would you rate a CD by how it sounds on the 101 late at night with the windows open…anyway, this one works.) And the very last track, “Idyllwild Camp Parade”, is a surprise, a raucous classic jazz number, which your dixieland loving grandfather would have stomped to with glee and worried your grandmother and embarrassed the kids. We love it.
And while I’m at it, here’s another great 3 am party tune….picked up No New York in the Village in ’77 or ’78. Still got it…and it still sounds great at a party at 3 a.m.
I don’t know where the hell I was back in 1990 but I never heard this before. Too bad, man, I woulda flipped. Woulda been something else to bug the fuck outta the neighbots at 3 a.m. Saturday nights. We were the worst neighbors ever. Threw great parties though…nearly every weekend….The things you can get away with when you’re six and a half feet tall and wear cruel looking military boots besides. I’m 55 now, though, and quite sweet and wear regular shoes. Anyway, this is the only version of TV Eye that I’ve heard that does the original justice. It’s freaking awesome. Turn the volume all the way up, however.
Today the wife and I were running about town doing errands and decided to stop for lunch at some Mexican place in Echo Park we’d never been to. It’s off Sunset, a bit hidden, and you descend into the place from a rear entrance. Not a window in the joint, it was probably a speakeasy in the twenties. Very cool little spot. The room was intimate, the bar ample, the service great, the food delicious and it just oozed an Echo Park hipness, not yet discovered by the outsiders. We’d picked a booth at the back with a view of the bar, and we’re being waited on hand and foot….it was obvious the elite dropped in regularly, and they treated every customer as a member, just in case. Basically a fun scene.
My phone rang. It was a dude who wants me to write some elaborate liner notes. He pitched me, we went back and forth on what ‘s needed, and when, and how much money he was offering. The food came, I nodded at the waiter and he brought another Tecate, I mouthed “con limon” and he bought a beautiful dish of freshly sliced lemons. He silently refilled my water glass as I chattered loudly into the phone, I nodded thanks while laughing into the phone, he poured my beer and dropped in two slices of lemon as I gestured broadly at the guy I was talking on the phone to, who could not see me, and went back and forth over the money. The waiter—his name was Miguel—slipped away silently. My food sizzled on the platter as the guy on the phone kissed my ass. I nodded. Finally I said OK, the food’s here and getting cold, and I could hear him grow nervous on the phone that I might bail because the temperature of my huevos had dropped a degree or two, so I said I’m aboard on the project, he said excellent, so we can work out the details later? I said sure, and he said ciao. I didn’t say ciao back, but said cool, which is basically jazz-speak for ciao. I put down my cell on the table like it might ring again any second and took a sip of my ice cold beer and realized, damn, I was just one of those assholes who talks loudly on a cellphone in a Hollywood restaurant, making a deal. It doesn’t get more show biz than that.
Scary. Since writing for the LA Weekly I had changed. Bit by bit but still, five years before that wasn’t me. Not even a little bit.
It bugged me enough to write it all down.
(2010–Brick’s Picks, LA Weekly)
On Monday the Theo Saunders Quartet is at Charlie O’s on Monday. We imagine they’re doing Monk again but to be honest club gigs are where jazz really happens, and always has, and always will. Three or four sets, a loose vibe, good booze, good food, and a parking lot or alley to smoke funny cigarettes, that’s the way it ought to be. That’s the way it always has been. Forget the whole America’s classical music thing. That implies something beautiful and way old that’s been preserved a long time. That’s a concert hall thing, which is OK but not us, not at all. Galleries and museums and “performance spaces” are nice, but smack a bit of salons…too many rich people and intellectuals and like that. The jazz thing is something we need to hear and watch and feel for real. We dig the jazz bars. Minton’s was a bar. That’s all you need to know. Google “Minton’s” and dig.
(2009–Brick’s Picks, LA Weekly)
Finally thought we’d mention that a recent night’s club hopping wound up late at a jumping Foundry on Melrose just in time to catch guitarist Perry Smith and the house trio trading fours with a mysterious tap dancer and Michael Buble. That was one loose and swinging “All of Me”. Everyone up there was on…Smith, bassist Matt Cory, drummer James Alsanders, Buble, the phantom hoofer. You never know what you’ll see in a jazz club around here.
(2009–Brick’s Picks, LA Weekly)
When we first heard Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers, we freaked. This was a couple years ago and tucked away in the culturally conservative Los Angeles jazz scene—which as a rule never mixes nothing with nothing if it ain’t been mixed before—well, the crazy mesh of jazz with Arabic music was a revelation. This wasn’t like playing Miles Davis music with horns and sitars, this was the maqam of Iraq—the land of the two rivers, where ElSaffir’s father was a musician—as learned by a jazz trumpeter, improvising the melody (ruhiyya) of each piece on his horn, accompanied by oud and dumbek, buzuq and frame drums, and the Persian born, Bay Area residing saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, who can blow through quarter toned runs here and the blues there like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Which it is, really. Just listen to ElSaffir’s gorgeous tone, to the long drawn out blues lines, and his flights up and down and around those crazy near eastern scales. And how it all winds up in an absolutely swinging, Ornettish “Blues in Half E-Flat”. Rarely have two supposedly inimical civilizations melded together so beautifully. Bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Alex Cline fill out the four piece more than ably. They’re playing Monday, one night only, at the Jazz Bakery.