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Letters for February 23

Readers sound off on our music journalism, Whole Foods, and Leonard Peltier.

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"The Blackman-Santana Fusion," Music, 2/9

Where's the Integrity?

Talk to any OG at the bus stop in Oakland. He'll tell you. Any teenager with her phone blasting crumpled beats on the bus will tell you. Any pasty kid at Mama Buzz who is trying to get you to come to his show at the Stork on Thursday will tell you: Bay Area music never gets enough respect. Sly, Hammer, even E-40 to a degree, get more hype for eccentricity than for their talents.

That's why there is no excuse for the superficiality of your music journalism. I've been playing music in the Bay Area for almost ten years and most of the time the things you cover have little to no traction in what I've experienced in Oakland. That's just me, of course, but it is coming from someone whose projects your publication has been kind to. I also write music reviews for a certain web site and so I know the importance of research. I also know when someone is just towing the line to crank some copy out, maybe take a date out with some comp'ed tix.

When an arts and culture publication is at its best, it enriches and interacts with the creative community. Unlike the other arts coverage in the Express, the music writing barely engages beyond the point of "public interest," and as a result could never represent our rich and diverse music community.

You should try!

Cindy Blackman coming to town to celebrate Tony Williams is kind of a big deal, you guys got it right. Fusion is an oft-maligned genre, you got that right, too. Least important is the presence of Blackman's new husband, who arguably did do bad things for "jazz-fusion." But you got it right again, he did "hit his peak" in the Seventies, and then won his Grammys much later. Aside from Cindy Blackman being a total badass, the article does go on to state that she brought some heavy hitters with her. Perhaps your writer in attendance was unimpressed, or figured there was no need to remind the readers who those heavy hitters were.

Vernon Reid, of course, was behind Living Colour, founded the Black Rock Coalition, and since then has cut out an impressive and diverse career. I know he's not Santana or anything. John Medeski may have the jam-band stain on his shirt like Santana, but he came up with heavy cats like Thomas Chapin and Bob Moses in the Downtown NY scene. He is the only organist out there who could "stand in" for Larry Young. I'm glad his "sounds" were amusing to the writer. It's true they don't do that in church.

And then there's Jack Bruce. He handled the bass chair for The First All Star Power Trio, while the guitar was handled by a hairy little guy that many people affectionately know as "GOD." Yes, Jack Bruce sang "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room." Aside from inspiring Lenny Kravitz, Jack Bruce was one of the inspirations for the Tony Williams Lifetime. Even though Lifetime initially employed Larry Young's left hand in place of a bassist, they were a power trio. Later, Jack Bruce joined Lifetime when Cream split up. The bass player for Clapton & Co. jumped ship for some avant-garde jazz? Weird, dude! The Seventies!

But Reid and Bruce, who the article states started this new group, are merely passed off as "hagiographers" — as if they are Warcraft-geeky about him? Then there's this assertion that it's Cindy Blackman bringing the street cred. She's talented, she's charismatic, she's versatile ... but she's not the one packing the street cred in his scenario.

There was also no mention that much of Lifetime's output sounds better today than it did then. It has more context now. In his seminal recording Emergency, you can hear the cannon fired that would eventually inspire no wave, punk, and grind-core. Emergency is a punk rock record made by jazz cats before the MC5 even kicked out the jams. There are moments that sound like Hella, Suicide, and even on "Via The Spectrum Road" you could say Williams sounds a little like a Devendra Banhart wannabe ... before Banhart was born. It's pretty shocking to hear all of this in Williams' music with or without consideration to the maligned jazz fluff it spawned.

Another word of advice on music journalism I'd like to pass on is that any self-respecting music journalist gets up and leaves when Santana sits in at the end of the night. I'm not saying he hasn't earned the right to. By the age of MTV, Williams was turning to folks like Carlos for work. He could play a mean disco. There's no mention that Williams plays on Santana's first Grammy-winning record in 1988. Also, back in the day when people used to call him Devadip, Santana had the same guru as John Mahavishnu McLaughlin, who was the original guitarist with Lifetime. Those two got off all right considering the first most popular guru for fusion musicians was and still is LRH. Together, Mahavishnu and Devadip took "spiritual fusion" into some of the most indulgent places, and sure as shit presaged New Age World Musak.

Carlos Santana taking the stage and ripping into The Doors is the transformation of a deserved tribute into a messy confluence of "Dancing with the Stars" and listening to AOR really loud with your uncle in his finished basement. I'm sure it drove people crazy, it made their nights, but the Carlos spotlight is unnecessary. The dude humbly invokes all the saints and John Coltrane, and then wanks out the same sloppy Chuck Berry shit over and over.


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