||| TRANSIT II |||

Lawrence Russell

Transit II | Jon Gagan | SSRI 2006
Jon GaganJon Gagan: bass, keyboards, compositions
Bert Dalton: Rhodes piano
John Bartlit: vibraphone, marimba
Rob Wilkerson: alto sax
Ottmar Liebert: flamenco guitar
Calvin Hazen, Daniel Ward: flamenco g.
Lewis Winn, Joe Gagan: electric guitar
Chris Ishee: synth (Track 2)
Nancy Gagan: vocal effects
Robby Rothschild, Dave Bryant, Ron Wagner, Ryan Anthony: various percussion

mp3 downloads at the SSRI Listening Lounge »»

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Google Earth, zoom in

|| Jon Gagan's in a hotel room in Santa Barbara, C.A., cleaning the strings of his 5-string fretless bass, gettin' the plank smooth and fast. A little alcohol, a dab of Curvo 1800 is best. Finish with a nice shammy, a quick 3 octave wipe, tweak the tuners, check the intonation ping ping ping ping ping... pump the pedal and viola this baby is ready for ignition.

He boots up his laptop, puts on the headphones. Punch in, punch out, new CD in the mix. Transit II. Most of it laid down at The Electric Co. studio back home in Santa Fe... yep yep, gotta get this project wrapped, get a little reckless on the fretless.

|| Rubber on the asphalt, jet engines like surf. These sound codes are running through the meters of JG's latest CD Transit II like the two seasons of the musician: night and day.

First track is the aptly named Travelogue (mp3), a brain scan of a jazzer on the move, maybe jammin' at the U.N.: various spectral flavors from the traditions of Brazil, India, Spain, and U.S strobe in the montage. The groove is funky bossa, and JG's main man Ottmar Liebert has a nice attack on flamenco guitar. Fluid vibes & Rhodes twine like morning glory around the melody. Tight, beautiful, impossible to shake... especially Bert Dalton's single-malt keys, that George Shearing chordal tone... and John Bartlit's xylo-vibes nice, sine wave nice. The flamenco g. exit takes you to the sunset in Rio and below it all the bass is beautiful.

Yes, waiter, I'll have another.

As usual, nothing slack about the arrangement, structure, the whole sonic shape. Of course not -- JG uses the core players from his first solo CD, Transit (2003), and the vibe is a continuation of the funk tropicale mode laid down in that album. Unexpected shifts and ambiguous instrumentation keep you alert like strange sounds in the night. Sometimes it's just certain unisons -- xylophone sync'd with the bass, or Fender Rhodes -- that create the misty jungle chords, at others it's a funky wave in a cage, some synth patch dialled up from inner space or the geographic midway.

Yep, Jon Gagan is everywhere you want to be, like a face in the sand. Google Earth, zoom in.

shotgun: bop & groove

|| But it's not all deep electronic jazz or exotic instruments from darkest Africa or the Far East. JG sometimes goes stand-up, raids the jazz vault, takes some prisoners. "Mock Heist" (Track 3) is post-modern bop, you could say. While it starts out in the new millennium with a dreamy synth swell, the groove quickly reverts to Gotham City circa 1960. Acoustic upright bass straight out of the 5 Spot Club. Composition is a montage of bop fills and psychedelic revisionism. Nice pallet, nice colors. The Quintet goes downtown, and all around. And then, bling! Surprise! Like an old jukebox reviving from a coma, a techno loop cuts in, takes you to a fire exit, drops you in the alley.

Yes, waiter... just leave the bottle.

05. "Northbound". You hop a bus, driver says he's going north when he's really going south. You be a hostage, man, just go with the flow. This is samba time, or swing jazz step crossed with samba. Very funky stuff. Nice melodic electric by Lewis Winn, and a sweet crosstown interlude of xylo-bass. Ottmar Liebert punches the clock with a spacey acoustic solo, takes us out.

06. "Cheetah". Well-named, this baby runs like a big cat loose in the subway. Has that A-Train urgency... acoustic bass, foxed Fender Rhodes, jump & jive horns. You'll like the straight forward through-line. Alto gets to slip & slide... and below it all JG's elastic bass and Ryan Anthony's jazz-time stick shuffle keeps it all honest. She runs 4:46.

07. "Pan Am". Possibly the best track, certainly one of the best. This is like cruising in the moonlight under the Southern Cross south of the equator. Starts with a short synth loop of a beautiful, subtle siren vocal by Nancy Gagan (JG's wife), reminiscent of a chanteuse such as Astrud Gilberto, then drops into a xylo foxtrot as the ship glides through the silver waters and the shore lights twinkle. You dance, you step outside, arm in arm, listen to the bow slicing the surf, eyes closed. Meanwhile Rob Wilkerson's alto drives a melody you will recall in your dreams. You wake up -- the flight attendant has your shot of 1800 or is it Brazilian cachaca and you're at 32,000 feet, cruising the cloud seas, fan jets whispering. Pan Am. Book now.

Well, if you want to ride that jet pony around the world, you must have percussion... and JG has enlisted the services of a superb squad here: Robby Rothschild, Dave Bryant, Ron Wagner, Mark Clark, and Ryan Anthony. Anthony sets down a great bottom end on Track 11, "Cat's Eye", a moody number that sits on the edge of a rumba, leaves you with the sense of crossing a tropic. A relaxed, natural groove. A leaving & an arriving. Excellent. Drums are the first and last signals of civilization.

bass as lead

When he decides to, JG can climb out of the manhole, show you that the bass is a lot more than a juke thump in the night. Bass as lead -- this cat can lay it down like a black glove with chopped fingers on the throttle. Consider 10. "Under Cover of Darkness". Dynamite groove, cybernetics. Like low contour flying in a chopper... following the canyons, following the coast. Bass as lead, something Jon Gagan excels at... and we ain't talkin' about a Jaco pedal either. In his autobio, Sting talks about "the cult of the bass". Cult? What could he mean? Listen to this track and you'll know.

And waiter... just, just keep it comin', o.k.? We be gettin' cool now.

12. "Reverse Resolve". Fab conga/bass intro, stitched by Joe Gagan's funk guitar. Work-gang groove, hittin' the spikes. Funky two-step percussion makes you wanna shimmy, celebrate the hunt. Nice chambered reverb, like the L.A. Am Trak station. Beautiful "in-flight" conclusion with piano/synth.

13. "Theme". Certainly this encapsulates the album motif of transition, of movement in space, of flying in particular. High altitude ambience, jet engines on cruise, although this sibilant sound is but a metaphor. B minor (I hope it is) is the key of mystic solitude. The elevation is such that your heart beat slows, the meter almost disappears, falls as big steps towards the planet. Moody. A farewell, like light disappearing quickly... as it does the closer you are to the tropic.

loose like tequila, tight like a new spiked collar

The 3 bonus tracks are real bad-ass combo recordings, somewhere between the Blue Note and the Mosh Pit. Jive talk, trash talk, poetry talk... this stuff rocks, raw as a jam caught between formal studio takes.

Of special note is Bonus Track 03. Run out of weed, or Chateau Triple X but still wanna impress your rowdy uninvited guests? Download this baby while you have the chance. The aptly named Cabin Fever (mp3). This is a prison break, straight through the wall. Bass as lead? Better believe it, people. Jon Gagan's fretless bass guitar is superb, has that punchy rhythm/lead that cuts like rock, bleeds like jazz. (think: "Synchronicity" stretch jam at the famous 1984 Police concert in Atlanta) (or Jan Hammer in his Miami Vice days) Fast & percussive, shredding at Mach 3.

What could you call it -- punk-funk? The man is having fun here. Maybe it reminds you of the young Stanley Clarke when he hung with the rockers. JG closes his wings, plummets to the bottom register, flattens out, unloads a heavy piston bass, does the funky locomotive. Inmate Davo Bryant on drums. Woa, baby, don't bother looking at the dials... it's loose like tequila, tight like a new spiked collar.

Nice bonus for a nice album. Transit II... jazz astrology for inter-planetary travellers.

The stereo spread, the spacial mix is pure 3-D. Recorded & mixed at The Electric Co., Santa Fe, New Mex... and "in a hotel room in Santa Barbara." A hotel room? If these guys weren't going D.I., they'd be in jail.

Book 'im, Dano.

And, uh, waiter... we want more.

© LR '06


| Transit II Tracks |

01. Travelogue mp3
02. Some Kind of Jazz
03. Mock Heist
04. Night and Time
05. Northbound
06. Cheetah
07. Pan Am
08. Over Water
09. Intercontinental
10. Under Cover of Darkness
11. Cat's Eye
12. Reverse Resolve
13. Theme

| Bonus Tracks |

01. Away
02. 11th Hour
03.Cabin Fever mp3

Transit II CD available from SSRI »»

mp3 downloads at the SSRI Listening Lounge »»

produced by Jon Gagan | production supervisor Ottmar Liebert | all compositions by Jon Gagan Copyright luna negra music (BMI) admin. by Holland Walk Muse

Cc Audio | Features | Culture Court

Culture Court | © Lawrence Russell | 2006