Johnny La Marama: Bicycle Revolution: Release Information
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Release Date: 24.04.2009
TT Catalogue No: 4523
Johnny La Marama - Bicycle Revolution
“Johnny, come back soon!” The call has been echoing off the walls of every metropolis in the world since Johnny La Marama’s last album, “...Fire!”. This irresistible charm between Tom Waits, Sun Ra and “spaghetti” westerns, this contagious, aesthetic disobedience, this untamed lust for breaking taboos, this ludicrous tour de force through the grey areas of premodernism, this mother of all bastards between futurism and anachronism – it all just has to make anyone who happens to hear the album hopelessly addicted. Still, Johnny La Marama remains unpredictable. There isn’t a regular “band” behind the name – it’s the free spirit in person that unites these three notorious nonconformists of the Berlin scene. In spite of all the waiting and anticipating, it was to take three long years until Johnny heard the call and returned to his fans.
Has Johnny become a different person on his new album “Bicycle Revolution”?
Once again he manifests himself above his faithful disciples, guitarist Kalle
Kalima, bassist Chris Dahlgren and drummer Eric Schaefer. Once again it is that
unmistakable sound that defies definition, permitting everything and excluding
nothing. So in principle, nothing has changed here. “When Johnny calls,
we have to come,” explained Eric Schaefer already when the last album
The comparison with the baby is not so far-fetched. Schaefer and
“Maybe this album really is somewhat earthier than before. But we didn‘t plan it like that beforehand. Johnny dictated it to us. He is this guy who makes a lot of mistakes and often leads us in the wrong direction. And then we have to make a decision.”
He hit the nail right on the head here. Even if Kalima, Dahlgren and Schaefer seem to be indulging in their typical electric trio sound at first listening, a sound that usually runs right under and sometimes way over the limit and invokes a bold, big city blues that grooves right up to detonation, their current brew is much more direct and suitable for everyday use. Instead of the yearning, exotic fake in gangster’s clothes they celebrated on their last CD, this time they are tenaciously defending their urban front yards. Three mercenary soldiers serving the green revolution. “In the last three years a lot of material has piled up”, sighs Dahlgren. “We can play any kind of music imaginable, but it took us three years to find out what Johnny wants.”
The troika under the pennant of Johnny La Marama consists of passionate eclecticists. Each of the three musicians comes to Johnny from his numerous separate projects with highly varied qualities and origins. They could easily put out a new album every month. But that wouldn’t be Johnny anymore, because according to Dahlgren it’s all about that tricky question of what fits and what doesn’t. “This is where Johnny comes into the game. We can’t explain it, but we know when the time is right. When all three members say “yes”, then it’s Johnny.” Easier said than done, Kalima finds, “because we are all still distinct individualists. We all compose and sometimes want to go in very different directions. There are two ways to develop a piece. Either we compose together. Or somebody helps along a bit while the others wrinkle up their noses, wanting something totally different. And in the end we still have something we all created together.”
The soundtrack to “Bicycle Revolution” is packed full of profundities, associations and information. But where other musicians first think about something and then pour it into music, with Johnny La Marama it works exactly the other way around. Three intellectuals who really let themselves go in their music, and then afterwards think about what they actually said. When we get together as Johnny La Marama, confirms Dahlgren, “We just plug the instruments in and start to jam. It’s a ritual we do not talk about.”
Johnny La Marama is a band that’s not in a hurry. Every idea has time to
ripen until it’s right. Mistakes, even complete failure sometimes have
to happen in order to bring new concepts to completion.
In the end, “Bicycle Revolution” can be reduced to a very simple formula: Johnny La Marama celebrates life itself with his new album, life with all its highs and lows. Taking off from down-to-earth, he performs a tour de force through the front lawns of perfectly normal madness.
THE LA MARAMA REVOLUTION
The appearance of a new album by Johnny La Marama is always a rare event. The word “rare” has several meanings: 1. occurring or found infrequently; markedly uncommon: a rare disease; the rare gas station on that stretch of the road. 2. having the component parts loosely compacted; thin; rare gases. 3. unusually great: a rare display of courage. 4. admirable, exemplary; She showed rare tact in inviting them. All of these definitions might apply, as the case may be, to this remarkable trio of musicians. But in this case- their third recording- it’s not just a rarity, it’s a revolution: Bicycle Revolution. The word “bicycle” means: 1. a vehicle with two wheels in tandem, pedals connected to the rear wheel by a chain, handlebars for steering and a saddle-like seat. 2. to ride a bicycle. Could the bicycle, here, be a metaphor for a self-generating collective meta-conscious revolution in motion? Relevantly, the word “revolution” has several meanings: 1. a complete and forcible overthrow and replacement of an established government by the people governed. 2. a sudden, complete, or radical change in something: a social revolution caused by automation. 3. a procedure or course, as if in a circuit, back to a starting point. 4. turning around or rotating, as on an axis. 5. the orbiting of one heavenly body around another. 6. a cycle of events in time or in a recurring period of time. As to the possibilities of a “bicycle revolution” in a contemporary utopio-musical conception: this writer believes that if Antonin Artaud, Albert Ayler and Hermann Helmholtz were still alive- and clad in guerilla army attire- they would gladly join forces with Johnny La Marama in this meta-vibrational invasion of bicycles and rubber boats upon the shores of today’s jazz scene, re-revolving their way into the far reaches of the galaxy, the Tiergarten and the imagination.
Our mission begins with a visit to Andy Summers (guitarist of the pop-rock trio “The Police”) in a North London pub. Summers focused on songs and group sound instead of showing off with fast licks; this was a very rare case, indeed, for a rock guitarist in 1970s. Here, Johnny La Marama (JLM) takes a sonopsychic photo of Summers’ brain, after a pint or two, and runs it through a filter where Zenyatta Mondatta meets phi kappa Zappa. A warning for the sensitive listeners: this tune may take you to exotic heights, usually only to be visited with an official Kama Sutra instructor.
“Fellow earthlings- you six-Billion-plus CO2 exhalers- Join the Bicycle Revolution!” JLM introduces us to Bob Denard (the former French legionnaire soldier who found his true calling organising coupes in minor African states), played here by the band’s Franco-Finnish friend Charles Gil. Afro-beat flavour accompanies the troops pumping up rubber boats and oiling their bicycles. We can hear the two-wheeled guerrillas getting into sonic combat with the bomb-bass-tic explosions in Dahlgren’s solo. They ride ever-onwards, taking over the capital with their polyrhythmic bicycles and set up base-camp upon the ruins of the automobile factory headquarters. “The revolution won’t eat its children as long as they keep riding their bicycles. Let’s ride as long as our butts can take it!”
With our coup successfully accomplished we can reflect upon a greater undertaking: the future of two wheels as self-generative transportation is assured, but what about it’s function in dance, music, literature and the visual arts? As JLM demonstrates in Great Vision of a People on Two Wheels, the wheels of the creative imagination spin eternally upon the axis of a funky groove….
We are launched next into an epic desert journey of tri-tetra-blues-engineered-time-and-space travel. The title, Lawrence, refers us to the enigmatic T. E. Lawrence "Lawrence of Arabia" (1888 – 1935), who besides being an innovative British WWI liaison, soldier and writer, confounded the people of his time who wanted to make a hero out of him by re-enlisting as a Royal Air Force regular in the 1920’s. Correspondingly, the music is enigmatic, turning in on its self and developing into new beginnings where many would expect conclusions…. We end up as a flock of gulls on the Red Sea coast at dawn.
“ Thou shalt not take overweight aboard”, said Lord Spakeshire*, foresightedly, on his last trip onto thin ice. Sticking to this rule, Johnny’s long lost banjo-playing father, Eugene, rejected the silver embossed plates (a.k.a. cd recordings) of his son. In Eugene’s Bastard Son we put to sea on a Gene Krupa-engineered-tom-tom-device only to find ourselves quickly blown away by guitar distorted back-beat-hitting blues-rock gusts. Flashes of free jazz escapism light our way into the muddy swamps of North Carolina, where we are introduced to some names of reptiles and amphibians to be used as pseudonyms for mind-altering chemical substances. But Johnny is a cat who always lands on his feet, taking the final short cut to a particular densely packaged green meta-chant.
*Lord Spakeshire (1665-1721), Caledonian freight-watcher, living on herbs and folkloristic superstition in the woods of Neukölln (Berlin), Germany.
Having consumed so many different sonic substances in the previous track (including the concluding acappella vocal work of this somewhat-more-instrumentally-gifted trio of musicians) it’s a pleasure to re-discover the simple, digestive joys of melody and harmony, as expressed in Columbine and Mingus. This gentle song’s title refers us to the composer’s imaginary vision of his ten-year-old niece holding hands with the renowned deceased bassist and composer Charles Mingus, who, from time to time, with his other hand unleashes a barrage of heavy-weapon fire from the guns of creative imagination upon the Phillistines in the foyer of the Museum of Modern Art.
All salute the Hymn of the New Five Year Plan! From secret sources I’ve heard that JLM is planning a re-mix that adds a five thousand member children’s choir and a thirty three thousand member ex-auto-workers-union trombone ensemble, to make the tune loud enough for use in massive Asian bicycle parades. But, for now, we must content ourselves with the trio version. “The joy and excitement of the ongoing revolutionary development are beautifully portrayed in the collective’s effort to reach perfection in the expression of its revolutionary fulfilment.”
“ Ladieees and gentlemen... pimps, players and hustlers, welcome to the second round of our filthy fight of atonal lines in asymmetric meter. In the left corner the brave Johnny La Marama, in the right corner the magnificent, omnipotent Space Skum. Give them a warm round of applause and be prepared for extra gravity, cheap tricks, some nuclear subsonic devices and furiously freaky voice staccati. Will they make it this time?!...”
A herd of furry tricycles gathers itself under the pitiless Nubian Desert sun. Some have not changed tires for a generation, others starve for lubrication; suddenly, with the intonation of an apocalyptic chord, the electric harp rings sharp and sets the herd into mass-gyration. “Today the machine will rise against its master, breaking seals of disaster, prepared bass strings, drums, drums.” A nameless, unleashed, infernal force drives away debris of mechanization and everything is trampled beneath the Tricycle Evolution Stampede.
If the Meters, Led Zeppelin and members of JLM would simultaneously crash their respective airplanes upon the same desert island, survive, and start to jam while waiting to be rescued, the result would sound like dakaschae. Could there be a connection that Dr. Chamal Dakaschae was, as some jazz critics may recall, the revolutionary social-musicologist who predicted and proved, with mathematically perfect accuracy, that the sum of all of the notes in the combined compositions of J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Berg equaled “Ba Ba Black Sheep”?…
Next, we’re swept up in a whirlpool of rushing, early 1970’s fusion sound that spins us down Back Alleys and Broad Boulevards, towards the last hideout of that dangerous and desperate revolutionary gang: the Mahavishnu Orchestra. But just when we think the inevitable thousand-tom-tom-ed drum solo will appear, JLM slips on a metaphysical banana peel and lands in a musical dumpster, somewhere in the Texas Panhandle at 3 a.m. We think this might just be an accident until the act is repeated a second time, and we’re whistling: “I´m just a lonely Cowboy, a long way from home…”.
Upon the windy plains of Schaefer’s brushwork we gaze at and wander around icy flageolet tone sculptures. And there appears out of the mist the Krysztal Palace, haunting us with ghostly embryos of melodies, full of awe.
With every revolution come some casualties. On the last cut, Your Jazz is Dead, an old corpse is carried out to its final resting place. After the initial, bluesy dirge with Dahlgren’s ‘crooning’ and the band’s vocal backing, they finally go in for some bebop and 4/4 time-playing (for rare a change- as JLM fans will know) only to find that someone, somewhere, has decided to ‘turn up the metronome’ as the track progresses… (this writer’s opinion is that there may been something slipped into the rhythm section’s juice before recording this one). Kalima cuts-up some nice double and triple-time solo-ops before the last rights are remembered and Schaefer ‘puts the nails in the coffin’.