Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Renaissance Mansion

Tuesday brings us a Taurean birthday post of international proportions, on the 74th anniversary on Earth for a legendary musician.
These last few days have featured a flurry of seminal, formative Taurus musos celebrating birthdays. In just the last couple of days we've had several giants who've been fêted here before, from Robert Fripp and Brian Eno on the Avant Rock side of things, to Bill Cobham on the Jazz side, to David Byrne and Mike Oldfield and on and on. But none of those, as badass as they may be, supersedes today's honoree.
The man in the picture, who named himself after a famous palace, is one of the first to fuse international musics with American musics -- surely a process and practice we take for granted here decades later, when every country's indigenous styles are available to be hybridized with those of any other.
But back then it was unimaginable to the power of unprecedented that the distinct cultural material of each nation or people could be seamlessly fused with that of as-yet unrelated cultures, creating an indigenously amorphous combination.... like the music of a tribe that never existed, yet still represents all human beings. Taj Mahal started doing this in the 1960s, reuniting musics that had been previously related, but separated into distinct forms by the African diaspora.
As a boy growing up in Massachusetts in the '40s and '50s, the shortwave radio that was his prized possession drew in sounds from all over the globe, and once his mom, when he was 14, remarried a guitar player, it was on. He began performing in the early 1960s, and fast forward to 50 years hence and he still is.
Nope, no one in our lifetimes has succeeded in marrying The Blues to the diverse sounds of this world better than Taj Mahal, a towering figure of the music of our lifetimes and wouldn't you know it? Born this day in 1942 and 74 years young.
I saw him in 1999 -- it was at a huge Block Party in San Francisco's SOMA district, before it became taken over with cultureless tech zombies bent on paying a million a month for whatever closet is available. He opened for Parliament/Funkadelic and I remember his performance well, with the distinct impression that when I was watching him I was watching someone at the top of several Art forms at once.
Now that people like Gil Scott-Heron are gone from the world, Taj and Gilberto Gil and precious few remaining others are almost like the last of the Griots, where the worlds of poetry and music and shared myth/history and soul expression come flowing together into one tributary. Hip-hop was that from about 1988-91, but then out came the unclad hoes in the videos, exposing the pose for those who knows those lows. A terrible blow... but then that's how it goes, bros.
So, what to share to honor the occasion? Why, a classic "POP2" half hour from that ultra-retro-classic TV program, the Old Grey Whistle Test of France! This is a PAL DVD of an INA rebroadcast of Taj Mahal at the Paris Olympia in the Spring of 1970, when he had Native American songsmith Jesse Ed Davis in his band... I expect you will find it will suitably funkify your Tuesday accordingly.
Taj Mahal
Paris, France

01 program intro
02 E.Z. Rider
03 Going Up to the Country/Paint My Mailbox Blue
04 Tomorrow May Not Be Your Day
05 Yanamamalu
06 You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond

Total time: 31:05

Taj Mahal - vocals, harmonica
Jesse Edwin Davis - guitar
Bill Rich - bass
John Simon - piano
Jimmi Karstein - drums

PAL DVD of a French INA rebroadcast
2.01 GB total/May 2016 archive link
I love these old POP2s from the early 1970s.... they have a grimy, down and dirty vérité style that suits the anarchic, seat-of-the-pants artistry of a lot of the featured artists. There's also a lot of serious-sounding narration by very erudite presenters, which always cracks me up. Anyway this is a great one, a prime example of both the French version of the Midnight Special and of the totally unique sound of Taj Mahal, a Renaissance Blues Mansion born this day back in 1942 and still beating the boards like a boss in 2016! Long may he catch the Katy, and take Giant Steps outside your mind!--J.

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