Ottmar Liebert & Eric Schermerhorn
LAVA: Spiral Subwave Records
International (SSRI) 1995
Ottmar Liebert: flamenco
guitars (by Keith Vizcarra and Eric Sahlin) + electric
route 54: the Malpais: rivers for the dead
Sante Fe, New Mex. 1995. Eric Schermerhorn flies into town, packin' heat, fresh from gigs with Iggy Pop and Bowie. His assignment? To lay some smooth electric lines on some post-modern flamenco instrumentals then in production by Ottmar Liebert at his Spiral Subwave studio. The album would be Opium, a double CD set. You can hear ES solo on the coda of the oft anthologized cut Butterfly + Juniper.
But... was there another album, never released, a mystery album of rock & flamenco fusion?
Sante Fe is in the high desert, not far from Los Alamos where they exploded the first A-bomb. They say that nuclear heat can fuse sand into glass... but long before Robert Oppenheimer and the boys were into heavy metal, the sand was flowing. A lot of New Mexico is volcanic excess, where beds of black basaltic lava divide the creosote and gypsum deserts like rivers for the dead. The Malpais -- the Badlands -- is a lava channel nearly fifty miles long and five wide. An instant metaphor for some "hard rock" in the land of the Apache spirits and the duende lenguas of the Conquistadores? Could be.
Lava... the mystery collaboration of Ottmar Liebert and Eric Schermerhorn finally emerges from the vaults like a missing Hendrix gem, soon to be posted at the Luna Negra website in the mp3 format.
Electronic magma: 16 tracks, all untitled except for no. 15, a cover of Hendrix's Little Wing. All instrumentals, no five second spaces between tunes, just one integrated composition like a symphony. Recorded on a 24-track Sony analogue reeler, mastered to DAT, then forgotten. Familiar with Ravel? Something like "Miroirs", atmospheric pieces that Nature shapes... the sort of lyric-pantheism that listeners of OL are familiar with. How is this possible, we think... surely rock guitar is too aggressive to be matched with the gentle nylon sensibility of flamenco guitar... this could be rape.
Stay loose, stranger -- there's some great playing here. Wah wah chop riffing... ghost rider tremolo... some nice risky ES slide guitar that meanders into the unguarded corners of the mind. Think Led Zeppelin 3 without the vocals, where acoustic passages are bridged with distant electric thunder. While similies to other bands and players are often beside the point, imagine Pat Metheny jamming with Kurt Cobain. There's a certain punk bravado running through Lava, one that probably dismayed the too-cool-to-be-hip boys in L.A.
Easy to say, of course. Not our money.
Earth to Ziggy: over and out
But this is no stoned-out after-hours self-indulgence here, although without question it might appeal to the late night substance abuse crowd. The structure is circular, the suite ending on Track 1, Mix 2. You will be impressed at the ebb and flow between these two very different players, working quite often within fairly stock grooves. Track 3 -- is this not the Rio Grande flowing through the canyons and the farmlands? Tracks 4, 5... the layering, the sound textures... flamenco descents... strolling bass... mariachi guitar trumpet... the occasional Mahavisnu jazz chord... nice. The happy accident of the Radio Frequency CB chatter on Track 6... or was/is it an accident? If you know OL's work, you know he likes field recording inserts, little slices of documentary effect that act as integers with the natural world, reconcile the wind and rain with the sounds of human activity.
Lava 6 [mp3] is melancholy yet beautiful... C Band stuff sounds like cops or paramedics exchanging code. We hear the fatal word, "methadone"... and then we hear a telephone ringing as the music exits like a ghost. The ambiguity is provocative. Earth to Ziggy: over and out.
The best track? 12, in the key of B [mp3], pure desert nocturne. The acoustic finger-picking doubled by the electric -- and the dreamy sighing, octave bass of Jon Gagan -- suggests deepening twilight. The percussion introduces various night creatures. And what does all this seque into? A good old cow country blues strut, with Eric Schermerhorn snapping his G-string (of his Les Paul Jr) in a slap-back dance as Ottmar downstrokes the rhythm sevenths. It's a surprise when it happens, like Roy Buchanan or Harvey Mandel dropping in to check out the belly dancer.
Lava has all the makings of a counter-culture classic. Well-recorded and mixed, appeals to the head and the body. Maybe you can find a bootleg. Maybe the postman will bring you a surprise. Maybe Culture Court has a preview....
Where is ES these days? Playing in a trio with Matt "Soul Mining" Johnson. Baritone bass. Get your head around that....
And OL? He's on Planet Flamenco, doing remixes.
Meanwhile the forgotten magma of old New Mexico is creeping outta those secret volcanic vaults. Stay cool, stranger... once again gitar canyon starts to blow....
© LR 3/03
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