Thursday, August 4, 2011

So Long, Brick


The Last Man Standing has finally sat down: columnist Phil "Brick" Wahl, of "Brick's Jazz Picks," has finally stepped down from his singular post as the L.A. Weekly's jazz columnist. Here's what he told Don Heckman of the International Review of Music:

A few days ago we received a missive from Brick Wahl telling us that he had ended his association with the L.A. Weekly. “Brick’s Picks has left the building” was the way he put it. A bit later we discovered that his continuing problems – “micro-editing,” “rewriting” – with a new editor had driven him to end the tenure of his widely read “Brick’s Picks” column.

“I walked,” he said. But it’s hard to understand how the Weekly could have allowed Brick’s departure to take place. No one has done a better job of covering the Southland jazz community. His intelligence, skill, musical insights and whimsical humor were immensely valuable – if, obviously, underappreciated– assets to the Weekly. And it’s their loss.


In honor of Mr. Wahl, here's one of our favorites from BJP, written in 2008 for Jazz Appreciation Month:

THE UNPACKAGED GROOVE
by Brick Wahl
The table was so close, it abutted the stage, and when Azar [Lawrence] blew that soprano of his you could look straight up into its innards and almost see the frantic rush of notes coming out all harmonized. It was that close. So close that you could feel the rhythm section, Lorca Hart’s pounding toms and John Heard’s thrumming bass and Nate Morgan’s jagged chords vibrating through the stage and through the table and into our bones. They had a groove going, a monster jazz groove, and it was unstoppable. Even Azar gave into it, left the stage to let the groove whirl itself senseless, turning and turning, ever widening. Morgan’s fingers were completely mad, pounding and pirouetting insanely intricate melodies out of Monk and McCoy and the blues and Chopin. Lorca, laughing, was all motion and whirring sticks.

Yet things did not fall apart. Because holding down that center was Heard, just his second night back at Charlie O’s after a long, scary illness. He leaned into his instrument and laid out a perfect lattice of bass notes that held everything together as it propelled it all forward. No mere anarchy, this. This was an infinite groove. This was a happening. This was jazz in all its overwhelming power, deep black music played white hot. Nothing else mattered. Not the whole crass music business, not the manufactured pop and rock and hip-hop that passes for American culture anymore, not a music press that pompously elevates mass-produced trash into art. None of that mattered, not an iota. This was a Sufi moment, all the horrors of the world dispelled by the twirling monster groove. No one slouching nowhere. When at last it came to a stop, the audience, spent, exploded with applause and rushed the stage to congratulate the players like they’d won the Stanley Cup.


But then if you dig jazz you’ve been there. Moments like that don’t happen every time; if you see enough jazz you’ll experience them. It’s one of the very last things in America, this battered America, that can take a sick and tired you and make you feel like you touched the sun. It still does what the American music industry has destroyed in almost every other music. It remains real, unpackaged, spontaneous. It’s immune to marketing campaigns and image consultants. They may have killed rock and pop and the rest, sucked them dry, but they haven’t touched jazz. Certainly not that night at Charlie O’s ... for if there had been any A&R people in the audience that night, as Lee Ving once said, they certainly went and died...That’s jazz appreciation. (published in LA Weekly, April 25-May 1, 2008)

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