Super unique & talented, albeit generally slept-on, longtime San Francisco emcee Z-Man flew out to New York City last week to do a couple of gigs including opening for the Alkaholiks at the Knitting Factory last Thursday (4/10) when the Gurp City former 99th Demention emcee, down with the Hieros, totally wrecked it on the mic (pictured left), much to the delight of the numerous San Fran transplants in the NYC audience that night, proudly representing in their SF Giants gear (no doubt they showed up to see both Z-Man and the other SF rapper on the bill Starski who is on the current LIKS tour).
Z-Man, as well as pleasing fans, managed to convert many East Coast-ers unfamiliar to Z-Dazzle's fluency in the Bay Area spun Gurp City** slanguage (word billy) for a tight set that included his song "OJ Simpson & Courtney Love." A great set, with DJ Thanksgiving Brown ably backing up the MC, from a true lyrical talent who I rate up there with E40 and the late Mac Dre when it comes to being a truly creative wordsmith, creating new words and always telling stories in a most engaging way -- a far cry from the usual tired clichés that pass as rap/hop-hop these days. For proof, pick up his CD "Dope or Dog Food" (Refill/Hiero - 2002) or any of the other releases of his available at Amoeba including his "Z-Mutiny" 12" vinyl release. Z-Man never disappoints.
So, this year's festival is winding down. This is the final full week of programming; there is one more double next Thursday, including an amazing Richard Widmark classic. Anyone not familiar with Mr. Widmark's career take note, this showing of Night and the City is a great starting off point. Anyone familiar with his work should come out and pay respects as he passed on March 24th after a lengthy illness...
Last Friday my young Sylvian got a nice earful from unannounced guest speaker James Elroy. My wife Esther spotted his mug when were eating across the street at Musso & Frank, so we kinda figured he was in the area for Hell's Five Hours & The Night Holds Terror, but we didn't know he'd do a number before the 1st feature. The always lovely Coleen Grey (who starred in Hell's Five Hours) spoke between the films; she's quite a charmer. Fortunately she wasn't chastised by Kenneth Anger this time around. Previously at a showing of Nightmare Alley, Mr. Anger abruptly corrected her from the audience about some detail or another, leaving her a bit befuddled.
Music historians often site The Diablos as the originators and early archetypes to the Motown sound. Formed in Detroit in about 1950 by high school students Nolan Strong and Bob "Chico" Edwards, the Diablos derive their name from, El Nino Diablo, a book Strong was reading for a school report. From the start the group's sound centered on Nolans’s eerily ethereal, lead tenor voice. (Musical talent ran deep in his family: Nolan’s cousin, Barrett Strong, wrote "Money'' and many other R&B standards.) Other original Diablos members included Juan Guiterriez as the second tenor, Willie Hunter singing baritone, Quentin Eubanks as bass with Edwards on guitar, and later on Nolan’s brother, Jimmy, would join the group as the second tenor.
In 1954, the Diablos went into Fortune Records to cut some demos. The owners of Fortune, Jack & Devora Brown, who founded the label in 1947, immediately signed them. Their first single, "Adios My Desert Love" (Fortune 509, 1954), was written by Devora Brown. However, their second single and masterpiece, "The Wind" (Fortune 511, 1954), was written by the group. This ballad has a curiously ghostly quality and takes full advantage of the groups strongest points; a simple guitar line plays with a light vibrato, filling in behind the perfectly sculpted background harmonies singing "blow wind," as Strong's incredibly delicate, smooth as silk lead carries over the top. The atmosphere takes on a rather strange quality during the bridge when, backed by a quirky plate-reverb effect, Strong quietly recites his lines about his missing lover. All and all, and truthfully, this cut is slightly bizarre but so evocatively captivating. And, of course, it went nowhere, until some eight years later when "The Wind" was re-released in 1962-- this time it found a national audience, hitting the lower rungs of the Billboard Charts. “The Wind" is now regarded as a doo wop classic and is much sought after by collectors. The Diablos would continue to record for Fortune Records until the mid sixties, though with various lineups, perhaps the reason the last few releases were credited to only Nolan Strong.
Astral Weeks by Van Morrison is the kind of record that demands close attention like this. The playing and imagery on the album capture the feeling of that pinnacle moment we've all experienced at times in life -- of love, of hope, of desire. There's a tinge of loss to the record as well.
The album sounds miraculous to me, and when the circumstances surrounding its recording are revealed, it becomes only more so. It was recorded over a mere 3 days in 1968, when Morrison was, incredibly, only 23 years old. He used jazz musicians he had never met before to record, and a great deal of each song was improvised. It's one of the only records I find almost impossible to sing along to-- the phrasing is incredible! As for the musicianship on the album, the bassline in "The Way Young Lovers Do" alone is like nothing else on any rock record I've ever heard. It's insane. Each musician's work elevates the sound to a place of complexity and also cohesion. Together they create a sense of otherworldliness, and that is what makes the album so special.
I can easily bring myself back to a very particular time in my life when I hear this record, and it's funny but even now, the more I listen to it, the more I hear, and the more I can sink my teeth into. I guess what I am trying to say is that the album brings more pleasure with each listen, even over a period of many years! When I hear the first few bars of the starting track, "Astral Weeks," I can't help but grin and sink down into the couch or wherever I happen to be sitting. It's like revisiting an old friend. The tracks gracefully amble along and I recapture things old and discover things new as I listen. This record has the ability to gut you on first as well as each subsequent listening experience.