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Columns > Dan Alford - Audio Files

Published: 2001/12/19
by Dan Alford

Jorma Kaukonen

Business stuff:
This month it’s Jorma Kaukonen at Audio Files. It’s
the first time I’ve talked Tuna in two years, so I
hope you enjoy. We’ll ring in the new year with
another guitar slinger in January, namely Mr. Steve
Kimock. Hope y’all have a pleasant Solstice and a
hoppin’ NYE. As always, stay in touch.
Music:
Hot Tuna is a musician’s band, music best appreciated
by those who appreciate the best music. The
connection to traditional American music, the
intensity of playing and the subtle, joyful interplay
of sounds, each so distinct and so inextricably
intertwined with rest, all make Hot Tuna’s music both
cerebral and thrilling on a corporeal level. But Hot
Tuna does not perform under that title, either
electrically or acoustically, unless the entire band,
including drummer Harvey Sorgen, keyboardist Pete
Sears and guitarist/mandolin player/vocalist Mike
Falzarrano, is in attendance. As such, groups such as
the Jorma Kaukonen Trio, Jorma Kaukonen with Mike
Falzarrano (widely available in soundboard recordings)
and Jorma Kaukonen and Friends pop up here and there.
The moniker The Original Acoustic Hot Tuna is used
only when just Jorma and Jack are performing together,
as they have been for the past few months. There is
an ineffable chemistry between to two kindred souls, a
chemistry that fuels Hot Tuna, but really glows when
isolated.
The Original Acoustic Hot Tuna @ the Mystic Theater,
Petaluma, CA
12-8-00 Soundboard
D1: Uncle Sam, How Long, Vampire Women, Death Don’t,
Do Not Go Gentle, I See the Light, Living in the
Moment, Embryonic Journey, ?, 99 Year, Light of this
World, Another Man > Parchment Farm
D2: Hesitation, Walking, Terrible Operation, Good
Shepherd, North Wind Rise, 3rd Week at Chelsea, A Life
Well Lived, Rider, Keep On Truckin’ E: Water Song
This acoustic show from Jorma and Jack opens with a
plodding Uncle Sam Blues. It belies the fireworks
that will ensue, but in doing so allows the listener
to orient him/herself. Each note played by either
Casady or Kaukonen is distinct and whole, an entity
unto itself, and the interaction between the two blues
journeymen is laid bare. That is, after all, what Hot
Tuna is all about- the stark individuality of every
note and its inherent importance to the collective
sound. So much rides on every picked note and every
plucked string- so much passion, energy and
expression. Each member of the full band is masterful
at his art, each one a treasure trove of American
music, but together they are an intricately carved
musical monolith. The core remains Jorma and Jack,
though, and as the saying goes, if you don’t know
Jorma, you don’t know Jack!
With Death Don’t, the pair plunges into deeper
territory. Jack immediately takes the music down to
the darkened docks as Jorma defines alley denizens by
their shadows. The vocals plaintively call out in the
night, echoed by Jorma’s guitar and answered by Jack’s
low grumble.
Quickly switching gears the duo sets into a cozy Do
Not Go Gentle, followed hard upon by a gritty,
dramatic I See the Light. You can hear someone speak
for everyone, saying, "Thank you Jorma!" The playing
is incendiary, especially through the tight narrows.
Jack thunders down while Kaukonen treads lightly
above, hitting the final verse and powering through
the end passage. The disc rounds out with a mix of
new material and classics, including a nice 99 Year
Blues and a darkly soulful Another Man > Parchment
Farm. The latter tune oozes with despair and
suppressed rage, featuring a fantastic solo from Jack
that spins off into the mountain air before crashing
back to the Farm.
Old Appalachian "shot my wife" ballads are a standard
of Tuna’s repertoire, but The Terrible Operation from
disc two takes the music to a new level of horror-
"the doctor’s gonna cut you, yes, yes, yes." The
lyrics are offset with smooth, comfy playing. For
further contrast, Jorma and Jack quickly set into the
fantastic Good Shepherd. A beautiful version (aren’t
they all?), Jack avoids reverb, sounding clear a
church bell while Jorma accompanies on rhythm. It
glows melodically as the bass man holds the sustain
and climbs scales, bouncing over ridges and running
with Jorma to bring it home. Staying with the warm,
pensive vibe, the duo chooses North Wind. The love
song as a fine composition that leaves space for
free-form finger picking between the sculpted segments
that well up and bring a smile to your face. But that
is not enough. Third Week at Chelsea soon spreads
through the air. The classic tale of Jefferson
Airplane’s end is deftly wrought with both regret and
optimism.
A young version of A Life Well Lived is instrumental
because "it has words but I left them in the case."
It is short, but slow and contemplative as the title
suggests. Rider follows, the vocals, guitar and bass
blending together in a splendid constellation. Jorma
dips low for a moment and Jack drops out, and together
they move to the second verse. The ensuing jamlet is
more upbeat with lightning quick fingering from
Kaukonen and a loping stride from Casady. Maintaining
the energy, they close the set with a rambunctious
Keep on Truckin’ and encore with a gorgeous Water
Song. The second disc from this show is so chock full
of top notch renditions of top notch songs, it is a
must have for Tuna fans and a great introduction to
the nimble, post-telepathic interplay that has made
Hot Tuna the music fan’s music for over thirty years.

Jorma Kaukonen, Magic Two Relix Records RRCD2068
Walking, Whinin’ Boy, I’ll Be Alright Someday,
Embryonic Journey, Broken Highway, Candy Man, Follow
the Drinking Gourd, Rock Me Baby, Roads and Roads,
Good Shepherd, Police Dog Blues, Come Back Baby, Man’s
Fate
Tuna’s own Mike Falzarrano remastered this solo Jorma
disc from the original recordings of an 84
performance. The first Magic album had only half the
songs included here due to the limitations of vinyl,
and it is worth it to pick up the updated version.
The recording is a matrix of soundboard and audience
mics, giving it a rich flavor and incredible dynamics. Many bands, including WSP and MMW, claim that
audience recordings capture a show better than
soundboard recordings, but that is rarely the case.
Consider Phil’s series of soundboard recordings that
allow you to appreciate every note and every layer in
a way that would be almost impossible with an audience
recording. What do offer a uniquely satisfying sound,
however, are on-stage recordings. The tension and
details exhibited by the vast majority of SKB and
Soulive recordings, both bands that archive their
music with expertly set onstage rigs, have made them
favorites in the music trading community. This disc
has much the same appeal.
As Jorma is alone, his distinctive vocals and skillful
finger picking style are both on full display. In
fact they often blend into a single form of
expression, as in the stark Good Shepherd from late in
the disc where Jorma finishes vocal lines with rhythm
strokes or light leads. There are, however, a few
nice instrumentals included, such as a brief, off
kilter Embryonic Journey, Follow the Drinking Gourd,
which rotates between furious rhythm, sharp leads and
thumbed bass lines with jaw-dropping precision, and
the almost gothic Mann’s Fate. For another thrill,
check out the version of Mann’s Fate on Splashdown
Two, another release with extra tracks from Relix
Records- it is one of the best instrumental
performances ever. Other highlights from Magic Two,
however, include an angry Whinin’ Boy Blues with
raunchy lyrical additions, a long Another Man Done
Gone that teases Parchment Farm near the end and a
sensuously textured Rock Me Baby.

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