By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Before Joshua cued his ram’s-horn section to tumble the walls of Jericho, music and divine mission had already been jammin’ together for millennia, and the tradition has suffered no breakdown. Our own century has seen thousands of musicians drumming up the troops for the religion of their choice. Muslim jazz pianist Dollar Brand rebirthed himself as Abdullah Ibrahim; George Harrison plugged Krishna with "My Sweet Lord"; Glenn Danzig proclaimed his "Heart of the Devil"; Berry Gordy’s lyrics praised "Money."
Never shy to testify, Christians, from the hillbilly Carter Family to metalmen Stryper, have always contributed more than their share to the choir; the challenge has been to add something novel. A trinity of recent releases demonstrates the continuing boundlessness of their ingenuity.
Those who have failed to find spirituality in the silicon chip just haven’t been looking hard enough.
"This music is inspired by God," says South Coast musician Álexi (uh-lex-eye) of his new The Mystery, an instrumental journey through the Bible performed entirely by him on electronic keyboards and MIDI computer programs. "At first, I go to my keyboard room and I start writing tracks. Nothing really comes out of it — some noise, some banging. I get frustrated, I turn off my equipment. But then I go back and say, ‘Let’s make God my partner, my melody writer.’ And everything comes out."
The result of the collaboration represents an appealing aesthetic you probably haven’t heard before. Determined beats anchor celestial sustains and windy effects, promoting a sense of divine directedness; regardless of whether one is drawn to the pretext, the album makes for a superior workout stimulant. The messages, though abstractly presented, are unambiguous- ly Scripture-related. Álexi says the song "Harvest," for instance, represents God plucking his chosen ones from among the weeds — which, judging by the music, is a most orderly process. And he explains that "Forbidden Fruit" is not about drugs — it’s simply the sin of Adam and Eve.
Álexi offers a hypothetical parental analogy to that Genesis tale of the garden, the apple (the Mac?) and the Fall. "You tell your kids, ‘You can watch TV and have the Internet and all this, but don’t go to my keyboard room and break my keyboards.’ And they say, ‘Okay,’ and then they take a hammer and they break all your keyboards."
Álexi’s influences include classical (touches of Bach, Prokofiev, Vivaldi) and the rock music he grew up listening to: Led Zeppelin (faint traces of "Immigrant Song" in the octave riffs of "Mystery"), Pink Floyd (the lush synths) and even Black Sabbath. But that was before his awakening.
"Younger kids love violent music. Then, as you get older, it gets on your nerves. Once you recognize what is the plan of God for the Earth, you receive the Holy Spirit and you change — your talents change, your character changes, your con duct changes."
The self-described rebellious youth made his transition after moving to the USA: A near-death experience at age 17 (he’s now 41) gave him perspective on his pathless life and got him looking for answers. Álexi had been raised Russian Orthodox, but "I was scared of that church, because it’s kind of de pres sed, re stricted. Some body hand ed me a Bible in the street, and I started reading and recognizing the true Chris tianity."
Apprehensive lest his music and his faith work against his business (he’s a successful technology pro vider in the field of "access control"), Álexi prefers not to reveal his surname or the Middle Eastern country in which he was reared. Those details arenthe point; the goal is accessing "the mystery of the kingdom of heaven and eternal life" through music, "a language that knows no borders."
By the way, there’s a matter Álexi wants to clear up about the modern state of his religion. "Christianity is very high-tech," he says. "Some people think Christ ians are a bunch of stupid people. But you have to be very high-tech to understand the Old Testament, and the New Test ament, and the future."
Argentina-born composer Lalo Schifrin employed more conventional vehicles — the WDR Big Band and the St. Stephan’s Youth Choir (both of Cologne), plus guests — to realize Jazz Mass, his new take on Jazz Suite on the Mass Text, which won him a Grammy in 1965. If anything can get a lapsed Catholic back into a pew, this is it.
The foundation of Jazz Mass lies neither in Álexi’s brand of Bible-basic faith nor in international megareligion’s ritualistic solemnity. The music presents Christianity in a light familiar to many of its prac- titioners: not unquestioning acceptance, but conflicted improvisation.
The introductory "Kyrie" establishes the roles: The choir will represent various strains of popular response to the mys ter ies; the solo ist will stand for the individual congregant. With unortho dox chords, the sing ers an nounce that the faithful flock, though herded together by the historical momentum of the big band’s riffing, isn’t conventionally harmonious, while Tom Scott’s swinging flute over a quick bass vamp plays the role of the storm-tossed everyman.