Carl Hanni – Zocalo Magazine – Tucson Arts and Culture Tucson Arts, Culture, Entertainment, News and Events Magazine Thu, 06 Jul 2017 17:03:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Magnetic Anomaly Thu, 06 Jul 2017 17:03:06 +0000 Cobra Family Picnic, "Magnetic Anomaly." Cover art by Italian artist Mariano Peccinetti.

Cobra Family Picnic, “Magnetic Anomaly.” Cover art by Italian artist Mariano Peccinetti.

Cobra Family Picnic
Magnetic Anomaly
Sky Lantern/Cardinal Fuzz Records

Imagine a terrestrial cobra family picnic: some packrat samosas, perhaps a coconut mongoose curry and a birds egg lassi, laid out in a jungle glade somewhere, a tiger roaring in the background for atmosphere.

Then imagine an extraterrestrial cobra family picnic, as papa cobra, mama cobra and junior cobra sets the controls for deep space and enjoy some freeze-dried something or other before settling down for a millennium long deep sleep. Wa-la! Magnetic Anomaly by Cobra Family Picnic.

Cobra Family Picnic are firmly grounded here in the Tucson quadrant, but they clearly have their gaze set on distant cosmological horizons, and possibly other dimensions, as well. It’s spelled out right on the back cover of their new, full length Magnetic Anomaly release (following the Music For Lava Lamps EP in 2015), which has a song – broken into three parts – called, you bet, “Interplanetary Travel.” And the first track, “Draags,” starts out with a sample of a transmission from one of the Apollo moon missions, leaving any ambiguity about the direction the band is going behind. The four additional tracks on the LP, and five on the CD (“Elysium,” “Frost,” “Gilgamesh,” “Moody Mountain,” plus an epic, un-marked extra track) are all more-or-less cut out of the same hard crystal and titanium material of some of their musical predecessors on their own trips to the edge of the universe: the long and winding space jam.

Cobra Family Picnic 2These ain’t your mama’s patchouli drenched, meandering Dead jams or Dave Matthew’s collegiate festival jams; these are more akin to the explosive, high volume jams that Can perfected back in the early 1970s, or some of Hawkwind’s more exploratory missions, and are definitely kissing cousin to Pink Floyd’s ultimate rocket-ship manifesto, “Astronomy Domine.” In other words, Cobra Family Picnic work on the dark and disorienting side of psychedelia, where achieving lift-off is more likely to involve a one way ticket to oblivion rather than incense and peppermints. Modern day psychedelia hasn’t been abbreviated to simply ‘psych’ for no reason, after all: if you sometimes feel like yr trapped in a rubber room in a psych ward at a show, well…say hi to Roky Erickson while you’re there.

But perhaps it’s a disservice to called these tracks jams, a term that comes with some baggage; they may be jam-like in their winding-out, cyclical structure, but they are definitely songs. Most of the principal tracks here are built up from Boyd Peterson’s pulsating bass lines and Daniel Thomas’ hard hitting, steady drumming. Lesli Woods’ tripped-out keyboard work adds color, nuance and texture, while echo-drenched vocalist Randall Demsey does a great job of emoting into the void (especially on “Elysium,” which also features Richard Young on guitar), although his voice is a little to low in the mix to be dominant, and functions as much as another instrument as in the traditional front man role. Wood shines on the three-part “Interplanetary Travel,” where the band’s forward thrust is dialed back to idle, and they drift into hazy, ambient territory.

But enough beating around it: much of the ultimate prize and power of Magnetic Anomaly lies with Connor Gallaher’s dramatic display of electric guitar dimension-bending. Pick a song here – any song – and revel in the sweep and wide angle lens scope of his playing. It’s no news to anyone with their ear to the ground in Tucson that Gallaher is a uniquely talented and gifted string bender (including his work elsewhere on the pedal steel guitar), and this release is likely to clue some of the rest of the world in as well, certainly in psych-friendly Europe, where they will eat this up like crazy. On Magnetic Anomaly he has an apparently endless supply of new moves and shifting tonal approaches up his sleeve, seemingly tapping into the particulate flow of the universe itself. We in Tucson are lucky to count him as one of our own; at least for now.

Members of Cobra Family Picnic are all veterans of other Tucson bands, several with their feet in the modern psych movement, including Wight Lhite, Night Collectors, Desert Beats, Silver Cloud Express and Saint Maybe. Following the path of other local psych acts like The Myrrors, they have their sights set on Europe, which generally has a greater appreciation for our locally grown and nurtured talent than the rest of the U.S. does. Both their Cardinal Fuzz and Tucson-based Sky Lantern labels have high profiles in Euro psych circles, so success there almost seems like a given.

Magnetic Anomaly was produced by the band, and recorded at Jim Waters’ Waterworks Studios here in Tucson, with Waters doing the engineering. Just having Waters behind the board is a huge plus, and the record sounds dynamic and rich, with a pleasing depth in the mix, and so many sparks flying off Gallaher’s guitar it’s a wonder the studio didn’t catch on fire.

Who can blame us for craving a little off-planet escape in these strange times? Magnetic Anomaly can take you there, even if it’s for less than an hour and you remain essentially where you started; but, like the saying says, it’s the journey, more than the destination.

Banda De Los Muertos Wed, 04 Nov 2015 22:18:06 +0000 Hermanos Jovel (Victor with guitar, Oscar with saxophone, Indio, Elias, our teacher Uchi Hernandez and Jaime with trumpet) playing a gig at the senior citizen center down town Tucson in the early 80’.

Banda De Los Muertos

“Jacob and I want to dedicate this album to all of the immigrants, like my parents, who came to the United States from Mexico to start a new life, but who held on to their memories and to the music that they loved.” – Oscar Noriega

Oscar Noriega may live in New York, but he’s old school Tucson at heart. Born in California of Mexican immigrant parents, before moving to Tucson when he was eight, the forty-seven year-old Brooklyn resident and Sunnyside High graduate spent a good part of the 1970s playing in Hermanos JOVEL with his four brothers, playing rancheras, boleros, cumbias and other traditional Mexican music all over the Tucson area. Eventually leaving Tucson for California then the east coast, he studied jazz at Berklee in Boston before landing in New York City, where he’s called home for the last 25 years. Noriega has made a living as a jazz musician in NY for most of that time, no mean feat, playing alto sax, clarinet and drums with the likes of Lee Konitz, Paul Motian, Dewy Redman and Tim Berne.

Well, you can take the musician out of Tucson, but you can’t take Tucson out of the musician. Somewhere along the way Noriega rekindled his interest in traditional Mexican music, especially the brass driven genre banda, which has also been popular in the barrios of Los Angeles and Southern California in recent years. Along with fellow jazz/world music traveller Jacob Garchik (they played together in the Balkan hybrid combo Slavic Soul Party) they founded Banda De Los Muertos five years ago to play at a Dia de los Muertos celebration in Brooklyn. They have been playing ever since to crowds equal parts New York hipsters and Mexican and other Latino immigrants. They have just released their debut CD on New York’s Barbés Records, home to many fine internationally-flavored releases, and, incidentally, the new label for Tucson’s own XIXA, formerly known as Chicha Dust. The CD has gained considerable traction in the national media, including a review on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” One of their recent live shows was warmly reviewed in the New York Times. They are putting a national spotlight on banda in much the same way that the game-changing Barbés release Roots of Chicha did for the Peruvian psychedelic cumbia hybrid chicha several years earlier.

Banda album cover illustrated by Valerie Trucchia.

Banda album cover illustrated by Valerie Trucchia.

Banda De Los Muertos’ self-titled CD sticks fairly close to traditional banda, with barely a hint of modernity around the edges. The rest of the band is rounded out with several other NY-based jazz players, and topped off with the occasional vocals of Mireya Ramos, of New York’s popular all female mariachi ensemble Mariachi Flor de Toloache. The album mixes up traditional banda and other Mexican tunes (including “Tragos Amargos,” a hit for Ramon Ayala) with a cover of Marty Robbins’ hit “El Paso” and a lovely cover of “Te Quiero Tanto,” a song written and originally sung by Noriega’s grandmother Susana Dominguez Ruiz. Perhaps best of all is the rousing the lead-off track, “Cumbia de Jacobo,” a slippery, party-ready shuffle written by Noriega and Garchik. And their first video, for “El Paso,” features classic footage of the brothers and la familia in Tucson in the 70s.

Noriega’s life in Tucson was saturated with music, both with Hermanos JOVEL and in the culture at large. “From the 7th grade till my senior year of high school I was gigging almost every weekend. We played a lot of Mexican parties and weddings, quinceañeras, we played at the El Casino Ballroom a bunch. We did a lot of church functions, and you know Arizona, everybody had parties in their backyard. We also did gigs in Bisbee, Wilcox, Green Valley, wherever they called us from.”

“My father always had Mexican music going, constantly, a lot of banda music, a lot of norteña.  He had the house fully wired, there was speakers everywhere, outside, inside, every room had it. And we went to church every week (at Santa Monica), and there was always a mariachi band playing there every week. There was always some kind of music going on.”

Hermanos Jovel (Victor with guitar, Oscar with saxophone, Indio, Elias, our teacher Uchi Hernandez and Jaime with trumpet) playing a gig at the senior citizen center down town Tucson in the early 80’.

Hermanos JOVEL (Victor with guitar, Oscar with saxophone, Indio, Elias, our teacher Uchi Hernandez and Jaime with trumpet) playing a gig at the senior citizen center down town Tucson in the early 80’.

What did playing music at such a young age bring to his career as a musician, especially one in the high stakes game of jazz, with its improvisation? “I think it was good just have experience at a young age. Nothing beats performance, in front of people…it gave me confidence, to improvise. In the end I realized that it’s all the same, you just use your ears and play, and try and expand on the song your performing.”

“We played in front of the Trump building a month ago, after the debate. Where I grew up, it was 45 kilometers from the Mexican border, and a lot of Mexican’s would pass on our street asking for water or food, and we would feed them. As a kid…it took me awhile to realize what was happening. When I left Tucson and moved to the east coast, I didn’t really think about it for awhile, until I came back as an adult and realized what it was. And then playing this music brought me back to remembering what was going on at that time and seeing a lot of what was happening to immigrants that were coming to Tucson, seeing how they were treated. What I loved when I was a kid, and playing for all kinds of people…it was always a festive moment, some kind of happiness was going on there, amongst all the chaos going on.”

A party in the south side of Tucson

A party in the south side of Tucson

With offers coming in to play around the country, it seems inevitable that Banda De Los Muertos will eventually make it to Tucson, which would be only fitting. Noriega says “Ironically, when I was high school, I was like ‘I’m never playing this music again, I just want to play jazz or classical music.’ I’ve come full circle to this music again.”

Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, the Metal that Runs the World Fri, 23 Nov 2012 19:19:32 +0000 Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, the Metal that Runs the World, by Bill Carter
Scribner Books

Bill Carter’s third book, Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, the Metal that Runs the World, does indeed tell a story, one that is so squarely in front of our collective faces and yet so hidden from view that the fact that’s it’s never really been told is simultaneously bewildering and perfectly understandable. Like copper, it’s a conundrum and a paradox: and that, in and of itself, is one of the central themes of this provocative, maddening and moving book.

Copper is ubiquitous: it is, seemingly, in everything; cell phones, computers, wiring, innumerable household and construction items, virtually all motorized vehicles, on and on. Try going a day without using or encountering copper: try going an hour. Good luck with that. Copper is everywhere in the modern world, but, with a few exceptions, largely unseen. Furthermore, who really thinks about it, especially where it comes from and what has to happen for it to be turned into a useful commodity? Fortunately for us, Bill Carter got interested.

Bill Carter is uniquely suited for this task. A current resident of Flagstaff, a former Tucsonan and longtime resident of Bisbee, Carter is the author of two previous, equally wonderful books, Red Summer (about salmon fishing in Alaska) and the remarkable Fools Rush In, about his time spent in Sarajevo during it’s siege in the Bosnian war of the 1990s. In all of his books, he has shown an unerring gift for blending the personal with the universal, and using his own personal experiences as a jumping off point into much larger stories with larger import.

Boom, Bust, Boom is perfect Carter material. Like I said, he was a longtime resident of Bisbee: a town built into existence because of its copper mine, at one point one of the biggest in the U.S. Carter uses his own experiences as a parent and a resident having to face the forces that mining has unleashed in the town—and the possible reopening of the mine—as an entry way into the tangle of complexities that the mining and use of copper unleashes.

What he uncovers is remarkable, fascinating, maddening and full of dire warnings for our collective future. The short story is that we need and rely on copper to live in the modern world, but the extraction of copper ore from the earth, the refining of it and the appalling waste that it leaves behind is one of the most grievous injuries that mankind has inflicted on the earth. Carter walks us through not only the extraction and production of it, but the buying and selling of it, the stockpiling of it, the geopolitical significance of it and how it, literally, wires the world together.

Herein lies the unavoidable, seemingly insurmountable crux of the copper “issue;” we apparently can’t live without it in the modern world, but we are hastening our end to get it. Unless we are prepared to return to some sort of hunter/gatherer and subsistence farming form of civilization—not terribly realistic, as there’s not much left to hunt or gather—until someone comes up with a better way of running computers and cars, we’re stuck with the stuff.

Along his journey Carter interviews numerous apologists and functionaries working in the mining business, and his encounters with them provide many of the most memorable and revealing aspects of his story. For the most part they are polite and helpful in their own way, as long as they can control the narrative; but when pushed on issues they also push back or just check out. Carter has a truly advanced gift for cutting through all of the benign bullshit that is tossed his (and our way) about “safe mining” and “low impact on the environment” rhetoric. He listens, reasons his way through it, then time and again puts their arguments to a reality-based test. They loose, of course: mining is inherently destructive, from a world impact point of view.

But we all really lose, as we also win the right to live in the modern world, a dilemma that Bill Carter paints with tremendous empathy in Boom, Bust, Boom.