Harry Taussig and Max Ochs: Together Again, For the First Time

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By Steve Hochman

In 1967, acoustic guitarists Max Ochs and Harry Taussig were each featured on “Contemporary Guitar,” an album sampler-of-sorts put out by John Fahey’s Takoma Records label to spotlight some of those in what was termed the “American primitive” form. Also featuring tracks from Robbie Basho, Mississippi blues veteran Bukka White and Fahey himself.

Last night, fifty years later, the two shared a stage for the first time for a concert at the fine new Zebulon club alongside the Los Angeles River in the area known as Frogtown. The occasion was the release of “The Music of Harry Taussig & Max Ochs” on devoted fan Josh Rosenthal’s Tompkins Square label, featuring five new recordings by the former and three by the latter, commemorating that Takoma album — they being the only contributors to it still living.

For that matter, as improbable as it may seem, this evening was the first time the two had ever met. But the rapport was natural, and their respective approaches complementary. Taussig observed that in the decades since that original album, they’ve veered in somewhat differing directions, Ochs devoted to raga-type explorations and the foundational blues repertoire (he played some Blind Willie Johnson and Charley Patton this night), Taussig taking increasing inspiration from such realms as Gregorian chant (one piece was an interpretation of such) and 20th/21st century classical music.

But there was still much overlap in their approaches, both clearly still part of the greater Fahey galaxy in which blues, old-timey, ragas, classical and sonic experiments blended together in highly personal combinations. Taking turns through the show, they passed a six-string back and forth. Ochs sang some, Taussig did not. Ochs played a few songs on another axe, Hawaiian style, with a bottleneck slide, while Taussig did about half of his on a resonant, buzzing twelve-string — which Ochs late in the set asked to borrow, re-tuning it to a different open chord than Taussig had been employing. When he handed it back, Taussig took it as a challenge and played a piece in that tuning.  (See videos of each taking a turn below.)

Obscure in legend as these two are, they brought in a nice crowd, appreciative and enthusiastic, young and, uh, not young alike. There was a brisk business for the vinyl and CDs of albums from each artist that Rosenthal has released, both archival and new. The two were going on to do three more shows in the Bay Area. And then… well, who knows? They live on different coasts (Ochs east, Taussig west). Now, though, having seen them play together, but separately (save for a closing duo with crowd sing-along on Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train”), it’s tantalizing to think what they might do if they made music together together.

As for Zebulon, it’s a wonderful addition to the L.A. music circuit, the concert room in back well thought out (co-owner Mia Doi Todd, a treasured artist herself, having taken the lead in that) and the cafe/bar in front a great meet-and-eat locale with a multi-cultural menu from Fred 62’s Fred Eric, matching the eclectic roster of acts being booked.

Charles Lloyd and Lucinda Williams: Masters and Marvels

By Steve Hochman (Photos by Peggy French)

“Let me ask you one question…”

Lucinda Williams wasn’t mincing any (of Bob Dylan’s) words when she sang “Masters of War” Friday night at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Charles Lloyd took it way beyond words. And the words may not exist to adequately describe the wonders of the band, the aptly named Marvels — Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on steel, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums — that sax-and-flute man Lloyd has brought together in recent years and showcased this electrifying night, with Williams as special guest.

Questions, mysteries — the Big Questions and the Great Glorious Mysteries — are to be expected at a time that has seen a rare convergence of Passover and Holy Week. But a week with both MOAB and Easter is the opposite, a time of disconnects, of distressing questions. Of  confusion and despair.

But if you are looking for a way to connect it all, if not provide answers or make sense, you would be hard-pressed to do better than with the three-song sequence that concluded this, yes, glorious concert. “Masters of War,” with its simmering, bitter anger, provided a climactic peak to the show, Williams joining Lloyd and band for the latter portion of the set. And then, the encore brought the persistence of determination-driven faith and hard-won renewal with Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and, returning to Dylan, “I Shall Be Released.” There we had it, the Seder tale and Easter story encapsulated in a, pardon the expression, trinity of song.

What came prior to this righteous culmination Friday night was no less, well, masterful and marvelous. In the hour or so before Williams joined in, Lloyd and the Marvels expounded and expanded on the genre-less explorations captured on their 2016 album, “I Long to See You.” It, too, is all about connections, even more clearly and profoundly in this concert as they all have gone deeper into their considerable, collective talents. This is a group that was able to go from the skittery joy of Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin’” and Lloyd’s loping mid-‘60s classic “Sombrero Sam”  to the somber solitude of Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Mood” and, profoundly, Brian Wilson’s “In My Room” with nary a blink.

“Ramblin’” had Frisell and Leisz, who have become a remarkably intuitive team via recent collaborations, pushing each other in intricately interweaving lines over the rumbling thunder propelled by Rogers and Harland — this is where the Allman Brothers meet Ornette, and it’s a pretty lively place. “In My Room” started and finished with Frisell’s deceptively casual impressionism, framing the group’s collective explorations of tune and textures, led by Lloyd’s signature love of the melody and insatiable curiosity for where he can take it. Or where it can take him. (As it has been through his storied, varied career, in which he has always ignored imposed lines between musical styles — a rare mix of high-minded musicality with a naturally populist streak, fully flowering in the current Marvels projects.)

Through it all on Friday, gentility sparkled with delight, power gained strength from peace — and vice versa. Lloyd, 79, has been part of and witness to a lot of great music in his nearly 60-year career. But often this night he stood aside, watching the other players with a look of unbridled joy.

That joy went off the scale when he brought Williams out, flipping the formula of a concert at the same locale last year in which Lloyd joined Williams and her band (which, that night, also included Frisell and Leisz) for the latter part of her concert. Williams told the crowd that they had bonded over their southern roots (he raised in Memphis, she in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas), but the bond is deeper than that in the music, bringing out much in each other. The gospel “Ain’t Nobody’s Fault But Mine” launched the pairing this night on a fine, fiery note.

But if the concluding three songs of the night gave us the power of anger and redemption, the song right before them made that possible — with the power of love. With a gorgeously wrenching version of “A Place in My Heart,” Williams’ nakedly, unashamedly sentimental waltz, she, Lloyd and the band fully revealed their hearts, and fully reached the hearts of the moved fans. There were tears.

And there’s your answer. There’s your connection. There’s your holy.

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“Lovers” and Friends: Nels Cline Dazzles at Royce Hall

By Steve Hochman (photo by Phinn Sriployrung)

Nels Cline stepped onto the stage of UCLA’s Royce Hall on Saturday, sporting a sheepish grin, following the 18 musicians who would accompany him this night. The lanky musician took a seat, strapped on and plugged in a Gibson hollow-body, the red of its hull more or less matching the color of the shirt he wore under a natty black suit. Conductor Michael Leonhart, center-stage and back to the audience, raised his arms as if suspending time for a second and then….

Elegant was a word heard several times a couple of hours later as the crowd filed out to the lobby post-concert.

Dazzled would be the word to describe the look on most of the filing-out faces.

And it was an evening of both elegance and dazzle, Cline and crew showcasing most of the music from “Lovers,” the sprawling and ambitious album of his released by jazz legacy label Blue Note last year, a mix of standards, originals, film music, modernisms and choice obscurities alike for, as he put it in one of his few times chatting to the audience, “a Saturday night concert almost entirely made of ballads” from, as he put it later,  “a record about romance, sex, intimacy… the pulsation of life.” That, on the record, covers a pretty sweeping landscape, with interpretations of music from such seemingly disparate artists as Rogers and Hammerstein, Henry Mancini, jazz (and beyond) innovator Annette Peacock and even New York experimental rockers Sonic Youth. It was even more sweeping, yet of a clearly conceived piece, in this concert.

With Leonhart’s arrangements and Cline’s leadership taking on whole new layers of, well, life in this live presentation, it evoked on everything from Debussy to Hendrix, Messiaen to Mancini, Stravinsky to swing, all taking the road through Ellington and Evans (Gil and Bill). Cline’s own wide-ranging virtuosity nodded to Jim Hall, Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, Gabor Szabo, John Abercrombie and countless other jazz guitar masters. One of the several trumpet solos taken by Leonart had a Chet Baker feel to it, very fitting to the romance theme.

For some, the “Lovers” album and this, one of just a handful of live presentations planned at this time, is a wonderful, if curious, side-trip from his role in Wilco, which has made him an international rock-guitar hero. Funny thing, though. For a good number of those at Royce this night, it’s quite possible that the Wilco gig is seen as the side-trip, even after 13 years now in that band. Heck, it could be that some barely know that he’s in that group at all, or at least not are particularly familiar with its music.

A lot of folks at this show go much further back with him — some to the days in the ‘70s when he was working at the Rhino Records store just down the road here in Westwood while trying to make inroads in his musical ventures, some back to high school and earlier. (This writer first saw his talents on full display in the spring of 1975 when we were both freshman at Occidental College and he did a performance leading a forcefully dynamic electric jazz-rock trio that had his twin brother Alex on drums.) Sure, he’s lived in New York for a while now, but he’s still a hometown boy to the family and friends at the core of this crowd.

And many of their images of him are in a more jazz context, and that mostly on the explorational front of the form — his part in the semi-acoustic group Quartet Music, or booking “new music” nights at the old Alligator Lounge (highlights including evenings of furious guitar shred duets with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, strings beaten with kitchen implements and such) and various ongoing projects including his slyly named Nels Cline Singers instrumental ensemble.

Cline was clearly moved and grateful for this homecoming reception. His parents both went to UCLA (he wore one of his father’s ties this night, he noted proudly). His brother now works there. He saw many, many concerts at Royce throughout his life.

“This is daunting and mind-blowing and overwhelming to me,” he said. “After all the wild concerts I’ve seen here, I never thought I’d be doing this. Certainly.”

The gathering on stage included compatriots from various phases and stages of his career: winds player Vinny Golia and Quartet Music violinist Jeff Gauthier among the L.A. contingent, harp adventurer Zeena Parkins, slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, keyboardist Yuka C. Honda (formerly of the band Cibo Matto, and married to Cline) among the NYC presence, as well as Bay Area violinist Jenny Scheinman, another long-time collaborator. And of course, twin brother Alex was on drums and a variety of percussion instruments, up to and including wrapping paper, which he crinkled charmingly for one number. (On a, uh, related note, Alex’s new album, “Ocean of Vows,” with a few of these same musicians in his Flower Garland Orchestra, is another wondrous release.)

Sometimes the music took on all the colorations of the full ensemble, other times focused on the smaller jazz combo core, with double-bassist Devin Hoff providing propulsive force. The ballads, the Rogers and Hart classic “Glad to Be Unhappy,” the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II musing “Why Was I Born?” (arguably the most “traditional” jazz performance of the evening) and the David Mann/Bob Hilliard-written Sinatra favorite “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” (the latter not on Cline’s album) among them, all sported ebbing and flowing orchestral dynamics and rich tonal colorations that mined and illuminated the deepest emotions of the songs, the muted sorrows and sparkling joys in equal measures. Not that it was all serious business. There was an engaging casualness at times, including a laugh-bringing bit when an audience member had to remind him to plug in his guitar as he was about to start one tune.

Arguably, though, it was the “almost” moments that were most arresting. “You Noticed,” one of several Cline originals, was a powerful tangent, with his soaring, elastic, electronically processed Fender JazzMaster lines calling to mind Norwegian guitarist-composer Terje Rypdal, a long-time Cline hero who has forged compelling intersections of jazz, rock and modern orchestral music. A medley of themes from scores to the movies “The Night Porter” and “Max, Mon Amour” (Cline is a big Charlotte Rampling fan) were modern classical/big-band at its daring best, with Cline engaging in some of the banging and scraping on the strings that have been part of his repertoire for ages, Parkins matching the approach on her harp. But then they all were also  able to bring out those same sensibilities and richnesses in an exploration of and expansion on a Mancini passage from the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” score, “The Search for the Cat,” ostensibly more traditional movie music.

And while the massive, even raucous portions were breathtaking, the most profound passage was also the quietest. In the middle of a pairing of two Peacock compositions, “So Hard it Hurts” and “Touching,” the orchestra built to a massive, dense crescendo and then, suddenly, stopped. The sounds receded, leaving only an almost-subliminal high sustained note of quasi-feedback from Cline’s guitar and a steady, complementary note from a metal bowl rubbed steadily with a cloth-wrapped dowel by his brother standing at the back. Save for Alex’s steady circling of the bowl, utter stillness took the hall. Then, after a minute of this powerful hush, bit by bit the other musicians picked up the harmonics — vibes player Brad Dutz using a bow on one of his instrument’s bars, then some strings, then the winds, then brass…. and the breath that just before had been taken, now returned, renewed.

Elegantly dazzling.

 

Baconwrap-up: 2016’s Tastiest Tunes

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By Steve Hochman

The choice for the No. 1 album of 2016 was pretty much set on Jan. 8. It was set in stone two days later, when we learned that the maker of that album had died. We had no idea that there would be so much more loss to come, not just among our “stars,” but in our lives. Even those of us acutely aware that the Boomer generation — my generation — had lodged itself squarely inside the mortality zone were overwhelmed, uncomprehending of the toll it would take on our individual and collective psyches. We held on so tenaciously to our youth, cherishing our toys and our heroes alike as we aged sometimes-not-so-gracefully, that this all messed up our sense of self, and sense of perspective.

There were certainly far greater tragedies in the world this year than the deaths of some pop stars, even the most poetic and impactful of them. And yet the works of some of them can help us regain that perspective, both on the small and big scales, if we let them. David Bowie and Leonard Cohen come to mind in particular for each of their album-for-the-ages with which they left us. In that perspective is a reminder that while we honor the dead, we should exalt the living. And in 2016 artists from across generations, across cultures, across perspectives, stepped forward with works of vital spirit that define the year, not just the bad but also much good, every bit as much as the work of those who left us.

The One:

David Bowie, “Blackstar.”

Oh I’ll be free

Just like that bluebird

Oh I’ll be free

Ain’t that just like me.

 

The Next Nine:

Adia Victoria, “Beyond the Bloodhounds”

From my review on KPCC’s Take Two: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/10/48678/new-music-from-adia-victoria-ravi-coltrane-and-mor/

This is dark, probing stuff, as the song titles indicate (“And Then You Die” is another). But it’s vibrant and vivid, threaded with a sense of her fighting personal and cultural bonds — she was raised in a strict Seventh Day Adventist family and the album title comes from Harriet Jacobs’ autobiographical 1861 novel “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.” Comparisons are tough here. She cites early blues-jazz star Victoria Spivey, and there are hints of a southern Patti Smith here (the spoken climax of “Invisible Hand”), a folky Nina Simone. But those are fleeting images, giving way to an artist taking her own path. If one song even comes close to capturing the whole, it’s the dense, banjo-accented, swamp-Gothic climax of “Stuck in the South.” Victoria Spivey by way of Flannery O’Connor? Or just Adia Victoria.

 

Xenia Rubinos, “Black Terry Cat.”

My review on KPCC. http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/31/49235/new-music-from-allen-toussaint-xenia-rubinos-and-f/

As the debate over just what, and who, is America only intensifies, there may be no sharper, more pointed, more witty, more forceful portrait than “Mexican Chef,” a new song by Brooklyn’s Xenia Rubinos. And more danceable.

 

Allen Toussaint, “American Tunes”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/31/49235/new-music-from-allen-toussaint-xenia-rubinos-and-f/

As pointed out in the astute liner notes by Tom Piazza, a New Orleans music critic, novelist and one of the writers on the HBO just-after-the-flood drama “Treme,” on one hand Toussaint brings a New Orleans tinge, with its subtle funk and delightful flourishes, to such jazz classics as Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom” and Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” (somewhat perversely played in 4/4 rather than waltz-time), while transforming such New Orleans standards as Prof. Longhair’s “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” and Earl King’s “Big Chief” (best known from Longhair’s repertoire) into elegant etudes and concisely imaginative sonatas. 

The sequence unfolds like a vibrant novel or film. And at the end, Simon’s “American Tune” is epilogue. Here we get not just Toussaint’s piano, but finally his voice, too, conversational and eloquent with Simon’s portrayal of the complex cultural mix of our nation that brought about the music we’ve just heard, born of struggle and perseverance, of fears of dying and dreams of flying, of transitions and uncertainties, of destinations and destinies unknown. Toussaint brought it into his repertoire in the first few years after the flood, one of several New Orleans musicians who latched onto it as a song that expressed what they, and their city were experiencing as they fought to rebound and rebuild. Here, though, as many in New Orleans and beyond still mourn his loss, hearing him sing this caps this final album with a perfect measure of both celebration of a life of music and sadness at its ending. His life was a truly American tune. An American symphony.

 

Anderson.Paak, “Malibu”

From our year-end wrap-up on KQED’s The California Report. https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/12/18/from-anderson-paak-to-magikmagik-california-artists-defy-labels-in-2016/

Coverage of Anderson.Paak’s nomination for the Best New Artist Grammy this month often saw him called a rapper. But despite an association with Dr. Dre, his music more often than not isn’t rap. That’s abundantly clear not just on his bracing album “Malibu,” but in live performances including a delightful, playful NPR Tiny Desk Concert appearance, Paak on drums leading his sharp compact band the Free Nationals as they flow between soul and jazz and pop and rock, even surf, with grace and wit and a sense that anything is possible. EVERYTHING is possible. In what in many ways was a very tough year in the music world, a year filled with loss and sorrow, this is a positive note.

 

Shirley Collins, “Lodestar”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/10/25/52823/tuesday-reviewsday-shirley-collins-afro-rock-and-w/

There is much sadness in the album, and much death — the traditional “Death and the Lady,” for which she’s done a “Seventh Seal”-inspired video, explicitly so. And she closes with “The Silver Swan,” a 17th century madrigal by Orlando Gibbons, in which the titular bird “thus sung her first and last and sung no more.” But in her song notes accompanying the album, Collins thinks back to nights in the early ‘50s at home in Hastings around the piano, singing that song with her sister and their mother, the three collapsing in laughter at their vain attempts to get through the intricate parts. The version here is sparer, just her voice, a harmonium and a viola. But for the song’s twilight melancholy, you can almost hear that laughter still in her voice these decades later.

 

Zomba Prison Project, “I Will Not Stop Singing”

Second volume from producer Ian Brennan’s recordings of inmates in the unimaginably horrible conditions of Zomba Central Prison in Malawi. “60 Minutes” reported on it in depth: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-grammy-nominated-music-zomba-prison-anderson-cooper/

 

Noura Mint Seymali, “Arbina”

From my BuzzBandsLA feature ahead of the Mauritanian artist’s Royce Hall show in March, which previewed several songs from this then-unreleased album: http://buzzbands.la/2016/03/03/noura-mint-seymali/

Her music is a swirling modern presentation of ancient Moorish griot sounds, with her forceful, trilling vocals weaving in the interlocking curls of her ardine (a nine-stringed harp reserved specifically for women) and swirling electric guitar lines of her husband, Jeiche Ould Chighaly, along with pulsating bass and drums. It’s also to some extent an attempt to present something that represents a good deal of the country — not an easy task.

 

Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matthew Garrison, “In Movement”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/10/48678/new-music-from-adia-victoria-ravi-coltrane-and-mor/

Here, senses of space and atmospherics are key, Garrison’s subtle use of electronics and effects providing as much a signature to the trio sound as DeJohnette’s tuneful touch and Coltrane’s bright runs, at once wild and controlled. The interplay through a variety of tones and tempos, from the floating title piece to the stutter-funk pulse of “Two Jimmys,” is seamless, the three clearly mutually inspired. So here, more than 20 years after they first played together and more than 50 years since DeJohnette played with their dads, this trio feels like something new beginning, with wonderful possibilities in front of them.

Ruby Friedman Orchestra, “Gem”

From my KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/06/21/49798/new-music-from-charlie-parker-ruby-friedman-orches/

You don’t need to know Ruby Friedman’s life story to get a sense of who she is. Just hearing her, and better seeing her perform, tell enough. Her voice and manner are as bold and brash as her flame-red hair. But she’s telling you anyway, with “Fugue in L.A. Minor,” the opening song of her long-in-coming first album, “Gem.” Part unflinching biography, part unapologetic confessional, the song briefly accounts various things on her road to this point, overcoming alcohol, having a child and giving her up among them. And she asked God, she tells us, “What am I doing here?” His answer: “Keep singing, well you better!”

It’s quite the curtain-raiser, fitting as what follows has some theatrical punch, Vaudevillian in some spots, Brechtian in others. Well, really it’s Vaudeville-y and Brecht-y, not fully either, or any one thing at any time. Bluesy also applies. Jazzy maybe. But brassy, always. Ethel Waters with a pinch of Ethel Merman — via Dusty Springfield and maybe even some Patti Smith.

 

Another Dozen:

Leyla McCalla, “A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/05/10/48678/new-music-from-adia-victoria-ravi-coltrane-and-mor/

 

Dawes, “We’re All Gonna Die.”

My coverage of their Grammy Museum appearance: http://buzzbands.la/2016/10/29/dawes-new-sounds-spotlighted-vibrantly-grammy-museum-show/

 

Sturgill Simpson, “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/03/29/47583/new-music-from-sturgill-simpson-caetano-veloso-and/

 

Leonard Cohen, “You Want it Darker”

 

Luisa Maita, “Fio da Memória”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/08/23/51483/tuesday-reviewsday-teresa-cristina-mariza-and-luis/

 

La Santa Cecilia, “Buenaventura”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/02/16/46423/tuesday-reviewsday-la-santa-cecelia-rokia-traore-a/

 

Rokia Traoré, “Né So”

KPCC review: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/02/16/46423/tuesday-reviewsday-la-santa-cecelia-rokia-traore-a/

 

Lucinda Williams, “The Ghost of Highway 20”

KQED review: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/01/31/ty-segall-lucinda-williams-and-anderson-paak-kick-off-the-years-musical-highlights/

 

Esperanza Spalding, “Emily’s D+Evolution”

 

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, “A Man Alive”

KQED: https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/01/31/ty-segall-lucinda-williams-and-anderson-paak-kick-off-the-years-musical-highlights/

 

Radiohead, “A Moon Shaped Pool”

BuzzBandsLA concert review: http://buzzbands.la/2016/08/09/radiohead-fiiiiiine-shrine/

 

Nik Bartsch’s Mobile, “Continuum”

A Little Lanois (and Friends) in the night.

 

By Steve Hochman

Anyone walking around the Silver Lake Reservoir on Sunday night might have been struck by the sounds wafting from the hills on the eastern side. Not the coyote cackles that often punctuate the evenings there, but the somber weeps of gentle steel guitar.

That was Daniel Lanois, long-time resident of the area, sitting in the portico of his historic, castle-like estate, sitting face to face with partner-in-sliding-steel Rocco DeLuca. The two were performing in part to celebrate the release of their new somewhat-ambient instrumental steel duo album “Goodbye to Language,” and in part to celebrate Lanois’ 64th birthday, which it would become at the stroke of midnight. (The whole thing also was tied to the Art of Elysium, a non-profit working with hospitalized youth, homeless shelters, special needs centers and elderly and hospice patients in arts education and expression as a vehicle for social change. Contributions in exchange for vinyl copies of the album, donated by the artists, went to the organization.)

It calmed the coyotes. And it calmed, entranced, but also excited the guests here for this special occasion. While on the surface the music was calm, if contained many more layers of emotions — sadness, seeking, as well as utter joy, clear from the expressions of the musicians, face-to-face as they improvised around themes and motifs, at times joined by drummer Kyle Crane and bassist Jim Wilson, set up next to them looking out over the landscape.

And Lanois being Lanois, much of the music played for the friends/fans who crowded in around them is newer, unrecorded — not just a few things clearly created right on the spot (Lanois calling out changes to the others), but some new songs by DeLuca, the Long Beach guitarist and singer who has been a Lanois protege for a few years now and has made consistently gripping music on record and on stage in his own right.

During a break between sets, Lanois, chatting alongside his menagerie of motorcycles (he’s fully recovered from his nasty wreck a few years back) was clearly excited about the new music, both on the record and that in process. It’s all about moving forward, he said. All about trying to touch something as an artist, something that touches something in an audience.

“Goodbye to Language” does that in ways that have been part of many of Lanois’ more prominent work, both as an artist and producer of definitive works by U2, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, the Neville Brothers and so many others. Most profoundly it connects with the ambient works he made in partnership with Brian Eno in the ‘80s, recordings that first brought Lanois to public attention. As wonderful as those records remain, there’s more depth, more emotion in what he’s doing now in that realm. But then, one would hope that would be the case with any artist having grown and accumulated, well, life over the course of several decades. Of course, that’s not always so. And not that the new sounds were all gentle — some of it got downright raw and aggressive, other emotional avenues. In the latter regard, “Language” serves as a complement to 2014’s “Flesh and Machine,” a powerful collaboration with drummer Brian Blade incorporating various electronic manipulations and textures.

Two songs featuring DeLuca’s singing were remarkably moving. “Nightingale” was the poetry of distance, of yearning for love and affection that had faded with time. As he sang he gestured with his hands as he hunched over his steel guitar, sometimes poking his chest, sometimes sweeping his hand out as if gathering something in, the words and feelings seemingly forcing him to portray them physically. A little later, “Congregate” had a quiet gospel feel, Lanois and Wilson provided harmonies, the song a celebration of the salvation of community, of coming together. Which is what was happening here at the house.

Until the cops came.

Seems those sounds wafted a bit too much for a Sunday evening. Lanois being Lanois, he worked that into the performance, not so much taking on the police for doing their jobs, but riffing stream-of-consciousness-wise and not-a-little sarcastically on the contrasts of the challenges of community, of art, of beauty — The many trees he’s planted on his estate: “Evil!” The sidewalk tables at local hangout Cafe Tropical removed: “Evil!” The Art of Elysium: “Evil!” Making music that babies could fall asleep to rather than the sound of jackhammers that’s been in the neighborhood with the reservoir renovation project: “Evil!” It was pure Beat poetry, interwoven with music in which he led his cohorts, at times calling out changes. And with each Evil! came a mischievous smile from Lanois.

Somehow it made for a perfect capper to the night, at least the musical part, as many guests stayed for mingling.

The coyotes remained calm.

Cubed.

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By Steve Hochman

The young man in the mesh-screen cube was improvising some Beethoviana on an upright piano, drawing strongly on the Pathetique, when I walked toward it Sunday evening. The cube has been constructed around a tree, which goes up through the top and canopies overhead. The music coming from within was gorgeous, expertly guided by the gent through ebbing and flowing emotions, the contours seemingly shaped in the moment to incorporate the sounds of traffic along this stretch of Sunset Blvd., the cube sitting in a patch of grass in a West Hollywood city parking lot, just east of the old Tower Records.

He finished, got up, exited the cube be pushing aside one of the mesh “walls” at a corner, shrugged off the visitor’s compliments and explained that the piece was just a little warm-up for the real performance, coming shortly. We talked a little about his day (he’d just had dinner at a nearby restaurant), about his approach to his music (he mentioned a past devotion to the music of minimalist composer/performer Charlemagne Palestine, and amusedly cited a performance at which the cognac-loving Palestine insisted that the audience keep up with his consumption).

“Well, I need to get started,” he said, excusing himself. And with that, Manuel Lima, a slight-built man with Harpo hair and a lilt to his voice imported from his native Sao Paolo, re-entered the cube, sat back at the piano, put a red scarf around his head as a blindfold and started playing.

Beautifully. Building slowly at first, single notes and short phrases, spare harmonics, now playing not just off the traffic and other ambient noises, but specifically with a preprogrammed, composed loop of white noise and subwoofer surges coming from speakers next to the piano — and those in turn triggering bursts and surges of red light from a dozen or so bulbs strung in the cube from the tree branches, at times turning the whole cube a bright, saturated red. Over the course of an hour or so, the music continued through many phases, flowing readily from hypnotic to jarring to somber to giddy, all tonal and inviting, classical in roots, modern in spirit, always inviting a visitor’s attention, but allowing that attention to wander into its own musings, as the music did the same. A video I shot, which you can see below, is a bit more than 19 minutes of it (the phone’s storage maxed out) and gives a pretty good idea of the sonic and visual splendors — you don’t even need to watch the whole thing to get a reasonable sense of it, just dip in anywhere.

A few people wandered up from the sidewalk at the musical invitation — two French tourists out on a walk before heading back to Paris the next morning, a young couple who live nearby (he, it turned out, a fellow Brazilian musician, trained in composition but in recent years the drummer of the hard-rock band We Are Harlot, she the director of the childcare program at a nearby health club), another neighborhood couple walking their bulldog, Winnie. And just by being there, they became part of the performance/experience.

Call it “Sonata for Piano and Sunset Blvd.” Or really “Sonata for Piano, Cube, Sunset Blvd, Neighbors, Electronic Sounds and Red Lights.” All created and delivered for whoever cares to drop by, under the visage of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, glaring down from a billboard overhead.

This is “The Cube,” Lima’s distinct music/art installation/experience in conjunction with the City of West Hollywood. It started last Friday and will end on Sunday (Aug. 21), Lima basically living (and sleeping) in the cube, following a daily schedule including a morning and afternoon performances of “Sunset Blvd.” involving going from left to right on the radio dial and improvising short piano pieces based on things he’s heard, and the evening variations officially titled “Red Light Piano,” which will increase in length each day, with plans for it to be a full five hours by the end. And from 5 to 7 p.m. he is hosting tea just outside the cube, during which he takes great joy in talking about this project — and anything else — with whoever might care to join him. (And yes, he gets breaks during the days to go shower, eat, etc.) It all will change, evolve in some ways through its course, as the experience changes the artist too.

Lima developed the project while finishing a doctorate in musical arts from CalArts (on full scholarship from the Brazilian government), doing a test run of the project on a hillside near the school’s Valencia campus earlier this year.  Laura had been telling me for a while how great a guy Lima is, how fascinating the concept is and in the first days of it how much of a treat it was to have this in West Hollywood. (She is working with the city to promote the project and to help get local residents and businesses aware and involved.) But it needs to be experienced to really grasp its delights. And those delights start with and bloom from the artist. Come by for music. Come by for tea. Come by to chat, with him and others who have come by too. A charmingly hand-written/drawn score, which you can see at this link, gives further sense of his take on what he’s doing

When Lima stopped playing, it was time for some wind-down visiting — he and the other Brazilian musician conversed about their thoughts and experiences in mellifluous Portuguese, while we all took turns petting Winnie (her owners, it turned out, having come by the Cube every night it’s been up). It’s public art with as much public as art. Which is the point.

As we got ready to leave, Lima and I talked more about some of the influences and musical relationships, some direct and others not so much. We talked about John Cage, about LeMonte Young’s “Well Tuned Piano” using alternate “just” tuning. I asked him if he knew the music of late guitarist John Fahey (he didn’t, but was interested), and if he knew John Schneider, the L.A. guitarist and Harry Partch and Lou Harrison devotee who also makes use of “just” tuning and other unconventional set-ups (he did). He told me about his Cal Arts composition teacher Michael Pisaro, who has developed a very personal style involving some long, indeterminate stretches of silence, or near-silence.

It’s all, we agreed, about playing with time, with perceptions of time. Spending time at the Cube and with Lima is time well spent.