Last night was the Jon Hassell concert that I bought tickets for about eight months ago and have been looking forward to ever since. COTU agreed to let the kidlets hang out with him so that Mrs. p and I could attend. We live on the north end, COTU on the east side, and the show was on the west side. These facts, combined with the rain and Friday night traffic, meant we had to leave really early. Like about 1996. We were late to COTU’s and then set out for UCLA, where the show took place. We budgeted two hours to go 35 miles and surprisingly got there way too early, in about only an hour. I think the Woodman to Ventura Blvd. to Beverly Glen was strategic genius. We strolled the campus, waiting for the hall to open. We saw two young guys hanging out by the backstage door and latter recognized them on stage in the opening band. Once the doors opened, we bolted inside, picked up a copy of the new Hasssell CD, and made a beeline to the snacks and drinks. We watched the crowd arrive from our select table and chatted about our university years. Well, Mrs. p’s university years. The lobby was filling. A DJ was spinning a cool mix of ambient world beats that at times sounded like Art of Noise versus Pierre Moerlen remixes. The man who walks through the lobby striking short vibraphonic notes to herd you to the hall did so and we did so, also. Our seats up front were even better than I’d expected. I did a quick geek walk-by of the stage and reported to Mrs. p regarding the eclectic looking drum setup and the nice looking double bass. The UCLA Live director came out and spoke very briefly about the bands and asked everyone to turn off their Blackberries, iPhones, microwaves, and laptops. Then the Dhafer Youssef Acoustic Quartet hit the stage. Oh my. Youssef sat on a high stool and played his oud like…the Steve Howe of ouds. Gathered around the bandanaed oudist was Tigran Hamasyan on the piano, Scott Colley on the double bass, and Satoshi Takeishi on the drums. While a captivating oudist, Youssef’s vocals were key to this band stealing the evening. The Tunisian singer in regular voice reminded of the vocals found on Peter Gabriel’s Passion soundtrack. A fantastic voice that would hold notes for…well…ever. And then to put it over the top, he had this nasal, dolphin-like, almost synthesizer sounding, higher vocal. The crowd was in love. And his band took the ball and ran with it. The pianist, Hamasyan, played a sweet sounding Steinway with his head almost on the keys, his red tennis shoes working the pedals. The bassist, Colley was very melodic, soloing often. The man that got the biggest response upon introduction was Satoshi the drummer. He was a blend of Tats, Muir, and Wallace. All over the place. One drum solo was done with bare hands. Ouch. His kit was just the start. He brought sundry handheld percussives.
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I am a big fan of Mr. Hassell. I have most all his albums. I’m familiar with his deal. The five-piece band walked onstage without introduction. The orangey lights shone down and away we went. Hassell sat in a chair, crossed his legs, and began to rip. Propelling him were Kheir-Eddine M’Kachiche on violin, Dino J.A. Deane and Jan Bang live sampling, and Peter Freeman playing bass. Freeman really drives the sound. The samplers capture bits of the others and then reintroduce the phases in various melodulated ways. And often times a riskier method of improvisation than playing actual instruments. They added pads and Jon added his plunked electric piano chords. Via sampler, we heard horn and violin motifs looped and delayed. I enjoyed watching/listening as the bass riff was literally passed from Freeman to Bang. And then he sliced and diced it. All the while, Hassell’s horn was, as Mrs. p described, like the ocean washing over you. I’ve never (hey, I don’t get out that much…) seen the violin played like Kheir-Eddine M’Kachiche plays. He sat in a chair, held it straight upright, balanced on the top of his leg. He did a lot of call and response licks with Hassell. They just played their music and there was no dialogue with the crowd or even a break between songs. The first three songs segued together. After the fourth song the lights dimmed cueing the audients to finally gush. Unfortunately, this was about the time that a good 20% of the audience got up and left. In the middle of the music! We were in the sixth row and folks in front of, next to, and behind, were hoofing. Many of these folks looked even older than I, so maybe it was nothing more than a bedtime thing. Or had they come expecting something different? Neil Diamond? The improvisational nature of the show made it disjointed at times. And they had no chance to match the lushness of a studio release. But they stood their ground. Eventually, Hassell introduced the band and spoke to the crowd. He stood at the front of the stage addressing the hall without amplification. A Royce Hall employee ran out on stage with a microphone and stand, but Jon waved her off. He said one more and that was it. There was no time for us to wait for the available autography. Once home, I was hungry. That was when the popcorn husk became lodged on the back of my throat.