TIME TRAVEL REVERIE
– we’ve all done it. It usually starts out with something ordinary, like, what if I had bought stock years ago when that dude speaking at the seminar gave his final tip, almost embarrassingly, about the new search engine no one had heard of yet, with the silly, baby talk name, that he predicted was going to be absolutely dominant? I can’t remember the name… but I can probably Google it.
Then your thoughts get more personal, going back in time to correct errors or omissions. If only I’d had the nerve to put the moves on Susie Jackson, I could’ve had a life of lascivious licentiousness and daddy’s lucre. If only my parents had married taller people, I could’ve dominated the NBA. Guitar, not accordion. Braces.
But a local musician has accomplished time travel and we’ll all soon be the richer for it, starting this Sunday. That’s when incomparable jazz drummer Peter Erskine brings his group to the Moss Theater at the New Roads campus here in Santa Monica, to debut his new album, “Dr. Um and the Lost Pages.” Concert at 4 p.m., but don’t miss the lecture at 3 p.m.
I have been fortunate enough to have two kids, two decades apart, who grew up very musically aware and have turned me on to lots of great stuff my radar missed. My son Chris alerted me when he was in his mid-teens to his favorite drummer in the universe, and so I sought out Peter Erskine’s diverse work and he became mine too. Which led me to get hold of this longtime Santa Monican, back in the ’90s when I did a series of 75 cable TV shows (“Not Just Another LA Music Show”), and he graciously agreed to come to the studio with his quartet and perform.
So now the press release comes across my desk about this album and concert, another rare treat for Santa Monica, and I’m all over it.
Erskine, still gracious, invited me to do an interview, with his collaborator famed pianist John Beasley, in the studio in back of his beautiful Japanese-styled home. At the end they sat down and played for me one of the album’s Joe Zawinul compositions, “Borges Buenos Aires,” and it was a pure delight.
As I wrote in last week’s column, Erskine’s career credits are jaw dropping (as are Beasley’s) – please look them up, so you’ll have some idea of the history you’re listening to when Erskine gently or ferociously teases the skins. But he told me he felt he had moved away from the kind of playing he did in his youth, fusion and R&B, Weather Report and Steps Ahead, that he found so satisfying and just plain fun, and determined to find a way to do that again. This project, album and band, are that solution.
“I’d traveled my ‘anti-drumming’ path of recent years about as far as I could take it,” he said. “The minimalism of my ECM and Fuzzy Music trio recording years had become my calling card. Now I feel inspired, like a kid, only one who’s got something to say.
“When John and I started drawing up the concept and music for ‘Dr. Um and the Lost Pages,’ we got this notion of giving songs a second chance, music that had somehow been skipped or overlooked. I told John I had some music in my file cabinets from old Weather Report rehearsals that I didn’t think had ever been recorded, stuff in Joe Zawinul’s hand. John created an incredible arrangement of ‘Borges Buenos Aires’ and we recorded it and only later found out that Zawinul had later recorded it himself, with his own later edits.
“Our version was remarkably in sync with his changes, but also preserves the original that was never before realized – new life for this lost page of music.”
“One of the other Weather Report songs we did for this album was ‘Speechless,’ the last recording that Jaco (Pastorius) and I made with the band,” Erskine continued. “A gorgeous tune that no one has played since, so that qualified as another lost page.”
Beasley then inquired, did you guys play live much? Erskine replied, “No, we just recorded and that was it.”
The two also plumbed other corners of their own wide-ranging careers for material. “I had a fragment of a tune that I thought had kind of a Wayne Shorter vibe,” said Beasley. “That became ‘Lost Page.’”
I offered my own theory that if you’re around long enough, songs that were left off an LP or CD can turn into gems, years later.
“I think so,” Erskine agreed. “It wasn’t the right time…” “Or you need to re-edit and update,” Beasley offered.
“Or you need the right musicians to play it,” Erskine added, ”to bring it to life, and pretty much the same combo that recorded this will be playing this Sunday at Moss Theater. Which by the way is an incredible sounding room, I think the best in L.A. for this kind of music.”
If you miss this opportunity, it’s a page lost forever.
DON’T FORGET to read the LUVE initiative, which takes approval of large developments out of the hands of the City Council and leaves it up to the voters, and sign if you think that’s a good idea.
MORE MUSIC NOTES: The 10th Annual Santa Monica Airport Art Walk last Saturday was great but too many of y’all missed the opportunity. Mark it on your calendar for next year – right now! Free admission and parking, it was a gorgeous day, all kinds of art and demonstrations, artists to chat with and workshops, plays from the Ruskin Theater, food trucks (not free), gardening, planes, a class in understanding abstract art, you name it. But I am a music guy and my favorite part was at the end of the day when I finally sat down to enjoy the Hot Club of Los Angeles, who played throughout the day. They’re a terrifically talented quintet whose name indicates their style, that of game-changer ’30s gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his Quintette du Hot Club de France. But you don’t have to wait til next year’s Art Walk; they play every Monday night at nearby tiny friendly dive the Cinema Bar (never a cover). Go. You’ll thank me.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” – Mark Twain
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com