Monday, January 24, 2011

Trippin’ thru the e-daisies

Where we try to make sense of our own Blogroll...

Greg Burk reviews the Ark at LACMA (MetalJazz)

John Carter and Bobby Bradford, The Complete Revelation Sessions review (Dusted)

Orrin Keepnews profile (Wall St. Journal)

New Miles Davis biopic cast? (Miles Davis online)

…and A.C. Douglas responds (Sounds + Fury)

Captain Beefheart Memories: A Birthday Celebration (Rolling Stone)

Hank Shteamer: I Am Not A Jazz Journalist! (Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches)

Is "Jazz" A Dated Term? (Jazz Chronicles)

New Alan Lomax bio reviewed (The Guardian UK)

The Jazz Bakery finds new home…at home (L.A. Times)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why I Like This Lil Guy

I've always been fascinated with the multitaskers and OCD-driven workaholics of the music world, human octopi who drop product faster than their public can absorb it: Billy Corgan, Ryan Adams, Prince Rogers Nelson, Conor Oberst, James Brown, John Coltrane, Elvis Costello, Frank ZappaMadlib, Charles Mingus, Fela Kuti, Jim O'Rourke, Paul Weller and -- if you stretch it a bit -- Roy Scheider's character in All That Jazz. It's the classic "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" philosophy and I don't think anyone currently embodies this better than Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr.. Literally, the very first line of his memorable pre-jail interview with Rolling Stone is: "I don't like to stop, I believe you stop when you die."

A tale of two covers

I can honestly say I can't name one song this guy does, but sometime it takes another scribe to pique my interest in a subject I've been neglecting in my introverted excavations. Case in point: Peter Schjeldahl's superlative analysis of the California photorealist Robert Bechtle in The New Yorker led me to a respect for a type of art I never even looked twice at. Ditto for Chris Norris' February 2010 RS piece on Lil Wayne. At first, the article soaks in the type of wealthy-lifestyle porn one usually encounters in Martha Stewart magazines: "Tonight, the rapper wears his long dreads tied back, along with bookish, black-framed glasses and Polo pajama pants. A small diamond cross hangs on a thin chain around his neck...On a glass table before him are his iPhone, T-Mobile Sidekick, a box of Swisher Sweets cigars, a bag of Sour Patch candies, a bottle of iced tea and a roll of about three grand worth of hundreds —"just in case I need to send someone to the store."

A tale of two Carters

Um, wow. Although I fond myself unconsciously drooling over all of this conspicuous consumption (which is nothing compared to the wealth writer Josh Eells notices in his recent RS cover story on Wayne's release), what capitvated me was the circuslike atmosphere around the rapper that seemed like one permanent workday:

He will be up for the next 11 hours — monitoring four football games, smoking blunts,
six or seven of them, sending 40-odd texts (including condolences to his mom for today's
loss by the New Orleans Saints), making calls and auditioning 600-odd bars of potential
beats over six hours in a recording studio....He's never far from a recording studio or
a portable recording setup (even if it's just a professional mike and a laptop with
GarageBand)...."It ain't no party," says E.I., Wayne's road manager, who lives with a
T-Mobile dedicated to one caller. "You don't get no sleep. There ain't no such thing as 'off.'"

It goes on and on like this. I was amazing at the lil guy's work ethic -- how does the guy smoke so much weed an still be so motivated? -- even though it starts to seem as pathological as his endless parroting of the "N" word. (My favorite Wayne quote from the recent RS article: "Them niggas never speak to a nigga.")

Granted, much of the activity that Norris captured was partially related to Wayne's upcoming Riker's Island stint and the attempt to get as much "product" out of Wayne as possible (Norris memorably likens it to frozen sperm) before the lockdown in order to keep him on the public's radar. "You can't deny that in this industry, if you sit out six months you'll kill your career," Lil Wayne's manager opines. Say whatever you want to say about rappers, but their very replacability precludes a strong work ethic. They have no choice but to do The Waterdance if they to keep afloat. Quoth the just-released Wayne to a group of Miami schoolkids: "I'm here to talk to y'all about what's important in life -- and that is that you live it to the fullest, lil n----s." Kidding on that last one.

Monday, January 17, 2011

UNDER THE PIANO: A Conversation with Motoko Honda

In light of the release of Motoko Honda's new collaborative CD Polarity Taskmasters and attendant release party this week (see end of this post for deets) featuring flautist/vocalist Emily Hay, percussionist Brad Dutz and keyboard wizard Wayne Peet, we've decided to repost our interview with Ms. Honda in its entirety rather than the brief sample we did back in September. Enjoy!

Since emerging from California Institute of the Arts, Motoko Honda has developed into a quiet tempest in L.A.’s improvised music community. She has played with stalwarts like Vinny Golia, Wadada Leo Smith (who mentored her at CalArts), Mark Dresser, Jeff Gauthier, Alex Cline, Emily Hay, Steuart Liebig and Andrea Centazzo to upstarts like Ben Wendel, Sara Schoenbeck, Brad Dutz, Joe Berardi, Kris Tiner, Jessica Catron, Maggie Parkins and April Guthrie. She has collaborated with dancers (Oguri, Midori Makino), video artists (Carol Kim, Astra Price) and poets (Kamal Kozah, Nduku Makpaulu). She currently is a founding member (with Misuzu Kitazumi-Burns and Masumi Urakami) of the Los Angeles Piano Unit and the Okiro Music Ensemble, as well as an ongoing participant in the M. Rare Trio and the Love Ensemble.

Live, Ms. Honda’s mixture of classical, jazz, avant-garde and Pacific-Rim textures with 21st-century technology is a visceral and rewarding journey for the ears. Her music conjures whole movies in one’s head. Imagine Radiohead teaching Franz Lizst how to rock a KAOSS pad; or John Cage facing off with Bud Powell over prepared piano, or….well, you get the picture.

You grew up studying classical piano in Sendai, a prestigious educational center of Japan that’s referred to as the “city of colleges.” Tell me about your early training there.
In Japan, to start studying piano at three or four years old is very normal. What made a big difference for me was that my teacher taught me how to transcribe music at the same time. By 6th grade I was writing down music by ear. I was serious about the piano but not serious enough to compete on the national level, but when I was twelve tears old I got a chance to study with the most prominent teacher in Sendai, Tokiwa Ishibashi.

The system in Japan at that point was rather strange compared to the United States. Some teachers didn’t take students but only “disciples,” like they do in the martial arts. I was her exclusive student. I obeyed everything she said! [laughs] From age twelve to eighteen I studied piano very seriously. I was already way behind a lot of the other students my age, so I felt pressured to catch up. I also started having conflict with my school because I put so much energy into practicing the piano that I would be tired and sleepy for the rest of the day. I started out practicing two hours minimum, but it’s just not enough, so it became three hours, four hours, five hours. After awhile, it’s not even a matter of hours but every single minute you get. Like if I was sitting down like I am now, I would be practicing my pinky, because my pinky’s weak. If I was on the bus I would be thinking about the music I was going to play because my memory had to be perfect. It took over my entire life. And I still felt like I wasn’t good enough.

The competition in Japan must be ferocious for those wanting to be concert pianists.
Yes! You realize you are up against people who came from families with very deep backgrounds in music; in my family, nobody is a musician or artist. So I started not sleeping so much because I thought I needed to practice more than other people because I thought I could catch up. Then I didn’t see my friends, and my support system began to fall apart. And my family didn’t understand what was happening, because in their eyes I think they saw me working on something so hard that wasn’t necessary. They were supportive of me being a musician, but they didn’t understand why I had to work SO hard. They thought I was sacrificing too many things so they tried to help me not to do that so much, like going to school or having family time or helping around the house. [laughter] They tried to best to make me more human, but at that time I felt like everyone wanted a piece of me, and I didn’t have the time! I started thinking, ‘Yes I really like music but maybe playing piano is the problem. If I stop playing the piano I can be the person everybody wants me to be.’ At that time I thought quitting piano was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life.

Motoko Honda & Emily Hay
Live at the Boise Experimental Music Festival, 2009

During those formative years, which composers appealed to you?
Franz Liszt. I was not so sophisticated or cultured in my background, but I mastered it technically. I could play Liszt’s big, difficult pieces—that became almost my specialty. His composing and writing style fit my fingers and I didn’t feel it was as difficult as people said it was. They also said, ‘Ah, Liszt is too technical, it’s not interesting music.’ But with Liszt, once you get over that technical part, there is so much more to it. He has such a big vision! Some say his writing is almost religious, but it is not so much about his personal feeling or emotions—not so much about himself—but about the world and being a part of a bigger picture. He was so audacious and bold that way. I loved Chopin and Bach too. I had a hard time learning Bach but when it comes to live performance I seem to have very good results playing his compositions. His combination of voices, assembling and disassembling themselves, his taking it all apart to put it back together, that’s what I loved about Bach.

The improvised musical community of L.A. really responds to composers like Bach, Liszt, Debussy. They all seem to translate well to people who play that type of music.
Yeah. Their more impressionistic ideas like Debussy’s are very similar to what we do as both musicians and visual artists.

Do you have any nonmusical influences on your music?
Oh yeah. A lot. In fact, my music is mostly influenced by nonmusical things. The very first is Antoni Gaudi, the Spanish architect. I was in a bookstore paging through one of his picture books and I was like ‘This is it! This is my hero!’ It was the feeling his buildings gave to me; his architecture was music and it made sense to me like music. I would love to play in one of his buildings, like the Sagrada Famila in Barcelona. And like music, they actually hold the space in time, which is I why I feel connected to them. Through him I see that music is like architecture, creating space that holds time within it. My father was an electrical engineer and he worked with big buildings and he used to take me to see them being built. I was always fascinated by these places and how they affected you inside. And that was before I became conscious of Gaudi.

You’ve actually played music in some very amazing architectural settings, especially in Italy.
I didn’t feel like I understood classical music until I played it in some of those spaces. That’s what got me back into it. It made total sense, that the music reflected those spaces as well. It took away my struggle and my misunderstanding of classical music.

Backing up a bit, what was the culture shock like when you moved from Japan to, uh, Lindsborg, Kansas to attend school there?
My culture shock there was entirely environmental. Lindsborg is very flat, and that was first time I saw 360 degrees around the horizon! I’d never seen the land that big. In Japan everything is tiny and vertical and if you see the horizon you see mountains. In Kansas, I could see the weather coming from far away. And the wind was always goes in one direction; in Japan, because of the buildings, the wind is more winding when it blows. I never felt wind like that in my entire life.

Motoko with Vinny Golia

Since you had left music, what did you intend to study there at Bethany College?
I wanted to study psychology, but I took a college-survival course where they told us, “If you want to keep your GPA up, you should not take anything involving reading for the first two years.” So I didn’t start psychology classes until my third year. In the beginning, I took a lot of math and computer and art and music courses, where you don’t have to understand anything they’re saying! [laughs] For music, I took percussion because it was as far away from piano as I could get. I was very afraid of the piano at that point. I studied drums. I sucked at it. My teacher was Dean Kranzler, and he saw I was pretty good and I learned very fast because of my background. But the problem became improvisation. I learned the fundamentals and my teacher said “Okay, now GO!” and I completely froze!

Is that why you started back on the piano?
Unfortunately when you come in the States and you can’t speak English, the only thing you have is the fact that you can play the piano, even if you don’t want to play the piano. To be accepted in school in the states, I sent a tape of that I had recorded when I was in high school. So, I’m sorry school system, I did cheat somewhat! [laughs] So when I went there teachers thought I was there for music! So I took a piano lesson. At that point I hadn’t been playing for a couple of years, but when I started playing again in Kansas, I noticed something different. In Japan when I played, I always felt so pressured, by the competition, by the self-criticism. You miss a note you are pretty much screwed. In Kansas when I played people were just happy. And I was happy to play for them. I never felt that good about playing before. I realized that I liked performing.

How did you become interested in jazz and improvised music?
Jazz is popular in Japan, but it’s not taken so seriously in academic areas. I started to develop the interest in jazz when I was about thirteen because I'd seen some jazz players on TV and I was so fascinated that they improvised with great control over harmonies and with interesting rhythms. I wanted to learn more about it, but I never had time to do anything else but to survive the classical education. But I must say that I was very lucky because I had this chunk of time that I totally dedicated myself to one thing, and I got the world-class, best-possible classical education in Japan.

You mentioned that you played classical music when you toured Italy.
Yes, but when I came back to Kansas from the tour of Italy I decided I wanted to play the piano again but not in the same way as before. I took one jazz lesson from my friend who was three hours away from my town. I was actually in a jazz band, believe it or not. I think it was my junior or senior year. I didn’t know anything about jazz playing. I tried my best those few years but I knew I had to wait until after I graduated from a master program. When I was looking and researching for where to go, I decided to go to a school that allowed me to do both jazz and classical. Nobody knew about CalArts in Kansas, my teachers directed me toward places like the New England Conservatory or Julliard. The funny thing was that CalArts was the first college to send me a packet, and when I opened it I knew I was going there. Around that time I had an injury, my muscle was damaged, so the doctor told me I couldn’t play the piano for six months, and I missed all of the auditions for the universities I was interested in. So I had to have a private audition. I visited the CalArts campus first, and I met Dr. Vicki Ray and on the spot she said, “You’re in for a scholarship!”

You are known for your numerous investigations into electronics and what’s called “prepared piano.” Where did you pick that interest up?
I knew nothing about any of that until I went to CalArts, where I studied improvisation. Prepared piano was introduced to me by Dr. Ray. I learned the practical use of it by learning the music of George Crumb. I heard John Cage pieces but I hadn't tried them yet. I always had a fascination with pianos and how their pitch is very fixed. At CalArts everybody was using electronics at that time and doing all this crazy shit, especially the guitarists. I thought, “I have to do something like that with the piano.” I took a lesson with Miloslav Tadic, an Eastern European guitar player, to learn that rhythm and structure. He gave me the idea of hooking the Line 6 to the piano with a contact mike. Line 6 is the delay machine that a lot of guitarists use. Then I started to connect other things.

In building up your gadgetry, was it a matter of trial and error?
Yes, even the synthesizer. I asked for advice, but nobody gave me a direct answer, which is a very Cal Arts thing to do: “So what do want to do with it?” [laughs] “I don’t know! I never played one and I never owned one!” I didn’t even know how to use it. So I had to do my own research.

Does technology free up your mind or some sort of bottled-up creativity?
I think so. But technology is also a troublemaker. I am a little bit pissed off about it. I work well with electronics, but I need to upgrade my setup. With technical things, sometimes the sound doesn’t come through or you thought you were going to have a specific sound but on the spot when the time comes the devices do something different: “Grrr. Why is this happening now?!” Then I have to wiggle the cables and it takes my focus and concentration away from the music. Now I practice those routines over and over so that doesn’t happen, so I don’t get so pissed about it! Technology as an instrument I definitely approach the same way as the piano, but it took a long time for me to adjust to that, to be able to play the devices with the same focus as the piano.

But you don’t just play the keys of the piano, but the entire instrument – whether it be running empty glass bottles down the strings or manipulating loops from banging on its surface. Do you allow for the mistakes in your improvising?
I go with it! I have to, and try to come back where I’m supposed to be. [laughs] I definitely have to embrace unpredictable things. It used to freak me out. But what else are you going to do?

The late Richard Grossman was another L.A. pianist who was known for releasing albums of compositions but preferred to exclusively improvise when he performed live. Do you need just improv or just composing?
I do enjoy just playing improvisation, but in concert I feel more of a responsibility to prepare more, whether I have written it down or not. My first CD, which is coming out soon, will be completely improv, no composition whatsoever. When I compose, I try to accomplish something, not everything. Do I want to build a big building? Or a small one? I’m very focused on what I want to accomplish in each piece. Composition in itself is sort of a focal point for me.

At CalArts, you were a pupil of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. What was it like studying with him?
Leo was funny! It takes awhile to understand what he is trying to teach you. I took one class at the beginning of my CalArts years but I didn’t get it. I enjoyed his class, but I was confused because he would say, ‘Do this for the next class’ and you would come to the next class fully prepared for what he would want you to do—and he would do something very different! It was not the Japan way or the Kansas way. So I was completely confused, but I just went with the flow, and at the end I realized what he was trying to do. The great thing about him is that he is not teaching to make you anybody, but helping you to find who you are. He taught me to find myself, musically speaking. He told me it’s okay to try to find myself though the music, to believe in what you are doing, not to be shy about it, to look at it from very different directions, upside down, inside out, that’s given me a lot of ideas to compose and improvise and be inspired. He helped me find my own voice, even though I was struggling with it.

Most improvisers I’ve talked to do not like the regimented environment of the recording studio. What are your views on recording versus live performance?
I used to hate recording at all! [laughs] I don’t like that something I have played still exists after I play it. I didn’t want to listen to myself. All I heard was flaws. When I started recording, I realized that many great players were not so great at the beginning, but by recording and going out and playing live that’s how they became great players. You have to really accept your imperfections. I feel like I couldn’t grow if I didn’t embrace those imperfections, and by showing those things to the audience. It is something that I can share. In Japan, we believe in perfection to the point that many people suffer for it. So my project has become to show the imperfections and get over with it and embrace that feeling. If it feels good, it is good; if it doesn’t, oh well…

How do you respond to the popular notion that experimental music is not accessible to audiences?
Experimental music is very basic and communicative. That’s what I am looking for. To communicate this music and its elements. When I recently played for a Japanese audience it was very interesting. They liked it! My friend said, “We’re so glad you didn’t go to a Japanese college!” [laughs] Another friend told me, “It sounds like you! I never knew you could improvise but it sounds like you!” I didn’t know what to expect but I know I didn’t expect those responses. So they heard something they never heard, or they never imagine me playing that kind of music. They were completely confused in a way, but they still liked it, and they could identify me in the music somehow. So those things have really given me hope!

What other kinds of music have you been opening yourself up since you came to the States?
I was listening to Megadeth the other day and I thought, “Wow they can do so many things with E major!” [laughs] I am not biased with music. I can’t be. When I was studying classical music, electronic music would give me a headache. CalArts helped me get over thatWhen I went dancing in Kansas I learned to embrace dance music as well, club music and especially Brazilian music. There is a large Brazilian population in Kansas and they have a big festival every year. In our college we took a four hour trip to Kansas City to attend this, and the Brazilian foreign students taught us how to dance. That was my introduction to world music! In Kansas, punk was very big. I enjoyed it a lot, especially all the dances they were doing. More recently, I made friends with Mike Watt and he taught me that punk music is not so much a style of music but from your heart. I got that energy from that music when people played it. He and I actually jammed a little bit for his radio show, just improvising music. I think learning his approach to punk will give me more ideas on how to improvise in my own music, mixing it with jazz or avant-garde or experimental. I mean, Watt is big fan of John Coltrane!

Your live performances can be quite out there. Have you ever had anyone annoyed or angered by one of them? Like, “What the hell was that?!” or “We paid good money for THIS?!”
[laughs] I wish! That would be very interesting! I haven’t provoked anything like that yet. Most of the things I do are pretty gentle. I want to make people feel good afterward—in their own way. For many years I was interested in music therapy, because I was interested in psychology too. The way music affects how you feel—it’s not like taking medicine, but something that gives you space and helps you figure out what you are going to do right now in your life…and maybe we are doing through the same things in the process and come out and the end together. I remember one time I did an experimental concert called ‘Under the Piano,’ where we put the audience under the piano so they could feel the music and let your body observe the vibrations. I used to go under the piano when I was in Japan. For me it was very comfortable, when I felt so much pressure and felt the world collapsing around me. It was a very stable place to be. I thought the piano was the only instrument in the world that understood me, so going underneath the piano was like being hugged by it. And I felt calm. So at the concert, I played as many good vibrations as possible, and there was this really old lady under the piano, close to like 90 years old. She was so happy! She was smiling! She felt good! She really liked it! I was surprised. I think I tried to play it while actually lying under it, but of course I could not do that. So years later, I did it for this old lady.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever received about music?
"You have a great potential, but no genius" My first piano teacher Ms. Akiyo Yoshida told me as I became disciple of Ms. Ishibashi. "In the world of music there are geniuses and they work tremendously hard, too!" My piano teacher Ms. Ruiko Koga told me that when I was 15.

What is the most important realization about music that you came upon by yourself?
I learned that fact you can't really change who you are and where you are from, but you can only do the best you can do and offer whatever you can offer to the world, and accept that fact. I understood that concept, but it is in recent years that I came to peace with it. I will never be a perfect pianist, but fortunately nobody can change who I am and what I can offer to the world, if I remain true to myself.

Motoko Honda, Emily Hay, Brad Dutz and special guest Wayne Peet will be performing the CD release party for Polarity Taskmasters this Wednesday night, January 19th at 9:15pm at The Blue Whale (Third floor, Weller Court, 123 Astronaut E.S. Onizuka St., Little Tokyo 90012, 213-620-0908, validated parking on 2nd Street, $10 cover)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

THE L.A. RELAY: Culver City Minimalism → Downtown Stinkified Blues

The Beast does not just traverse the streets but also the mindset of musical L.A., if only to remedy the following questions: "Why do great musical events always happen on the same night in this town, and why are they always across town from each other?"

The answers seem pretty apparent: L.A. is a big messy multi-level Chinese puzzle and The Beast's omnivorous musical tastes preclude many difficult decisions. Take last night: a string quartet performing a minimalist etude in Culver City; a Captain Beefheart celebration in Echo Park; and a stripped-down whiteboy blues guitarist near Bunker Hill. Figuring in gas pumping and ATM visiting, traffic, block-circling, parking, and the Great Unplanned L.A. Obstacle (flashing police lights or honking fire trucks, street shut down for carnival, overturned truck of lemons stinking up three out of four lanes of traffic, etc.), we managed to make it to two of these with rather dizzying results. The first time we tried this was on the Beast’s birthday seven years ago: Leimert Park, Hollywood, Eagle Rock, Van Nuys. It was utterly exhausting and we slept like 19 hours, but it gave us the idea to do The L.A. Relay whenever we felt the urge to merge our musical experiences and couldn't decide. Call it our own musical version of The Amazing Race but with more crying.

The first stop was the Royal/T Cafe in Culver City to catch the muses of the Eclipse String Quartet dueting with CalArts prepared-piano guru Dr. Vicki Ray on Piano and String Quartet (1985), an epic watching-paint-dry piece by the New York composer Morton Feldman [pictured above]. I started out Zen calm in preparation for a transformative experience. Can you guess what happened next? That's right: stuck right behind a stalled car in the middle lane near the Hill St. exit on the I-10. With traffic all around rushing mercilessly past, it took me 10 minutes to get into a moving lane. Then the bottleneck downtown. Then the bottleneck getting onto the I-10. Then inching along Washington Boulevard past cop cars shutting down La Cienega. Made it on time but alas in no state to listen to fussyboots string music -- I found that turning the radio away from faceless Modern Rock or repetitive Classic Rock to Rap (DJ Kool’s boisterous and pummeling “Let Me Clear My Throat”) aided my deep-focus driving but left me feeling aggressive and more ready for one of Nels Cline's cathartic facemelts or a good ol' Inland Empire punk show.

Ah well. I was handed a program sheet, which explained “for the last several years of his life Feldman started making his pieces longer and longer and restraining their contents more and more. Piano and String Quartet, which clocks in at around 90 minutes, was one of Feldman’s “super-long last works.” Ah shit. The music was a sustained breathing exercise between the piano and the strings, an exacting call-and response where the musicians' frozen positions betrayed grueling concentration, like a boxing match slowed down to 250 frames per second. “This is music without a tune,” the program whispered. “This is music without a traditional sense of harmonic motion…without wild dynamic shifts or pacing shifts or orchestrational shifts that allow you to chart your progress through…giving you a tremendous sense of variety without actual movement. This is music that is intensely repetitive but completely unpredictable.”

As someone trying to acclimate, it was a continued internal fight. All my organs felt like they’d slammed full force into a brick wall and jellified. How to stop a racing-busy mind, whose thoughts sound much louder in a performance space preparing for a 90-minute continual series of musical ellipses? The first 15 minutes were spent attempting to shuff off hypersensitivity to the quiet of the hall: the tiny sniffs and shuffles, the clink of glasses, the bleat of leather seats under shifted weight, the rattling of air vents, clatters from the kitchen. Unfortunately, some poor soul had a massive coughing attack and could be heard even in the bathroom down the hall, triggering a sort of group-cringe involving pity, humor, annoyance and finally shame at that annoyance. This is why minimalist pieces sometimes feel like auditory fascism. (What fascist ever turned his back on repetition?) It’s music that demands a sort of control over you and holds you hostage, as Feldman by all reports has never met a conversation he doesn’t want to dominate. You begin to question the validity of the thoughts that pop into your head while listening to such “serious” music. In our case: Am I pouring this ale too loud? or suppressing an urge to laugh at a remembered line from Zack and Miri Make A Porno (“I was in a movie called Shut Your Mouth or I’ll Fuck It.”).

But then the fight begins to dissipate. I remember Alex Ross’ great quote that Feldman, while based on the East Coast and associated with the same New York School as John Cage, had a “feeling for the positioning of music in space” that made him a closet West Coaster. Feldman, like Harry Partch or Terry Riley, seemed to be articulating something about the American West, particularly California, where the isolation of the desert and an unbroken sky creates a different mindset. In the absence of familiar signposts, one is forced to put up one’s own. It's not unlike frontier settlers riding west across a giant plate of Jurassic alkaline toward a focal point in the distance that remained the same while the land around them changed. Are we really getting anywhere? This the exact same experience of driving the lonely California highways or gridlock traffic in Los Angeles, a process of endless repositioning that stretches out time and space and does strange new things to your perceptions. I can’t explain why but this realization calmed me and helped me recline in the musical beds that followed. When the piece ended it, was like coming out of a cloud.

Next, it was a stop at the Redwood Bar downtown to catch the blues singer Jake La Botz and man, what a violent change of mindset. It was a greasy, smelly, leathery, sweaty crowd, hard-drinking and burger-wolfing and proud o’ it: A Greek chorus of young svelte things in flapperwear who were there for a bachelorette party; a fleet of leather-jacketed Chrissie Hynde types blasting by the bar on their motorcycles, pit-faced hipsters catching a smoke in the dark front patio; someone who I swear was the bearlike character actor Mark Boone, Jr. (30 Days of Night, Trees Lounge) shuffling about. Needless to say, it was so disorienting that I had a hard time even ordering a beer or having a coherent conversation. This ended abruptly when my old officemate from the Glue magazine days – the unsinkable spitfire Miss Toastacia Boyd, late of The Garage and Al’s Bar – and I stumbled out on the dance floor for a drunken version of that old Steve Martin-Gilda Radner “Dancing in the Dark” routine. Afterwards, I started listening to La Botz’s original music (he does a lot of obscure covers), which had the repetitive pulses and phrasings of Chicago blues but eschewed the 12-bar format in favor of longer, oddly timed, more surreal moebius strips, like Furry Lewis or John Lee Hooker or Junior Kimbrough. La Botz stretched out the chord shifts like Feldman’s musical spaces between notes, with attending lyrics that held the present tense and the crowd’s expectations in a similar grasp:

Getting closer. Getting closer. Getting closer…to the ground. To the ground.
Downstairs. With long black hairs. Change them clothes…for you come in here.
Walk in the door. The old woman’s store. Darkest light…ever seen before.
Getting closer. Getting closer. Getting closer…to the ground. To the ground.

Ah, there it was. I still had the flyer from the Royal/T: “In music we listen forward and backward at the same time – preparing ourselves for what we guess is coming, based on what we remember about where we have been. Without memory we have to listen to the moment; there is only the present.” Thus are the lessons of tonight's L.A. Relay and this can be a comfort with dealing with the unique pressures of the digital city. Needless to say, I never made it to the Beefheart show. What on earth would I have learned there?

Costs of this evening:
ATM fee: $3.00
Cover Charges: $15.00
Food: $3.81
Libations (plus tips): $37.00
Parking: $5.00
Grand Total: $63.81

Friday, January 14, 2011


In celebration of MLK Day and to kick off the 50th anniversary of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (“The Ark”) is performing a free concert at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this coming Monday, January 17th at Noon. (There will be a second set at 2:45 pm.) The Ark will be at full strength will a large group led by Michael Session and The Great Voice of UGMAA led by Dwight Trible will be on performing as well. Kamau Daaood will be doing spoken word. J.J. Kabasa and his African drummers will be kicking off the show. This is really one not to be missed!

Monday, January 10, 2011

INTRODUCING: The L.A. New Music Snerd’s Dictionary of Terms*

Hello and welcome to what I hope will be an ongoing and inconsistently posted project of mine: an irreverent (irrelevant?) guide to the underground music as I’ve experienced and collected it of Los Angeles -- specifically, the frequent and surprising intersections of creative jazz, art punk, avant-garde, alt-hip hop and world music. It was inspired and dedicated to my friend Robert Mendoza, a loyal reader of my previous blog Downbeast despite by his own admission, “not understanding half of the terms and people mentioned.”

"Yeth thir, that new TheeDee by Flying Lotuth ith awethome!"

So let’s start with the obvious: “Snerd.” has several definitions, mostly along the lines of “sexy nerd.” (Another is, naturally, a reference to a revolting -- if not impossible -- sexual practice.) Though I am loathe to argue with that definition, “snerd” is for the purposes of this colossal waste of time-slash-labor of love my amalgam of “snob” and “nerd.” Now, there is a difference between a snob and a snerd: a snob with blow air through his lips derisively if you admit you’ve never heard of No Age or Dwight Trible and make you feel like an idiot; a snerd, hearing the same confession, while grab you by the arm excitedly and say, “Dude! You gotta hear this!” and immediately give up a ton of information – much of it too fast to absorb in one sitting – and will immediately want to be FB friends so s/he can deluge you with a shitload of links and downloads. In other words, a snob will hold onto information like it’s a Victorian money belt; a snerd will willingly and happily invite you in to share. And share. And share…

As for style and form, it’s pretty straightforward. All cross-referenced terms are in all caps. We’ll add more entries as we come up with them and add to the new entries as new info makes itself apparent to us (or subtract if something is inaccurate). If there are any you see missing, feel free to add an entry in our ‘Comments’ section – provided you aren’t some kind of spammy asshat or boner-pill pitchman – and I will add it to the list.

Here are the A’s.


Aceyalone. Fedora-hatted polymath and cofounder of the mighty FREESTYLE FELLOWSHIP, the once-named Edward Hayes is the purveyor of a particular brand of hyper-literate, jazz-inflected, semi-humorous Left Coast underground soul-hop that was birthed at the now-mythic “No Cussin’” open mike nights at THE GOOD LIFE CAFÉ. (Sample lyric: "I bet you think I'm silly, huh, Annallillia?") Unfortunately, it rose to cultlike prominence right around the same time that another West Coast rap strain with absolutely no sense of humor called “gangsta” blew up down in Long Beach and Compton, blew up the charts and obscured the FF’s more literary accomplishments. “Acey” released two guaranteed classics – 1995’s All Balls Don’t Bounce (later re-released as a deluxe edition in 2004) and 2000’s Accepted Eclectic.
Afrobeat. Danceable and politically prickly snerd-obsession that reached its apex with the re-release by KNITTING FACTORY Records of the complete catalogue of its mercurial founding father/monumental pussy hound Fela (Anikulapo) Kuti. (The Jay-Z-backed Broadway musical Fela! didn't hurt either.) Not usually known by budding snerds is that Afrobeat may/may not have its roots in Los Angeles, where Fela landed with his band Nigeria 70 in 1969 and even played a residency at Citadel de Haiti on Sunset Boulevard. (He also found the time to bed Black Panther Sandra Smith at a local NAACP gig.) Critics have noted that Fela’s music was merely an amalgam of afro and anglo jazz when he arrived in L.A., and yet when he left it had mutated into a potent brew of funk, afro-jazz, wacky stagecraft and hilarious album titles – a transition documented on The ’69 L.A. Sessions. Contrarian snerds argue that L.A. had nothing to do with Fela’s transition and that drummer Tony Allen had everything to do with it.

Albach, Tom. Gruff, six-foot tall, blue-eyed German-American indie record producer, label owner and SoCal jazz club attendee since the 1950s -- saxophonist VINNY GOLIA once described him as “a sea captain with a cigar” – known for starting record label Nimbus (later NIMBUS WEST) in the late 1970s specifically to document the music of pianist HORACE TAPSCOTT. He did this in part for refuge from, in his own words, “the growing miasma of crap that I could see happening in L.A.” Albach, who lived in Santa Barbara, had virtually no experience with the recording industry (he funded Nimbus with his Vegas winnings), evident in his maverick practice of giving Tapscott complete artistic freedom over his own recordings because, as he opined later, “When you start telling a creative person what to do, it’s going to have a deleterious effect on the end result, any way you shape it.” Notably gonzo print ad campaign underscored Albach's no-B.S. mein: a Tapscott quote ("Music Needs No Scene") with no other info.

Alligator Lounge. Former club located at 3221 West Pico Boulevard right under the lip of the I-10 freeway in West L.A. (and, perversely, near the offices of NARAS, the Grammy committee) that for five years in the mid-Nineties hosted NEW MUSIC MONDAYS, a seminal showcase for unclassifiable artists from L.A. and elsewhere curated by guitarist NELS CLINE. Also famous in older snerd circles for having been a venue previously booked by double bassist Ray Brown before it turned into an identity-confused refuge for Cajun dancers, Viggo Mortensen’s poetry and the old Palomino Club rockabilly crowd. Cline was hired by the club’s owner, an “old, alcoholic-looking” muscle-car enthusiast named Milt Wilson, who nevertheless saw the value of the scene erupting around the intrepid guitarist, which he intriguing dubbed “the New Subterraneans.” Fondly remembered by snerds for its rabid-red interior (before all L.A. clubs adopted it), relaxed no-security/no-cover vibe, and plenty of dark places out on the street to get baked. Remembered fondly by musicians for rare luxuries like a green room with a real working toilet, a sound system “with a sound guy who actually knew how to use it” and an actual stage. After Wilson died of colon cancer, the Alligator closed down in 1997 for various health code violations – including giant palm rats scampering through the kitchen – and replaced by a supper club specializing in Bananas Foster.

Red House Painters Live at the Alligator Lounge, 1995

All About Jazz. National publication founded by designer-framed jazz snerd/New Media impresario  Michael Ricci (not the ice hockey player) in Philly in 1995 with regional offshoots a la New Times or Starbucks. Print version boasts famously tiny, unreadable print and ability to show up mysteriously in wire bins all over L.A. Cavernous and unwieldy with over 100,000 web pages, its online version is as easy to get lost in as the hedge-maze in The Shining. Notable for its cheerfully aggressive subscription-pitchers at various local jazz events despite the fact that the paper is free. Great reading while you’re waiting for a table/bus/bottle service/elevator/presale tickets/date/happy ending. I have a pile of them in the corner that I’ve never read.

Al’s Bar. Much-missed, oft-misunderstood, impossible-to-find (at least for virgins) odiferous graffiti-strewn dive in downtown L.A.’s arts district located in basement of 100-year-old American Hotel building at 305 S. Hewitt Street. Opened on site of former truckers’ bar by mustachioed, widow-peaked artist Mark Kreisel on Easter Sunday 1979 as a way to fund his nearby art gallery (ahead of the city’s 1981 “artist-in-residence” ordinance) and went on to feature DNA, The Fall, The Residents, Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, Nirvana, Hüsker Dü, Beck, L7 and Arthur Lee & Love. Also featured adventurous local music of all stripes care of booker Lizzie Balogh (and later, Toast and Jim Miller), who scheduled arty and experimental groups you'd never hear on the Sunset Strip: Paper Tulips, W.A.C.O., the Ray-O-Vacs, Christian Death, REDD KROSS, Betty Blowtorch, The Gun Club, Lutefisk, Popdefect, TVTV$, the Dagons, Tex & the Horseheads, the Dickies, Texas Terri, the Humpers, The 400 Blows, Tadpole, Blues Experiment, Ballgagger, the Caltransvestites and the Imperial Butt Wizards. Thought to be the west-coast equivalent of CBGB’s (acolytes of Anaheim’s Linda’s Doll Hut, Costa Mesa’s Cuckoo’s Nest and SF’s 924 Gilman St., we hear your whining), bar was famous for its numerous easy-to-remember t-shirt epigrams like “Tip or Die” or “Art & Life" and anarchic live shows where pogoing (yawn) and stage-diving (zzzzzz) were considered not creative enough – try wading pools filled with oatmeal, avocado juggling acts and exploding toy animals. CRUEL FREDERICK and Universal Congress Of, the two free jazz groups on SST RECORDS, both formed and performed regularly here. Post-fusion keyboardist WAYNE PEET recorded his 2003 album Live at Al’s Bar here. Predictably, fecklessly disgusting bathroom, decaying booths pilfered from old school Hollywood schmooze spot Nicodell’s on Melrose. Famous for its “No Talent Nite” and take-no-shit-but-lovable bouncer Cliff. Free-range mood was enhanced when patrons enjoyed 32-ounce beers for $5 and enthusiastically disregarded indoor smoking laws. Subject of snerd objet d’art 1996 comp Al’s Bar: What A Dive (featuring a CD encased in a giant yellow matchbook) and an entertaining liner notes the eponymous Jack Daniels and Jamaica Jay-loving “Al,” whose remains were reportedly buried under the pool table.

Al's Bar flyer circa 1981

Alt-jazz. Somewhat useless blanket term for any kind of jazz-inflected music made approximately between John Coltrane’s mid-60s work and the advent of the Cult of John Zorn in the 1980s. For awhile, this type of music didn’t even have a name—now it has about 25, from the sublime to the insulting: “Post-Jazz,” “Edge Jazz,” “Nu Jazz,” "Anti-Jazz," "Post-Miles," “Jazzcore,” “Creative Jazz.” Some would say it shouldn’t even be called “jazz” anymore—now, it’s “Creative Music,” “New Music” or simply “That Weird Sh*t.” (Reedman VINNY GOLIA prefers the mouthful of “Contemporary Improvisational;” the CLINE Brothers call it “Squeeky-Bonk.”) Whatever it was, the music succeeded in bridging a gap from the 60s avant-garde to the punk and indie rock generations, who saw something kindred in its musical freedoms and do-it-yourself ethic.

Amendola, Scott. Curly-haired, wire-spectacled, insanely prolific drummer with a well-known (and oft-envied) careerist streak. A longtime mainstay on the Bay Area nu-jazz scene through his associations with guitarist Charlie Hunter and Saxophonist Phil Greenlief and an honorary Angeleno for enduring six-hour car rides to play for unappreciative or nonexistent audiences in various collaborative groups like L. Stinkbug, Crater and most famously THE NELS CLINE SINGERS. Originally from Tenafly, New Jersey, Amendola’s musical pedigree extended back to his grandfather, Bronx-born guitarist Tony Gottuso, who played with everybody from Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn to Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. (Gottuso played on the original "Hello Dolly" with Louis Armstrong.) Subject of a famous print quote by San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Derk Richardson echoing Jon Landau’s famous pronouncement about Bruce Springsteen: “If Scott Amendola didn’t exist, the San Francisco music scene would have to invent him.” The Nels Cline Singers’ 2007 song “Evening at Pops’” is dedicated to him.

Scott Amendola
[Photo by Peak]

Angel City Jazz Festival. Wildly diffuse NEW MUSIC soiree with misleading name—it’s less like the Playboy Jazz Festival and more like the ALT-JAZZ version of the FUCK YEAH FEST (which it shares the same weekend). Started in 2008 by local club promoter ROCCO SOMAZZI (who was later joined by musician/label owner JEFF GAUTHIER) and despite all predictions has lasted for three subsequent years and counting. It’s purported “lack of focus” actually a testament to how eclectic and borderless the LA creative music community is and a chance for people to finally appreciate that fact. The festival has evolved from a single weekend/venue to multiple days/venues, which in LA may be a sign of success or may not. Also a place where like-minded snerds reconnect with each other in a non-Zuckerberg kind of way, only to vanish into the city again until the next big event.

Rocco Somazzi (right) and Jeff Gauthier
at the Angel City Jazz Festival 2010
[Photo by Aaron Griffith]

Ankhrasmation. Surrealist term coined in 1977 by trumpeter WADADA LEO SMITH to refer to his personal style of musical notation that in part resembled the bizarre, multicolored Sesame Street-scores of ANTHONY BRAXTON. Word is a mash-up of Ankh (Egyptian for “Life Force”), Ras (Amharic for “Father”) and Ma (“Mother”) and like Braxton uses a system of colors, shapes and symbols to indicate to players which direction to take the song (i.e., a symbol to “play orange” means you play the fruit, the color and the mood) Smith attempted to explain: “Ankhrasmation music uses no pictures of notes, no designs of notes; it’s a symbolic interpretation of what’s there. It is a way of making music that has a little bit of both improvisation and composition inside it.” It is advised to sound this word out in front of a mirror several times before using in company of knowledgeable snerds.

An example of "Ankhrasmation"

Anticlub. Originally located at 4658 Melrose Avenue in East Hollywood in a former gay-bar space once called (ahem) Snoopy’s Long Shot, the 200-capacity Anti-club opened the same year as AL’s BAR with a show by a GREG GINN-led Black Flag and similarly caught the late 60s/early80s post-punk zeitgeist of unclassifiable music thanks to leasers Russell Jessum and Jack Marquette and booker Jim Van Tyne (not to mention sound man Jac Zinder, who had a policy of not miking the amps and lived nearby with his parents). Tyne once quixotically stated that the all-ages venue was “about music that‘s a challenge” and proceeded to make good on that statement by booking family friendly bands like Flipper, Savage Republic, The Cult, Agnes Angst (a.k.a., Lily Tomlin), The Nymphs, Tomata Du Plenty, The Descendants, The Urinals, St. Vitus, Swans, Lawndale, The Meat Puppets, The Lazy Cowgirls, The MINUTEMEN, fIREHOSE, and SACCHARINE TRUST as well as spoken word and performance art. DAVID OCKER, head of the INDEPENDENT COMPOSER’S ASSOCIATION, played there with his improvising trio that included saxophonist VINNY GOLIA and flautist ANNE LEBARGE. A large group assembled by saxophonist JONATHAN GOLD, now a Pulitzer Prize-winning L.A. Weekly food critic, led a large ensemble that performed MINIMALIST composer Terry Riley's In C. Officially called The Anti-club at Helen’s Place, as owner Helen Gutman was noted for her dislike of the more bizarre acts, embodied by her frequent refrain: "What's the matter with you? Get off the stage, you crazy nut!" The club, which moved several times during its history – including a burrito stand, a Mission Furniture outlet and the parking lot of Apparel News – but had frequent zoning and fire code problems leading (among many other things) to its frequent relocations and eventual closure. FAST & FUCKED UP – a punk band with tuba player WILLIAM ROPER – played here, as did Sonic Youth during their first US tour. Front of original club featured in the 1986 PUNKSPLOITATION flick Lovedolls Superstar.

Anticlub flyer, July 1985

Arco. Knowledgeable musical term for bowed bass playing, i.e., “MARK DRESSER is the greatest living Arco player on the West OR East Coast.” When mentioned, you can nod thoughtfully and say, “Word.”

Ark. Biblically derived, blanket term adopted by at least two major avant-garde bandleaders of the 1960s – a sort of hipster term replacing the more Anglo-Saxon “commune.” Sun Ra and HORACE TAPSCOTT both used the term “Arkestra” in their very different but equally surreal big bands, which often contained more than one person on an instrument and acted as teaching ensembles for future generations of free-thinking alchemists. Typical snerd: “Yeah, man, I checked out ‘The Ark’ last week at the Levitt Pavillion!” Also see: PAN AFRIKAN PEOPLE’S ARKESTRA, THE GATHERING.

Arthur. Archeological indie snerd music mag founded in 2002 by ex-Sound Collector editor Laris Krelsins and ex-New Times scribe Jay Babcock. The heir apparent to the original OPTION magazine and a growing media empire that seemed to be poised to compete with the more inscrutable VICE magazine, Arthur trumpeted weird and forgotten music of all stripes, most notably NOISE MUSIC, psychedelia, and the avant-garde and backed up its cred and almost assured its eventual self-immolation by being free and bi-monthly. Cute snerdy titles for the names on its masthead: “universal mutant,” “psychedelic healing visions correspondent.” Columnists included Snerd Hall fo Famers Byron Coley, Thurston Moore, Daniel Pinchbeck, Douglas Rushkoff and T-Model Ford. After Arthur shut down temporarily, Babcock got wise and moved Arthur Vol II to New York, where it now exists strictly online. Sigh.

Arthur J and the Gold Cups. Depending on who you talk to this was a pioneering "punk rock big band" who was 20 years ahead of its time or a “godawful” absurdist joke. Name came from an amalgam of infamous local haunts for male hustlers: Arthur J.’s was a “big chicken hawk hangout” on the corner of Highland and Santa Monica Boulevard; The Gold Cup was “a sleazy coffee shop” located on Hollywood Boulevard and Las Palmas near the punk club THE MASQUE and its attendant squatter’s tenement THE CANTERBURY and was the subject of the scum-punk song “Trouble at the Cup” by DANGERHOUSE RECORDS chairman Black Randy. Considered by some to be the house band for The Masque, as it first emerged out of jam sessions at the club. The club’s owner BRENDAN MULLEN played drums. Quasi-Gold Digger backup singers wearing cowboy hats and toy pistol holsters dubbed The Cupcakes. Aptly named frontman Spazz Attack (a.k.a., "Craig Allen Rothwell") was known for successfully executing 360 degree flips in the middle of a song. He playing Devo’s famed Booji Boy mascot (“a bizarre adult infant freak with pre-adolescent sexuality and Yoda-like wisdom”) in the band’s videos for “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Peek-a-boo” and later was a dancer on David Bowie’s 1987 Glass Spider tour. (Rumor was he was coached by dance guru Toni “Mickey” Basil.) Lead guitarist Geza X known for his art-damaged surf guitar and trumpeter Hal Negro known for being a trumpeter in a punk band. Famed for its Cuisinarty mixing of influences: name-checking ORNETTE COLEMAN (whose song “Themes from a Symphony” they covered), Sun Ra, George Clinton and James Brown along with the New York Dolls, T.Rex and The Sex Pistols. Also may have pioneered the hipster practice of the Ironic Cover Song: from the Green Acres theme to the "Cal" Worthington used car commericals. Evolved into the pioneering LOUNGECORE band Hal Negro and the Satin Tones, with the Cupcakes evolving into the Playboy Martinet-aping Punk Bunnies.

Art punk. Poorly defined term centering on punk rock bands with artistic pretensions and can encompass the early recordings of the L.A. FREE MUSIC SOCIETY as well as the visual incontinence of bands like THE SCREAMERS and THE WEIRDOS and the stripped down minimalism of THE SMELL's house band NO AGE.

Ascension. Epoch-defining recording from saxophonist John Coltrane is considered the rosetta stone for the free jazz movement of the late-60s and beyond. (Reedman Dave Liebman once called it “the torch that lit free jazz.”) Recorded 6/28/65 at a studio on Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, during Year Zero of the Sixties counterculture, America’s involvement in Vietnam, and urban uprisings, it was Coltrane’s break with bebop and MODAL playing and and embracing of more distressing sounds and a relentless spiritual searching through a bigger band. Basically a single 40-minute group improv with a refreshingly egalitarian feel (Coltrane is listed among the horn section instead of as leader and doesn’t take any more solo time than the others), the album has had wide-ranging influence on future generations of noisemakers who wanted to challenge their audiences and annoy their neighbors. Besides Iggy and the Stooges, it’s rumored that THE GERMS listened to Ascension on a contant loop in their Hollywood punk squat. Wrote critic Douglas Wolk: "Over 35 years later, it still blows the roof off."

As Serious As Your Life. Bible of avant-garde jazz written by British photographer/Afrophile Valerie Wilmer. First published in 1977, book is considered one of the first salt-worthy overviews of the emergence of what she calls "The New Music" in the 1960s and 1970s—with incisive and fascinating profiles of ORNETTE COLEMAN, Sun Ra, ALBERT AYLER, CECIL TAYLOR among many others—and one of the ONLY books of the time to even mention the role of Los Angeles musicians like BOBBY BRADFORD and JOHN CARTER in more than just one sentence or a small-font footnote. The title is from a quote attributed to drummer McCoy Tyner.

Atwood-Ferguson, Miguel. Tall, curly-haired studio musician/bandleader and purveyor of a particularly aggressive style of punk-inflected jazz violin that hearkens back to the old Frank Zappa sidemen like Jean Luc-Ponty and Don “Sugarcane” Harris and joins him with Gen X/Y string recontextualizers like LILI HADYN and PETRA HADEN. Notably a journeyman between many different local musical métiers, particularly jazz and hip hop, Ferguson worked with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, MADLIB, BILLY HIGGINS, Dr. Dre, and the PAN AFRIKAN PEOPLES ARKESTRA offshoots THE GATHERING and BUILD AN ARK with producer/DJ CARLOS NINO. In 2009, orchestrated the music of late Detroit hip hop producer J. DILLA's for the memorable three-part Timeless: A Suite For Ma Dukes concert at the Luckman Auditorium. Cemented reputation as a shapeshifter by appearing on indie rapper FLYING LOTUS’ 2010 breakthrough album Cosmogramma.

Miguel Atwood-Ferguson (right) with Carlos Nino

Ayler, Albert. Ahead of his time (in the tragic as well as innovative sense) saxophonist from Cleveland often cited by music snerds when they want to let you know how “out” their eardrums can travel. Beloved by modern punks and avant-gardists alike because, as critic John Litweiler once wrote, "never before or since has there been such naked aggression in jazz.” Ayler mixed Salvation Army brass band messiness with R&B, blues (he backed harmonica legend Little Walter in the early 1950s) and gospel hymns and came up with a powerful multiphonic sound that was so radical and overwhelming it never found its sea legs in America but was better received in Europe. Known for his custom-tailored sharkskin suits, thatch of white hair in his black beard, and mysterious suicide-tinged death at age 34 in New York’s East River in 1970. Subject of superb if seemingly incomplete 2005 Swedish documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler and exhaustive 10-CD restropective Holy Ghost released in 2004 by Revenant Records. Spent at least three years in Los Angeles post-Army discharge, where he was summarily ignored a la one of his influences, ORNETTE COLEMAN.

Albert Ayler wails for John Coltrane, NYC, July 1967

Azz Izz. Druggy performance space located at the Venice Place complex at 1031 West Washington Boulevard (now the yuppified Abbot Kinney Boulevard) in Venice Beach from 1970 to 1978. Run by St. Louis-born ranconteur/musician Billie Harris, space was famous for closing before most music snerds even knew it existed. Official name was the Azz Izz Jazz Cultural Center and Teahouse. Acted as the Westside base for the PAN AFRIKAN PEOLE’S ARKESTRA and its attendant arts umbrella UGMAA. Harris scavenged old carpets, rolled in giant wooden cable spools to use as tables, soundproofed the place with egg boxes, pulled leaves off eucalyptus trees to make tea and fishing off the Venice Pier to make fillet sandwiches. Thought of as the progenitor to RICHARD FULTON’s FIFTH STREET DICK'S coffeehouse. Rotating house band consisted of Andre Burbage, RUFUS OLIVIER, Bobby West, ROBERTO MIGUEL MIRANDA, BILY CHILDS, George Cables, BILLY HIGGINS, Frank Morgan, ONAJE MURRAY, VINNY GOLIA, Walter Savage and JESSE SHARPS -- many of whom lived for a time at the club. Place shut down for a variety of reasons, including infiltration by the Venice chapter of the Crips, whom the musicans fought physically one night until Harris fired a shot from his gun into the ceiling. The fact that it was located across from the Westmister Elementary School might have played a role as well.

[*with apologies to David Kamp and Steve Daily, and many thanks to Henry Beard and Roy McKie]