R.L. Burnside & Alan Lomax

Alan Lomax is well known as the pre-eminent field recordist and folklorist who helped bring the musical traditions of Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta to the public interest (setting aside his trove of recordings from around the world).  Together with his pioneer folklorist father, John Avery Lomax, their impact on American culture reverberates still. 

For a narrow slice of the Lomax legacy--and a subject close to my heart--collected here are films he made of R.L. Burnside of Holly Springs, Mississippi. I came to know Burnside's music after a series of late 90's remixes on Fat Possum Records and listened back from there.  On a trip to New Orleans, I spotted him in these historic photos, probably taken before he was ever recorded.

These clips offer a look into a verdant, peaceful place where, after long sweltering workdays, Burnside cultivated his sound, picking at home into dusk and playing juke joints into night.

The first tune below is from Sound Machine Groove, an album released in 1997 but recorded in1979 & '80. The film was shot two months before I was born.  In college, I listened to this song over and over--couldn't get enough of that shuffling feel!

Here Burnside's sons get into it.  You can imagine these kids playing along with their dad before they could manage instruments.

Those 90's remixed blues tunes, oddly enough, put R.L. Burnside on folks' radar.  It's where I first heard him, and in one of the tunes he calls out, "On drums, my grandson, Cedric Burnside...".

I've since seen Cedric Burnside playing live to a sparsely occupied venue in Athens, GA.  Most people there didn't understand the tradition that this young guy was carrying forward.  Despite the meager crowd, he was as solid singing behind the drum set as his grandfather was behind a guitar.

One of the comments under this video says it all:  Cedric Burnside is "the best example of a self-actualized person I have ever seen. Pure joy!" Here he is doing a mean hambone with longtime collaborator Trent Ayers.  See if you don't agree.

R.L. Burnside - bio and discography at Fat Possum
R. L. Burnside - Delta Boogie interview

Alan Lomax - at CultureEquity.org, field recordings & plenty more


Escher & Hundertwasser Prints

I've drifted back over to Seattle's superb Davidson Galleries and continued collecting images (at least virtually).  Escher caught my eye on the main page--iconic, legendary--but so too did Hundertwasser for his richly colored and textured works--and what a name!

We always gravitate towards M.C. Escher's masterworks of perspective, the tessellations, intricate patterning and bold graphics.  Along with the trademark images, this time a few lesser known pieces stood out (buy them here); the first helps to see into his process, the precision and density of his line work.  The second is a classic Eastern natural scene, a catfish (or koi) submerged in monochromatic autumn.  The last two are more commercial work, doubtless Escher's bread & butter in his early career before reaching mythical status.  His command of the medium is still unmatched and as striking as ever.

Regular Division of the Plane I, 1957
Woodcut in red on wove paper.
9-1/2 x 7-1/8 inches.

Three Worlds,   1955
14-1/4 x 9-3/4 inches

Lute (III),  1931
From XXIV EMBLEMATA. Woodcut on buff wove paper
7-1/8 x 5-1/2 inches

Peacock (Second Titled Page),   1931
From XXIV EMBLEMATA. Woodcut on buff wove paper
7 x 5-3/8 inches

The following is from Davidson's literature on Freidensreich Hundertwasser (prints here):
[Hundertwasser] was largely self-taught apart from a few months at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. While he admired members of Die Wiener Schule des Phantastischen Realismus (Viennese Fantastic Realists), it was with the richly colored and patterned surfaces of work by Gustav Klimt, Walter Kampmann and Egon Schiele that he found greatest resonance.
Hundertwasser's extensive graphic output began in 1967 and was characterized by hybrid forms that enmesh human and natural elements while using highly saturated colors, metallic imprints and carefully  ,calculated color variations within the printing of an edition.
The parallels to Klimt are evident, especially his framed, "cubbyhole" surfaces and use of metallic pigments.  The fact that he was self-taught brought to mind Earl Cunningham and maritime paintings I'd seen once in Orlando's Menello Museum of American Art; Cunningham's buildings in particular have that same tweaky, rickety feel with distorted perspective, the kind Escher would have scoffed off the paper.

These two below were made for the 1972 Munich Olympics, not necessarily remembered for sporting achievements but instead for an infamous terrorist act.  Beautiful colors printed ahead of dark days.

Olympische Speile München, 1972 (2 variations shown)
Silk screen in 21 colors with metal imprints in 5 colors 
and an electrostatic application of felt fibrils. 
40-1/2 x 25 inches.

One of Five Seaman, 1975
Silk screen in 18 colors with metal imprints in 2 colors   
33-5/8 x 22-7/8 inches.

Maybe it's the mustard color or the head shape in this last one, but I think of Os Gemeos, the twin Brazilian street artists who've been befriended by graffiti darling Banksy and lauded by international art critics.  Here's a write-up of their 2013 "Anglo-Paulista" collaboration for Banksy's residency in NYC.


Israel "Cachao" Lopez

Who is Cachao?

Israel "Cachao" Lopez is often lauded as the creator of Mambo, which then led to the advent of Salsa music. More broadly, he is respected as the greatest bassist in modern Cuban musical history.  Over six decades his innovations on the instrument and his participation in countless groups have made him a giant who has spread the Cuban sound out of the Caribbean and into the mainstream.

I came upon Cachao and his musical legacy via the actor (and avid percussionist) Andy Garcia in a documentary entitled Cachao: Uno Más, currently on PBS's American Masters. Discussed in the film, the recording above is a version of Lopez's seminal cut called "Chanchullo", originally titled "Rareza de Melitón" in 1937,  and clearly the source for Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" later popularized by Carlos Santana. Below is the film's synapsis from PBS:

The Grammy-winning bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez died in Coral Gables, Florida in March 2008, almost 90-years old. A maestro of legendary status on the world stage and ultimately considered one of the greatest Afro-Cuban musicians of all time, he had made his home in the United States for the past four decades. Coming from a family of classical musicians, he had formal conservatory training and held a seat in the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra for 30 years, performing under the direction of all of the legendary international conductors of the time – beginning at age 10! American Masters pays tribute to the Father of Mambo in the series’ bilingual film, Cachao: Uno Más premiering Monday, September 20, 2010... The film is produced, narrated and illuminated by the actor Andy Garcia, a close friend and ardent fan, who helped re-establish Cachao’s career in the ‘90s. Among the film’s many treats is Garcia playing the bongos with Cachao.

Here's one of Cachao's first American releases--can't wait to hear it!