Thursday, August 26, 2010


Oh, but last weekend was another sublime compilation of subtle pleasures in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula aka ‘L-A’! It’s not all just mindless fun and games, though, of course. There is a strong educational aspect to it also, at least in the ‘world music’ genre that I specialize in (you might want to hedge your bets with ‘death metal’ though). So I started the weekend off early at MacArthur Park with the Korean troupe Noreum Machi. This is a classical Asian genre, not unlike the ‘classic folk’ genres that exist in many other Asian countries- especially the most heavily Chinese-influenced- from Vietnam to China to Japan. Interestingly these are the Asian countries with little or no ‘roots music’ left in their repertoires. Like the others, this one is also heavily percussive, though maybe less then Japanese ‘taiko’ drumming.

But I was most anxious to see Dengue Fever at the Pasadena Levitt Pavilion Friday night, after not totally getting my fix at Cal Plaza the week before. Partly that’s because it was a show split with Bassekou Kouyate, so not really a long enough set to fully take wings, and partly because I just happened to be sitting in a ‘dead zone’ where the chopped-up lower level creates wave interference and certain frequencies are simply canceled out, leaving hums and rumbles in the place of the intricate keyboard melodies that would otherwise occupy the space between Nimol’s high notes and Senon’s bass line… Fortunately acoustics were no problem at Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena. That’s why band-shells are shaped that way. A couple thousand warm bodies in the grass don’t hurt, either. And DF did not disappoint, even though their sax player wasn’t present. Local Khmers were out in force, too, at one point threatening to disturb the peace up front in the over-excitement of the occasion… and maybe an overdose of Mekong whiskey. Good vibes usually win over situations like that, though, and this was no exception. The set was excellent, and included several new songs… or at least ones that I haven’t heard before. I can’t wait for the new album scheduled for release in Spring 2010!

So Saturday night I went back to Cal Plaza for the Latino-themed three-way bill that included Ceci Bastida, Mr. Vallenato, and Nortec Collective. Ceci was first up and managed to get the crowd at least half-way up and on their feet. Ex-sidekick of Mex-pop superstar Julieta Venegas, Ceci has learned her lesson well, and- judging by the amount of time spent in LA- would presumably like to accomplish here exactly what Julieta has accomplished in Mexico itself. For regardless of how ‘indie’ her packaging may seem to us here, in Mexico itself, JV is pure pop, and has been for years. So with that turf largely taken, Ceci’s got her eyes on the big prize, I believe. The formula is not difficult- good songs, Latina cutie, lively Mex-pop band- of which they’ve got at least 2 of 3 down pat already. Now I love a girl wearing cowboy boots, but if Ceci kicks any higher and harder, then we may have to relocate her shows away from the San Andreas Fault. At one point she even brought out a friend dubbed ‘la reina de anarcumbia’- presumably for street cred- but she hit her stride with ‘Ya Me Voy’ - ‘I’m leaving; I’m gone; I’m outta’ here’ (you get the idea). When all her songs are THAT good, then she’ll be ready for Letterman. She DOES speak perfect English btw, so that’s no obstacle. The delivery systems may shift with the paradigm, but a hit’s still a hit…

Mr. Vallenato was up next, but as the turn-around time seemed lengthy, I wandered down to Pershing Square to see what was up. Big mistake. By the time I got back up to the water court, his set was half over, and he was cooking, I tell you- I mean COOKING- eggs, smothered in salsa. Now I don’t have much experience with vallenato except what I’ve heard from Very Be Careful and this selfsame Mr. V sitting in with an otherwise less-than-satisfying Colombian techno group a couple weeks ago, but nothing prepared me for this (and I have listened to Toto la Momposina also)! This guy- and band- can WAIL! If they’re as slick as VBC is earthy, then he is as accomplished on the accordion as many others are dilettantes. These are no oompah-oompah polkas, either btw. If this is salsified vallenato, then add another spoonful on my plate, por favor. I could listen to more of this… and kick muyself for missing part of his set.

Ah, but not to worry, because Mr. V will be back this Friday playing for the homies at MacArthur Park… and I won’t be late this time, either, I can assure you. So what about Nortech Collective (‘presents Bosstich and Fussible yada yada’) last Saturday? Well, my mama told me that if I have nothing good to say then say nothing, so… if you like listening to a tuba player and an accordionist playing minimalistic nortenos while videos screen overhead and two others (Bosstich and Fussible?) stand in front of a backdrop like two geeks in a trade-show booth… then go for it. A cada quien sus gustos. For my money, it’s all pretentious crap. So I aborted the mission after a short couple songs and went back to Pershing Square to catch what I could of the Bo Deans… and was pleasantly surprised. I like the ‘americana’ genre, too, you know… but usually for breakfast, indie rock to get cranking, jazz for lunch, then the rest of the world for the rest of the day…

In addition to the aforementioned ‘Mr. Vallenato’, this week’s best bets look like Katia Moraes and Sambaguru at the Westside Farmer’s Market on Friday and Charmaine Clamor at MacArthur on Saturday… sounds like ‘American Model’, you say? Sounds like that go down easy. Me, I’m thinking Oscar Hernandez at LACMA Saturday afternoon, maybe followed by Turtle Island Quartet at Cal Plaza…doing Hendrix? Oooh, that’s cheating.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Well, it doesn’t get much better than this past weekend for variety and quality in the LA free music department, some of it expected, some out of the blue. I’ll have to admit that I almost got my rocks off prematurely with the Budos Band last Thursday night at McArthur Park. I went expecting nothing, but apparently KCRW has been playing these guys regularly, so there was a pretty good crowd out there. Now there’s a concept- LARGE CROWD AT MCARTHUR PARK! I’d like to be able to say that more often. Too often I’m the only guero in a sparse crowd of homies with hot dogs and pupusas. What do I know? I’ve been busy traveling around the world, and then have to turn off KCRW when it’s fund-raising time lest my guilt complex destroy me.

Budos Band is hot! Now I’ve always politely respected ‘afro-beat’, but never followed it too closely for one simple reason- nobody can match Fela. Not even Femi can match Fela, but he probably comes closest, he or brother Seun. Listening to the various pretenders has always been more an exercise in endurance than ecstasy. The Budos Band raise the bar a notch in the ‘other’ department, a good healthy notch. What’s the difference? With Fela there’s always a variable there that can’t be predicted… Fela’s personality. This is something that can’t be taught… though it can be learned. It may be something as simple as coming in on the off-beat on one song… or slightly biting the reed on the next. Once it’s written in, then it’s no longer the spontaneous variable that made it so exciting in the first place, that subtle flick of the tongue that drives you wild. Budo’s got it, but I’m hesitant to speculate on its origin. It just may be that organ, though, which gives it a sound not typical of Afro-beat bands, and may be as close as the genre can come to rock & roll without going to lead guitar, because then it’s no longer Afro-beat. I Hardiely recommend a listen.

Next night was the Big Night Out, Cal Plaza water court under the Perseid showers with Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba opening, to be followed by Dengue Fever, one of my all-time favorite fusionistas, mixing up classic Khmer pop, Ethiopian jazz, surf-rock, and God knows what else those guys- and gal- have got buzzing through their brains. Well Bassekou Kouyate is on something of a roll after sitting near the top of the European world music charts with ‘I Speak Fula’ for many months not so long ago, so he’s doing the roll-out tour now, trying to sell some tickets, since not even Billboard’s Top 10 means that many bucks any more, and certainly not the WMCE. If you want bucks you gotta pack in the butts, not CD’s. Ngoni Ba did not disappoint, though hardly due to Bassekou’s ngoni all by itself, of common ancestry with the banjo, for those interested in the musical genome project. This is one tight band, doing things with talking drums that should have been done long ago- playing lead- not just some curious lilting blips in the background. That Fula/Fulani tradition (Ali Farka also spoke Fula) is well placed to fill the gap between the incredible raw stuff now coming out of Tuareg country to the north and the more citified Keita/Diabate stuff coming out of Bamako and beyond.

An interesting ‘compare and contrast’ could be made with Saturday’s African diaspora band ‘Tabou Combo’, originally out of Haiti, now (mostly) New York. While both bands can certainly rock, Bassekou’s is still clearly tied to the African folk blues tradition. You can almost feel the trodden earth under your feet. Tabou, on the other hand- full of brass and balls- has been freed by the very slavery which produced it, free to experiment with other nearby sounds and influences, free to fly with something of an ‘island sound’ claiming allegiance to no one. While that term may seem rather generic, any other description would require so many hyphens that I probably wouldn’t pass the grammar-check. Better listen for yourself. I bet they’re a regular at SOB’s in NYC.

Then there’s Dengue Fever. Then there’s always Dengue Fever, I hope, notwithstanding the real contagious disease which is currently inflicting so much misery on my sometime-home of SE Asia. This band has simply got to be seen- and HEARD- to be believed. When Nimol breaks into that high-pitch Cambodian squeal so indicative of 60’s pop music there, I get a shiver up my spine that implies that I’m now entering another dimension. Unfortunately the mix didn’t seem quite right last Friday night, as I could hardly hear Ethan’s organ at all. That’s a rather important component of DF’s sound, to say the least. Fortunately they’ll be back at Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena THIS Friday, so that may necessitate a double-dip, something I would not normally do for any lesser band. Cal Plaza may simply not be the best place for their sound, as the acoustics are rather uneven there. I think it’s better upstairs, though you sacrifice any close-up visuals, hardly a loss with the spectacular fountain background. Besides DF, best bets this week look like Nortec Collective and Mr. Vallenato at Cal Plaza on Saturday night, maybe Ceci Bastida, too, Tijuana yes! C U there.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I haven’t heard anything like it since listening to Jack Kerouac over Steve Allen’s piano (on tape, a**hole, I’m not THAT old)… okay, so maybe not since McClure and Manzarek anyway… the power of poetry- GOOD poetry- being spoken over music- GOOD music. That’s what we lucky ones got Friday night at Cal Plaza’s Grand Performance, in this case by Kamau Daaood- legendary Watts Writer- and a band that included such jazz luminaries as Otmaro Ruiz on keyboards and Justo Almario on reeds. Add to that the vocal stylings of Dwight Trible, and you’ve got an evening to remember. If for Trible the voice is every bit as much an instrument as a saxophone is, then for Daaood the spoken word is every bit as much an instrument as thought itself. Daaood stir-fries words like peppers and onions and meaty healthy tofu on a hot Chinese wok and then tosses them onto your plate over a bed of hot rice percussion to wash down with copious quantities of jazz mead wine. “I do not fit into form; I create form,” Daaood says in his ‘I’m not for Sale’ ode to master Horace Tapscott. You can say that again.

Dwight Trible is something else again, but meshes really nicely with Daaood in a kind of back-and-forth sing-song antiphony. He simply must be seen to be appreciated. Know how blind people ‘let themselves go’ in a way that sighted people can’t? While the short take might be that ‘they don’t know how silly they look,’ I suspect the reason is more one of balance. Close your eyes and see how quickly you lose yours. Dwight Trible resembles a hyper-balanced organism defining the relationship between earth and space/space and time, and his voice reflects this ethereal balancing act, constantly in motion, constantly re-positioning itself with what came before and what is yet still in mind, a mathematical variable seeking resolution.

Frankly Daaood and Trible could suffice with no backing at all, the two aspects of voice- as word and music, then harmony and melody- complete between the two of them. But the percussion gives it rhythm, and the jazz is the icing on the cake. It’s a shame nothing more has been done with the format, but then not much has even been done with the much vaster- and easier- concept of putting together moving pictures and music OR words. Look how MTV made a mockery of that without even really trying. Any body who thinks ‘it’s all been done’ lacks imagination. If it takes a trip down to Leimart Park to see these guys, I’d heartily recommend it… though downtown LA certainly makes it easy. The amount of jazz talent in LA that’s willing to come out and share itself on any given night is simply incredible and a resource not to be taken for granted.

So after a short break most of the opening band’s key members just changed jackets and came back out to back Badal Roy and his ‘Indus Valley Civilization.’ An off-shoot of the ‘Miles in India’ project of a couple years ago, this band is all about music- heavy on the percussion- not vocals. Interestingly enough Latinos Ruiz and Almario are very familiar with the Latin side of percussion, so this is something completely different. Do the two complete the two sides of the jazz percussion psyche? May be. They played a brilliant set anyway, all members taking turns at lead. The use of drum and percussion AS LEAD INSTRUMENT- not just solo rhythm- is something that should be explored much more extensively.

The Mexican band Troker played the third set of the evening, but I cut out early. I get bored on breaks. So I went down to Pershing Square and never made it back up. They sound pretty good on MySpace, though. I’d go back. Other than that there’s not much to report on last week’s offerings. Fishbone at Pershing Square sounded good on the last couple songs I caught, so I’d like to see more of them. Razia Said at McArthur Park was competent enough, but failed to excite me. This week’s looking really good, though. The chill deal looks like Friday evening at Cal Plaza once again, with Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba opening and LA’s much-beloved Dengue Fever coming out later. DON’T MISS!

Other than Dengue Fever, Tabou Combo next night at Cal Plaza sounds good, real island stuff out of Haiti! Besides that The Budos Band and Charanga Cakewalk at Mcarthur Park on Thursday and Friday nights, respectively, look like good bets. Jose Rizo is doing his take on Mongo Santamaria at LACMA’s Latin night, too, so there’s no shortage of tunes this week… and then there’s the clubs. Me, I’ll wait til it gets cold for that. See you at the water court, livest acoustics in town. Just don’t get caught in a dead zone…

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Well, this week in free outdoor entertainment- particularly of the world music variety- got off to a bit of a slow start this week. First there was Palenke Soultribe at McArthur Park. Now they’re not half-bad, mind you, and I’ve got an ever-expanding appreciation of electronica, but I’m not sure that an outdoor stage with tia y abuela y mijo is really the place for it. I mean, isn’t electronic groove, trance, whatever, custom-made for four black walls, spinning lights, mindless butt-twitching, and a healthy dose of ‘E’? Just as I was starting to think, ‘at least Nortec Collective has an accordion player,’ well right at that moment, who walks out but Mr. Vallenato himself, adding some Colombian country soul to Palenke’s techno grooves. There IS a God. I have a little bit of a problem watching people play with their computers on stage to begin with, but I can be flexible. Just try to keep it below the fifty percent threshold.

Adonis Puentes at noon in California Plaza was more my speed. Now I’m a great fan of his brother Alex (Cuba) Puentes, but this is something totally different, maybe the reason the two went their separate ways after an earlier collaboration. While Alex moved toward some impeccable pop instincts, while maintaining a Cuban rhythm base, Adonis remained closer to home, staying close to the Cuban son tradition. Interestingly, home for these guys is not actually Cuba, but British Columbia, Canada. But Cuba is the spiritual home, and the last century is the classical era, an era that Adonis recreates as surely as did the Buena Vista Social Club.

Later the same day, on the advice of numerous of my better-heeled contemporaries, I ventured out to see Cecilia Noel at McArthur Park. Once again, there seemed to be a problem of ‘place’. Is a public park really the place to see a Las Vegas-style act, especially one that features at its head a Latina ‘firecracker’? Isn’t that act a little out-of-date anyway? I mean, Charro may or may not still be alive (I’d need a doctor’s opionion to be sure), but surely with all the Madonnas and Gagas that have have come and gone in the last fifty years, you’d think we’d’ve moved on to another phase by now… not that her show’s no good, mind you. Her band’s killer, in fact, would have to be for Jimmie Kimmel to steal half of it for his own purposes, don’t you reckon? And Cecilia can still do a high-kick with the best of the Las Vegas chorus line… but still…

By all logic, Saturday should have been the payoff- given the law of large numbers and all- but… well… I was really looking forward to the show down at the Cal Plaza water court, to be divided between Nonstop Bhangra and Pacha Massive, but figured I might as well stop off at McArthur Park alolng the way, since it’s on the same Metro red line, so I can use the same ticket. I’ll only have a half hour there at most, so if the cops tell me that’s ‘two rides/two tickets’ I’ll just tell them I got off at the wrong stop, so need to continue on. Hey, I know it’s only a buck and a half, but there’s a principle involved here! The group playing was ‘Monte Negro’, variously credited with ‘rock/reggae/new wave/ska’ but which in reality is just some pretty decent ‘indie en espanol’ (mostly). I only had a few minutes if I wanted to make the start of the Cal Plaza show…

I probably should have stayed, but I’d been wanting to hear Bhangra music ever since I lived in Hounslow west of London (me and a lot of ex-pat sub-continentals) and saw it on all the flyers there every weekend, but… never got around to actually going to any shows. I was disappointed… but of course I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m still not sure if I got the ‘real thing’ or not, but somehow I don’t think a rapper should be coming out every other song to talk that shit... but you never know… The dance numbers were nice, though, even though there were vocals with no singers, i.e. pre-recorded. I left early, figuring to catch the Tubes down at Pershing Square between sets. I finally gave up after 15-20 minutes of waiting, figuring they’d only finally come up and do a quick run-through of their big hits, most of which I wouldn’t even know… So I rushed back to the water court, so’s not to miss Pacha Massive, who I’d heard OF… but never really heard… ho hum… maybe I should keep as a joke my little play on their name, Macha Passive. They make Aterciopelados look- and sound- like Nirvana, sleeeepyyyyyy… good rainy day stuff, pour a little brandy… maybe call up Michael Jackson’s doctor…

Then there’s Pete E, Escovedo that is, and a family that seems to know no bounds. Those guys not only rocked Hollywood & Highland last night, but made it memorable, including a visit by daughter Sheila E sitting in, plus numerous other members of the extended family. Pete and his brother Coke were as much a part of the original Santana sound as was Sr. Carlos himself, and Pete has gone on to become one of the grand masters of Latin jazz, an emerging genre that seems to have energized and stabilized the larger genre of jazz itself, saving it from the icky thump of too much white-boy ‘fusion’, to which jazz over-corrected after the excesses of be-bop. Jazz audiences are the best, too, the most complete mix of black white Latin Asian you’ll ever find. It saved the week for me.

This week is full of a bunch of unknowns- for me at least- so that’s good, as I like to keep it fresh. Adonis Puentes and Pistolera- both great- will be at LACMA and McArthur Park respectively, but I’ve seen both, so will likely be elsewhere. Since Madagascar is one of my favorite places in the world (watch your pockets!), I’ll definitely go check out Razia Said, one of its rising stars. Other than that, it’s pot luck and homework… that’s what MySpace is for. Some people like to rib it because of its second-ran status as a social network, but it’s maybe the single largest database of popular music in the world. There’s at least SOMETHING by almost everyone there. So maybe I’ll see you... somewhere in the golden triangle?

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