TRANSIT. Jon Gagan, Spiral Subwave Records International, 2003.

TransitJon Gagan: bass, synth, saz

+ Bert Dalton [Rhodes, Hammond], Lewis Winn [electric guitar], Tim Gagan [steel guitar], Ottmar Liebert [flamenco guitar], Calvin Hazen [acoustic guitar], Kanoa Kaluhiwa [sax], Chris Allen [vibes], Dave Bryant, Michael Chavez, Mark Clark, Andrew Polling, Andy Potter [percussion]

Ottmar Liebert: production supervisor

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Lawrence Russell

the cultural interface of post-modern jazz

Jon Gagan, the great, legendary bass engine for Luna Negra. Played a fretless Fender until recently... now a dropped five-string Lakland, the highly regarded full-tone instrument made in Chicago. Style? Post-Jaco, short sweet sighs of ghost glissandi and funk fills, unison bridges and catchy, melodic leads... sculptured from years of playing call-and-response with the platinum nuevo flamenco guitarist Ottmar Liebert.

Transit is a jazz album to be sure, although not too intimidating for the non-jazz philistine. The arrangements are sophisticated, yet never weird and elitist. The percussion is great, the compas diverse... Afro-Cuban, tanquillos, samba, tango... the layers often exchanging geography and culture. Yes, it's very much an album of layers, the way the sound is mixed in subtle instrumental ladders [those unisons... vibes-bass, Rhodes-bass, synth-bass, slide guitar-bass, etc]... with great spatial imaging. And the layers of jazz tradition that emerge from the players... like the retro Jimmy Smith Hammond of Bert Dalton or the liquid Metheny-Benson tones of guitarist Lewis Winn. Tradition and innovation, structure and improv... nice stuff.

On the opening tracks the groove is Latino, bossa, the Brazilian boogie, as in "New Horizon" which drives like a flotilla of wind-surfers riding into Rio... great rhythm section with Ottmar Liebert sitting in the 2/4 pocket on rhythm guitar. Or the Cubanesque figures of "Point B" ...kicks like a jolt of fresh Java, then gets down and dirty like white rum under a voodoo moon. Yep, those unison bridges are pure mambo. Wanna howl? The Big Dog Hammond funk organ with chop 7 rhythm guitar... and nice, nice exit with the rubber spine percussion of Dave Bryant.

The arrangements are unbelievably tight, yet as loose as a Saturday bar jam. And JG doesn't compose in just one or two lazy keys either... try E minor/major, F#, G minor, B minor, C, D... Transit blows comfortably through a lot of modalities and moods, as you would expect from a shifting landscape "in transit". This, folks, is the cultural interface of post-modern jazz. 30,000 feet and still climbing... maybe you land, maybe you don't. How about a melancholy day in "Lausanne", maybe sitting in a sidewalk bistro looking over the lake at the mountains, sipping a glass of Fat Bastard shiraz, thinking about 9/11 as Chris Allen's blue vibes go deep into yr soul... or happy in sub-Saharan "Mali", Timbuktu or a Dogon cliff village digging the monoxylous totems, the art of carving and west African mojo.

The groove on "Mali" [mp3] is bluesy behind the synth-flute cry and the jungle river vibraphone. Dalton's Rhodes piano funks it out with Tim Gagan's snarling steel guitar. TG is Jon's bro, makes his own amps. Nice if you can do it and he can. Fat glowing tube sound, like a rodded 50's Bogen P.A. amp. The melody line is posted by JG's bass, rolled flat like the Clapton "woman tone"... strokes of warm acrylic across the magic Rousseau landscape. Percussion? Move yr ass, manny... Dave Bryant on congas and what sounds like a washboard recovered from the Niger river. A killer track, with a catchy line that sits nicely between "listening" and "dancing".

This tension between body and mind, groove and dream, runs through the whole album. Like a couple on the edge of love, eyes dreamy... but below the table, feet wagging.

Yeah, there's a lot of duende in this CD. Like a loop of the jazz Sargasso... Europe, Africa, South America. The journey, the progression, eventually returns to JG's environs in the American south-west, the desert nocturne of "old" New Mexico.

Track 10 [mp3], "Desert Return" -- is this the premier track? Could be. A funk and flamenco hybrid... has that "waltz of damned" feel, like a man and a woman dancing in the open horizonal desert or on a patio on the edge of the desert... who knows why, where or what. Maybe they saw a Los Alamos nuke flash, got drunk... or maybe they're in a film noir exit scene, running for Mexico or in Mexico, got the money... who knows why, where, or what. The bass, the melody, the unexpected movements, the staggered tango feel of it all. Great sax lines by Kanoa Kaluhiwa, an alumnus of the Luna Negra XL band. Yeah, Ottmar Liebert's playing flamenco guitar on this one... a burst of light on the horizon, who knows... is all poetry. Duende. The couple collapse together in a final embrace... disengage, he exits stage right... she stage left.

the motion between memory and desire

The movies continue, and so does beauty. On "Rowe Mesa" [Track 11] the Birdmen are in the sky, catching thermals above The Crest:

This is Mission Control, go ahead Whiskey Bravo --

Mission Control, the Talking Android has just launched from Rowe Mesa, over --

The feeling in this piece is quiet rapture, the motion between memory and desire. The organ suggests the edge of the mesa, the sense of ancient canyons and the whole south-west vibe. Nice chord shifts, like light changing over the plateau... and JG's bass wanders beautifully, like a Birdman boating the thermals. Lots of space in this arrangement, big sky, big landscape. Key of D, amigos.

Even though Transit is his first solo CD, it's hard to see Jon Gagan as a rookie. There's a lot of experience in these compositions and the playing. The sidemen are superb, the arrangements likewise. A lot of it is funk tropicale, an extension of 60's bossa nova. This lexicon includes American cool and Afro-Brazilian voodoo with the Cuban feel added in... and then, later, flamenca, the bitch goddess of possession.

The bass as lead? Why not -- Mingus, Clarke, Pastorius... Jon Gagan. Book 'im, Dano.

©LR 12/03

Transit CD available from SSRI »»