Saturday, April 22, 2006

Kaleidoscope's Taxim

While corresponding with my guitarist/percussionist friend Matt about improvisation in Arabic music - the word "taqsim" came up which is roughly equivalent to "improvisation" as in jazz. However ( as mentioned in the article "Arabic Concepts For Improvisation , By: Daniel Schnee, Canadian Musician, 07089635, Nov/Dec2005, Vol. 27, Issue 6)
it differs from "traditional" jazz forms in that "An Arabic taqsim is organized on the inverse concept. There is no fixed rhythmic form in bar scheme, time signature, or pulse. Because of this, it may seem that a taqsim sounds kind of random or formless, without what we would call 'direction' in the West." It actually has a definite direction, similar to the ragas in Indian music where certain notes and sequences are emphasized and expounded on to it give each piece its unique flavor.

When I read "taqsim" a bulb was lit and I was somersaulted back to the late 60's and "Taxim" a lengthy instrumental tune played by Kaleidoscope - just your typical underground, eclectic/ethno-jug-blues-psychedelic string band based out of LA..
"Taxim" starts slow and meditatively with Solomon Feldthouse on saz and Lindley on harp-guitar and builds steadily almost from formlessness to form.

Jimmy Page was very impressed by them. He'd heard them at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco back when he was with the Yardbirds. His quote;“They’re my favorite band of all time—my ideal band.” came at time when he was looking to incorporate some of the Middle Eastern and Celtic influences he was picking up from Davy Graham and Bert Jansch - touched upon in his instrumental feature back then "White Summer".

In the 70's after the demise of Kaleidoscope I was unknowingly blown away by the performances of Solomon Feldthouse - both in Santa Cruz and at the Novato Renaissance faire where he played with a gypsy style/flamenco dance and music troupe and later a belly dance troupe. He was calling himself Sulyman and I thought he was some kind of wild gypsy living in the hills - until somebody mentioned that he'd been in Kaleidoscope. Turns out he was born in Idaho but moved to Izmit, Turkey when he was 10 “I started playing while I was over there…Greek, Turkish and Persian music, ‘coz that’s what I heard every day. My mama used to like to go to Istanbul on the weekends sometimes…She ran into this gal from Spain that worked there [the singer Pepita Lerma] who was half gypsy, from Madrid…She gave my mother some records to give to me and I went berserk. We went to visit her in Madrid and she bought me my first guitar and showed me some of the stuff…I got a terminal disease from that.” He returned to the U.S. after 6 years and eventually began gigging in solo folk flamenco and belly dance situations.

David Lindley - another multi-instrumentalist who continuously grows and explores and has gained notoriety playing with Jackson Browne and countless others.
I don't know much about the rest of the guys except that they too came various backgrounds with a tilt towards jazz and bluegrass. There has been a recent reunion minus Lindley.

The basic line-up for the Beacon From Mars lp that contains Taxim gives you an idea of their sound:
David Lindley- banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, harp-guitar and 7-string banjo
Solomon Feldthouse- saz bouzoukee, dobro, vina, doumbeg, dulcimer, fiddle and 12 string guitar
Fenrus Epp (AKA Chester Crill)- violin, viola, bass, piano, organ and harmonica
Chris Darrow- banjo, mandolin, fiddle, autoharp, harmonica and clarinet
John Vidican- percussion

some related links to check out: a site dedicated to Kaleidoscope; - Solomon's longtime band in the Santa Cruz area - The site of Hamza El Din, my favorite Middle Eastern style instrumentalist. Traditional roots, creative outcome. An inspiration to me since his Vanguard records in the late 60's and in live performance.


Anonymous said...

Another beautiful rendition of a taqsim, this time on the piano: Victor Spiegel's album 'Evocation' features a Taxim and two 'ragas,' one in E & one in C. This album is available occasionally on Amazon. Well worth the price of admission! Victor also plays some western forms with delicacy and fire, tackles spanish and jewish ideas, and overall demonstrates the possiblities of the piano with.. whats the word... sprezzatura!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Matt - I'll have to hear it. Gotta say the album cover is great!