Passings and Memories

A MOMENT OF SILENCE: (…) for the late Alice Coltrane and Michael Brecker — two very different but equally important jazz figures who passed away michael_brecker.jpgon the same weekend and who leave behind a void in the immediately perceptible musical cosmos. But we have recorded evidence of their work and the lasting memories of live encounters which hum in the mental recesses. For Brecker, there are warm memories from Campbell Hall just two years ago, when he was part of Herbie Hancock’s project and sounding great, shortly before being diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), to which he succumbed. A kindly monster of a tenor player, Brecker was one of a handful of jazz musicians who could keep things real and exciting on both ends of the jazz spectrum, from the modern mainstream to the funk-fueled, and marks of his influence are everywhere in music.

Coltrane has been a much more elusive musician, although we heard her a year ago in a striking, strange, and ultimately transcendent performance at UCLA, interacting beautifully with her son, the increasingly bold-sounding tenor saxist Ravi. That was her first official concert in her adopted hometown in decades, just as her fine, flowing 2004 album Translinear Light (on Impulse, the label that released most of John Coltrane’s visionary ’60s work), was her first recording in a quarter century. But she had something special to give, a fact not always recognized by naysayers and cynics.

After her husband John died in 1967, Alice — an accomplished jazz keyboardist from Detroit — moved to Woodland Hills to be your average suburban mother and started a Vedantic ashram in Agoura. For a while, you could find Coltrane on the netherchannels of late-night TV, her show mixing spiritual meditations delivered in her tranquil, hypnotic voice, with musical peregrinations on harp and synthesizer. Whether or not you were spiritually in tune with her Vedantic faith, the show was trippy, in the best, deepest way.

SLICES OF NAMM: At most conventions, one expects a certain commonality among the conventioneers. Not so at the Alice_Coltrane_umvd002.jpgannual expo, gear-and-riff circus known as the NAMM show (National Association of Music Merchants). Last week, NAMM descended on the Anaheim Convention Center, unleashing its spin on the state of the musical equipment (and, of course, software) art. Music is a vast and varied world: so are the character types who flock here from around the world, including scowling rockers, nerdy software geeks, and plenty of men and women in suits — it’s all about business, after all (snippet overheard, from one suit to another: “Those guys are on a death spiral.”).

Two local companies regularly found at NAMM were strong presences this year. Renowned custom guitar pickup, amp, and accessory company Seymour Duncan unveiled a new active humbucker and a cool distortion box, the Lava Box. Warwick — the German bass company with a Santa Barbara-based distributor — sported a booth with a Tiki/B-movie theme, its exotic natural wood basses looking vaguely, cheekily ominous in context.

Musicians and other living things love to stroll the aisles, indulging their knowledge-expansion appetite, and their gear lust. There are musical interludes galore — from a twangy Telecaster picker to a hairy distroto rock riff slinger; from a clean jazz guitar duo in the Thomastik Infeld corner to guitarist Wayne Johnson’s Metheny-ish stuff, showing the new electric model in the popular Taylor guitar booth. Celebrities of various genres and vintages show up to press flesh and sign things. Last Thursday afternoon, a spidery line waited for an audience with Van Halen’s bassist, Michael Anthony, while a less shaggy, more neatly dressed female contingent swarmed around Rick “Jessie’s Girl” Springfield, who gamely signed glossies and posed with giddy Jane Does. Life goes on. Ditto, NAMM.

TO-DOINGS: Hot picks this week include Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra, Tuesday at Campbell Hall; Al Jarreau, Friday at the Chumash Casino; and the remarkable Missourian country bluesman John Long, Saturday at Warren Hall at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.

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