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
One-two-three-four . . . Nope. While percussion is the most basic of musical elements, it also has the least limitations. L.A.’s edge drummers add a few thousand nuances to the pound-on-a-log legacy, these three each in a completely different way.Alex Cline.With cymbals, gongs, drums and his brain, Cline composes textures, not just tunes. There’s a soaring, timeless quality to his music that combines spirit with emotion. Especially sensual is his new Sparks Fly Upward(Cryptogramo phone). Adam Rudolph.Rising from the next generation out of Chicago after Wadada Leo Smith, Rudolph went to Africa to feel the heart of the drum, then found his own way to make it beat. His Moving Pictures band is about the most modern and natural "world" music you’ll encounter. Snapshot: Rudolph squeals out a shivering tone from the head of a conga as the shadow of butoh dancer Oguri freezes against the whitewashed wall of the Electric Lodge. Brad Dutz.Though he’s been a soundtracker, a groove artist, a percolating vibraphonist — and was even generating what might be called techno and ambient well before they impinged on mainstream consciousness — this chameleon puts a common imprint on all his music. Call it curious concentration. ELECTRIFYIN’
It’s a love affair with alternating current. At first, musicians hardly knew what to do with the last 20 years’ explosion of signal-manipulating technology. Then more and more of them figured out that you didn’t have to play just notes anymore — with equal variety and subtlety, you could play the electronic sounds themselves. This kind of improvisation has become a new strain of jazz. And yes, you have to be damn good to do it well. These L.A. residents are virtuosos.Nels Cline.Erupting in duo with Thurston Moore or Carla Bozulich or Devin Sarno or Gregg Bendian; twangling with Mike Watt; tearing out long lines in a Tapscott tribute; ranging from heavy to heaven in his own groups (and we’re just scanning a random page here) — even more amazing than guitarist Cline’s ubiquity is his ability to play exactly the appropriate thing in every context. His veins are wires, and that sure doesn’t mean they don’t bleed. Steuart Liebig.To say only that he plays bass would be misleading. As an improviser, he commands a shocking array of effects. As a composer, he can create rigorous but liberating frameworks for wide-open jazz on one hand (Quartetto Stig) and harmonica honk on the other (Beutet). And mainly, he hears everybody else, assimilates it all and kicks it to another level. Kaoru.In experimental improvisation, knowing just when to activate an old-time music box or retune a transistor radio is one thing, and Kaoru has the knack. But what you’ll never see anyone else pull off is what she’s done in Unique Cheerful Events (with Liebig, G.E. Stinson and Joseph Berardi): Sample the band as it’s playing, release the sound back into the mix, treat it with delay or whatever, and create a self-reinforcing typhoon. Snapshot: Kaoru surrounded by UCE and the red walls of the defunct Alligator Lounge, slowly twisting a knob, calm in the apocalyptic storm. G.E. Stinson.While he finds a lot of different devices with which to manipulate his guitar, the resulting sounds are moans, not shrieks — maybe his Chicago roots encouraged a bluesman’s taste. If you want an exotic atmosphere, just plug him in. Right of Violet(Nine Winds), his CD with Alex Cline and Jeff Gauthier, has enough undertow to draw most anybody down. Jeff Gauthier.A founding member (with Nels Cline, Alex Cline and Eric Von Essen) of the chamber-jazz group Quartet Music in 1979, Gauthier has already played his classically rounded electric (and acoustic) violin on L.A.’s desolation row for over 20 years. And now, after countless edge projects, he’s started a record label, Cryptogramophone, to document the music to maximum effect. If maiden releases by Jeanette Wrate’s Northern Lights Ensemble and Alex Cline are any indication, this could indeed be our secret Deutsche Grammophon. OBBLIGATO
This isn’t intended to be a complete list, only a marking of fence posts in a field so fertile that it keeps turning up new surprises. In no way does the omission of such valuable regional artists as John Bergamo, Susan Allen, Derf Reklaw, Arthur Jarvinen, Wayne Peet, Emily Hay, Lynn Johnston, Billy Mintz, Kraig Grady, Kira Vollman, etc., etc., indicate anything more than the fact that this isn’t an encyclopedia. See ’em all: at the Pasadena Shakespeare Company’s Sunday Evening Concerts, at the Faultlines series on 24th Street, at Venice’s Electric Lodge, at Hollywood’s own Knitting Factory when it opens next year. One day, this scene will be called historic. And you won’t be faking when you brag that you were there.
One might be ambitious enough to try making sense of this post-jazz jungle, to try discovering common genes. What do Chicago, Texas and Los Angeles have in common? Why do so many of these musicians (Schoenberg, Golia, Kaoru, Roper, A. Cline) have backgrounds as visual artists? Instead, we asked some of the players to respond to just one dumb question. Naturally, they were patient. That’s another thing they seem to share.Q: What motivated you to choose your current musical path? Wadada Leo Smith:I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, where music was a partaker in all aspects of African-American life. I recognized that the blues masters could cause the deepest change in feeling. Around age 6 or 7, I was introduced to music by my stepfather, Alex Wallace, a blues guitarist and vocalist, who was my first mentor in the Delta blues tradition. He opened the door of inner vision — the improvisational presence of thinking, knowing and making music from the heart. On looking back over 50 years, I recall how important it was when I learned of the master composer and performer David of the Bible tradition, and the surviving strength of David’s mystical songs, which still have great meaning today. What attracts me most to the path of music is its nonverbal nature, its power to move across racial and cultural zones to touch the human being deep in the heart, revealing new light. Alex Cline: It seems less that I chose my current direction (composer-bandleader) than it chose me. I must follow the ray of inspiration, and by doing so also acknowledge those who have come before whose creations have helped guide and bless my life. My hope is that the music will also, more importantly, reflect an approach informed by my desire to be like a transparent vessel rather than to "express myself." Perhaps the resulting sounds could even arouse in the listener the sense of longing that moves me in so much of my favorite music — a longing that leads to reverence. Jeff Gauthier:I’ve never felt as if choice was involved. Every twist in the road has kept me on the right path. When I discovered that my favorite music (Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett) somehow featured improvisation, every musical endeavor became an exercise in acquiring the skills to become a fluent improviser and composer. Perhaps the most important factor is the company I am blessed to keep — many of the most influential musicians and teachers in my life have also been my closest friends. G.E. Stinson:The realization that what I am interested in is being present and creative. And listening to pianist-improviser Richard Grossman, who embodied these concepts. Steuart Liebig:I don’t necessarily have a direction. What I have are interests — and these interests get turned into raw material for the music that I write, perform and improvise. Jazz (’50s–’90s), blues, rock, country, R&B, punk rock, classical — all become grist for the compositional mill. There are formative experiences: a somewhat musical family that afforded me the opportunity to hear things that many of my peers did not; the extreme luck to fall in with good players and comrades who could supply context and support; the opportunity to tour with both Les McCann and Julius Hemphill; the disillusion of dealing with a "major" record company, which led me to turn my back on "commercial" music and delve further into music that was truer to my vision. Brad Dutz:The quest to hear something different, odd, surprising, confusing. As long as I don’t have airplay or a record deal, I know I must be doing something right. Nels Cline:Oddly, having started in music some 30 years ago as a know-nothing, rock-obsessed improviser kid, and later having become slightly smarter and more jazz- and new-music-aware, I find my path pretty much the same as it was way back when: Emotion, intellectual interest, simple tension-and-release, form and spontaneity are still what I involve myself with. Vinny Golia:I needed an artistic path that would give me constant challenges. This music does that — you always start fresh. I also needed a way to transfer previous knowledge into another form: painting into composing, drawing into improvising. The interaction with other musicians was very important, as were the spiritual qualities inherent in this music. Kaoru:What I see and hear in everyday life. William Roper:Here’s a true story. In high school, a group of musicians that I ran with competed for a scholarship to pay for lessons. One guy played a piece of "new" music. It was very wild. This guy was a monster player and had brass balls. The judges had suspicions. They asked to see the music. He showed them a paper with a lot of pencil squiggles on it. He told them that it had been written especially for him. Here’s the point. They couldn’t tell, by listening, if it was legit or not. I found out from him later that he had scratched those marks, then got up there and played what he felt like playing.