|Last time we visited « Les Instants Chavirés » in
Montreuil, just outside eastern Paris, our Philadelphia connection on
stage was Rick Iannacone and his multicolored guitar.
And this past week
was just as colorful with Toshi Makihara showing a responsive Paris audience
his moves and dances, his grins and grimaces, his cool hits and smooth
angles, all whilst working the skins of his acoustic drum-kit with flamboyant
He’s a well-respected and heavily-traveled member of the
International free-improv scene, joining forces on stage and records
with the likes of Thurston Moore and Tom Cora, Nels Cline and Vinny Golia,
Eugene Chadbourne and John Zorn.
Toshi stretches and clowns about, linking
up crackpot Dadaist nonsense with barmy Monty Python pratfalls, getting
to swirl in more colors courtesy of Jim Meneses and his extraordinary-sounding
An odd instrument to fool around with, but Meneses has
blazed a 20-year musical trail in Europe and the US, in a sound world
where odd and bizarre, strange and unusual, surprising and unexpected
are stock-in-trade adjectives. From the Stickmen to Blast, Kixx and the
Palincks brothers, the Polite Quartet and Positive Nuns, and between
Philly’s Wet Spot and some similar venues in Rotterdam or Amsterdam,
East Berlin or Hamburg, Dresden or Cottbus, our man Jim Meneses has seen
it all, done more than his fair share of it, and in the process blew
many a musical mind, OMIP’s included.
When I hear the word “marimba”, I think “Under My Thumb”,
and that’s pretty far from Meneses’ composed/improv planet;
even though Jim and Toshi covering the Rolling Stones circa “Aftermath” should
be something to behold!!
This Philly-Tokyo-Amsterdam-Montreuil concatenation worked perfectly
at “Les Instants Chavirés”, our two accomplices giving
us very original percussion soundscapes, blending virtuosity and playfulness,
super quick time-changes and their unique timbres and textures. It was
sharp, superbly timed, and all over the place.
Quite sharp and dense as well was San Francisco/Oakland’s Fuzzybunny.
A laptop trio with home-made guitar, mountains of samples piled upon
one another (I seemed to have caught a riff from Serge Gainsbourg, possibly “Melody
Nelson”, which pleased the audience to no end). Very clever and
multi-faceted, ironic and aleatory, always surprising with a sonic menu
making one sit-up on many occasions with a “what-the-hell-was-that
Could it have been a bit of “Walk
this way” or “Purple Haze”, unless we mistook it for “Swan
Lake”, easy enough to do, what with all the ‘squeaks’ and ‘plonk
plink wizz’ dotting the landscape in all directions!
The evening was showcasing Sonore, a Bordeaux label making a specialty
of “that” music, so aptly represented by Fuzzybunny, Makihara
and Meneses. And furthermore it’s a tour: ten days through France
and a night in Barcelona!! Thank you boys for the Montreuil memories,
and good luck “en France”!!
At least twice this year, Jamaaladeen Tacuma played the New Morning,
legendary jazz night club in the French capital.
Already having played with Korean ensembles, Austrian saxophonist, Philly
new wave rockers, string quartets, Ornette Coleman, Vernon Reid and Bill
Bruford, David Murray and Daniel Ponce… (I stop the list, there
isn’t enough disk-space on any hard-drive to list all the people,
great and greatest, Jamaal has played with over the years!), what else
could he do this time around? Jamaal can always be counted on to surprise
the listener, even though a mélange of jazz, funk and world is
nothing unusual for the bass monster from Philadelphia
Well, this time he truly outdid himself: combining a five-piece jazz/funk
outfit from Philly, with Burhan Oçal’s Istanbul Oriental
Ensemble was a stroke of genius that worked beautifully.
The evening/band was called Groove alla Turca, and that said it all.
Oçal is a virtuoso percussionist with a great theatrical sense,
a player of great finesse and precision. His main instrument is a Turkish
darbuka which is played with the fingers, as well as a slew of other ‘oriental’ percussives
and several stringed instruments such as the divan-saz which he played
His eight-piece Oriental Ensemble, complete with oud, clarinet,
cimbalom, violin, and more percussions, played jubilant and rip-roaring
Turkish and gypsy trad/root music that meshed perfectly with the jazz/funk
Old Mingus trumpeter/arranger Jack Walrath was supposed to be
there but wasn’t, guitarist Rick Iannacone gave only one solo each
time, but what a solo it was, and Daryl Burge was the drum underpinning
on which Jamaal would build his awesome musical contraption.
All evening, between each song, Burhan Oçal would show off his
French with a rolled and round “Merci Beaucoup” that he evidently
took great joy and pleasure in repeating again and again.
was the right thing to say to any wildly cheering audience.
Ask ’em at the New Morning!
When I saw Brian Setzer on his first appearance at the Olympia, it was
1981 and the Straycats were on their first French tour, a tour that would
garner a form a lifelong devotion from gallic audiences for Brian, Lee
Rocker, and Slim Jim Phantom.
The French are known for that.
Once they latch on to someone with star-stricken adoration - ONCE - then
it will last a lifetime and more: Jerry Lewis, Michael Cimino, Mickey
Rourke, Tony Joe White, JJ Cale, Willie deVille,… all have lengthened
that list of ‘has-beens’ and ‘burn-outs’ who
have disappeared from circuits everywhere, but who continue to enjoy
star, or elder statesman, or relic status in La Belle France!
It’s a bit different for Brian Setzer, of course. After all, the
boy is quite sharp and can still play and he sports a nice collection
of Gretsch guitars to do it on, vintage and recent custom-jobs both.
Back in the days (1979-1980) when Brian came down from New York to play
the Hot Club in Philadelphia with his prog-wave band the Bloodless Pharaohs,
he would first bop JC Dobbs’ happy hour with a mighty fine rockabilly
aperitif unleashed by his rockin’ Topcats, and I used to marvel
at the seamless virtuosity and superb taste with which he plied his guitar
And he was all of nineteen or twenty years old at the time!
I remember one such evening, after Brian had regaled the Dobbs and Hot
Club throngs with yet another awesome display of electric guitar in two
separate bands. I leaned toward Vince, Dobbs bartender and Topcats/Straycats
fan from the get-go, and whispered in his ear this final pronouncement,
profound and all-knowing: “Brian Setzer is as important for the
development of electric guitar in a rock format as Cliff Gallup, Pete
Townsend or Jeff Beck have been in the past!”. Such enthusiasm
on my part can be explained more as a result of fine drinks and good
blow combining to transform a simply super-fine rockin’ night into
a perceived moment of artistic transcendence and fret board redefinition.
Brian’s talent, over the years, got him plenty of sales and legions
of enamored young girls on several continents, rather than a personal
plaque in the cognoscenti’s pantheon of guitar-heroes-that-truly-matter.
Sic transit Gloria mundi.
Last September night at the Olympia, a week after the 11th, with Stars
and Stripes displayed over the proceedings at center-stage, Setzer’s
latest trio (slap bass and drums) proved without a doubt that our guitar
hero could still do it, thank you, and that 2000 Parisians packing the
legendary theatre still loved him for it. And there was one more event
of great significance to further increase our French adoration of him.
Halfway through the set, he brought on stage “…a rock ’n
roll legend, ladies and gentlemen!…”, and from the wing appeared
none other than… Johnny Halliday!!!
Pandemonium in the house as Brian and Johnny intoned a nearly obligatory “Blue
Suede Shoes”, sung ‘en anglais’ by Johnny, God of Rock
and ultimate pop icon in these parts…
If you’re very young, or very isolated and never left Tuscaloosa,
or just plain ignorant of pop stuff beyond your county line, you might
be wondering who the hell Johnny Halliday is?
Why, he’s the French Elvis, of course! Born in Belgium, he made
a career in the early 60s of presenting French-speaking audiences with “translated” versions
of anglo-american pop hits of the moment: rockabilly, twist, surf, mop-top,
hippie, blues-boom,…the Man did it all, and it was nothing but
covers, with a small sprinkling of “originals” here and there.
He has that big booming voice that makes the ignorant believe that a
loud singer is a good singer (Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Mariah
Carey, Whitney Houston… come to mind!! They yell, they scream,
they shout, they shriek, and the fools are convinced they heard a vocalist
from Beyond!), but the years having taken their merciless toll (he’s
pushing 60, by now), he is known to use a sound-alike “stunt vocalist”,
a voice-over double who has volume and power, hides backstage during
concerts, and can hit the high notes at full throttle the way Johnny
could twenty-five years ago. Technology be thanked! But not tonight at
the Olympia. It’s Johnny and Johnny alone telling us it’s
three for the money and go cat go!!!
For Brian Setzer, the cost of passing years is more physical than musical.
He appeared pudgy and swollen up, not with the kind of fat you make from
too much cream, butter and “foie gras”, but presumably from
all these gallons of whisky and assorted booze he’s alleged to
have downed with his famous cronies Mickey Rourke (him again!) and Billy
Idol (gossipy comment in the Paris press the day of the show).
But isn’t that the lot of the guitar God and public celebrity?
To assuage the hurt, to deaden the pain, to alleviate the anguish of
existence with any and all numbing substance around?
Others went quite far into this and related adjuncts, seeking that ever
so elusive solace and succor, and were never to return, in fact or in
spirit: Paul Kossoff, Peter Green, Brian Jones…
So let us be thankful that Brian Setzer can still rock this town, flab
and all, with killer licks and inflammable guitars, Hot rods and Harley
choppers on the fantasy Main street of your town, turning so many mundane
weeks into endless Saturday nights!
Last New Year’s eve, I stayed home alone. Not because I so chose,
wanting to remain aloof from the really big celebrations welcoming 2001
and its parade of wonders and awe. I planned full personal activity and
hours of revelry as we all feted the advent of this long expected and
thoroughly hoopla-ed twenty-first century. Well, long expected for the
past few years at least. By us ensconced in this present of ours, this
present we think the best of all possible worlds.
Presumably, as thirty-six years old Henry Purcell lay dying on that gray
November night in 1695, he must have bemoaned his ill luck at not being
able to hang on an extra six years so as to exult in the arrival of that
Eighteenth Century everybody talked about, with all its promises of light
and betterment, a glorious century where men would fly through the air,
Italian castrati would become the rage of the London stage, and therapeutic
bleeding would finally take over from the application of leeches as the
next great step forward in curing what ailed us, la la la per omnia secula
Meanwhile, back on 12/31/2000 around 9PM or thereabout in Neuilly, I
await my pal Manu and his retinue of party monsters to come to me and
whisk me to that obligatory wild and wooly night of debauchery! And because
I can be a well-organized boy when needed, I knew of a long cyber-party
on this French web site where clubs and DJs would be followed around
the world as 2001 moved in. It started in Tokyo around 6PM Paris time,
and continued from Goa, India at 9PM. I was tuned in, ready to be turned
on awaiting to drop out!
The Quicktime sound stream over the net was clean and fluid, obviously
helped by my nice and fast cable connection. From the Axirvaad LOUNGE
GROOVE SPACE TEMPLE in Assagao, Bardez, Goa, came the stream, and I heard
it and knew it was a good stream. Never before had I experienced such
felicitous and blissful music. For three hours I sat and stood and moved
and grooved in my living-room, entranced and mesmerized at this perfectly
dosed combination of teched-up western sounds mixed with Indian melodies
and instruments, both classical and Bollywood pop. The dulcet sounds
of the santoor or banchuri flute, the plaint of the sarangi, the plangent
ring of the sitar, the stratospheric peal of Lata Mangeshkar’s
voice, all crisscrossed and inter-penetrated by a flowing ‘drum & bass’ syncopation
made up of tabla, tambourine and cymbal samples…fast, then very
fast, then slower… for three fortuitous hours!!!
A mere few better days into the new millennial century, and already I’d
emailed the French web site to tell them how great it was and “merci
beaucoup” and who are these guys and where can I hear some more?!
In February the French crew directs me to Ranjeev and Deepti at Axirvaad
in Goa, who in turn inform me in April that it was DJ Bhaisaab from Bhavishyavani
(Bombay) mixing live from the Lounge Groove Space Temple that I heard
that night four long months ago. In June DJ Bhaisaab himself got in touch,
and the circle was enjoined in October when two other Bhavishyavani acolytes,
namely webmaster Kini and DJ Insat, turned up in Paris for both work
and play and a little spinning evening at Coffee India, rue de Lappe,
near Bastille. As it happens, DJ Insat aka Ashim, is a happening and
working film director in Bombay, doing the advert/music-clip axis to
great success, I’m told. His current project is a multi-part documentary
on the Indo-Pakistani musical diaspora in the West. First stop was a
week of shooting DV in the Bhangra world of east London and Birmingham,
the result of which he was editing in Paris in anticipation of a December
broadcast on MCM, the French-Euro competitor to MTV. The scenes in Berlin
(?) and New York will be explored next.
It was a great and wonderful thing to get to meet these talented people
from afar, in these internet circumstances. What’s more, I now
have pals and a place to stay in Bombay!!
Back at home, New Year’s Eve. The cyber-cast has moved to the Rex
Club in Paris, and no sign of Manu. Alone in Neuilly at midnight, rakishly
attired and enthrallingly fragranced, with no place to go, I gracefully
tilt over into the next millennium. At 1:30 Manu calls to inform me that
he is still fifty miles away where dessert is being served, and that “we’ll
be there in an hour to pick you up and go to that wild all-night groove
rave on the other side of town, and no, we don’t have the exact
address, but don’t worry, we’ll find it, and….”….
Still under Bhavishyavani’s ensorcellment, and with visions of
being lost in a far suburb at 4AM looking for that great millennial party
in the sky, I tell Manu not to bother and have a happy New One on me,
all the same. I light up another joint and sip on another ‘coupe
de Champagne’, gently spacing out as Sulochana Brahaspati and Sultan
Khan unfold before me the majesty of Darbari, raga of the late night.