Thursday, July 8, 2010

Brazzaville - 2002 (a.k.a. Brazzaville)

My younger brother graduated from the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in 1999, and the whole family, my girlfriend and I included, flew out the Los Angeles for the ceremony, and to spend a few days having fun. Outside of a day or two here and there in past years, at that point in my life I really hadn't spent that much time in LA. So this trip was my first real immersion into what the city was all about. My girl and I did the touristy things, like visit Sunset Boulevard, Grauman's Chinese Theater, Rodeo Drive and Marilyn Monroe's grave - stuff like that. But with the help of my brother, my younger sister (who also lived in LA at the time, attending grad school at USC) and some old friends of mine who lived out there, we got off the beaten path, and saw and did stuff that the tour books don't really address. For example, that visit was my first encounter with Pink's Hot Dog stand, one of the wonders of the Earth, as far as I'm concerned. We hit a lot of out-of-the-way bars and restaurants, found a beach that was obscure enough to be not crowded . . . just did a bunch of stuff like that. Los Angeles gets a bad rap from a lot of people, but I came away from that visit loving the city.

One night, itching to hear some local music, my sister took my girlfriend and I to a small club close to where she lived in Melrose, the Lava Lounge on La Brea Avenue. The place had the usual dim bar lighting (except around the cleared area where bands would play), and the walls and ceiling were all irregularly stuccoed with a rough blackish red putty, ostensibly to make the interior look like the inside of a volcano. It reminded me a lot of the Volcano Cafe in Lyttelton, New Zealand (near Christchurch), a place I where used to eat every once in a while when I was over that side of town.

We got there fairly early, early enough to commandeer a spacious booth close to both the main bar and the stage, where the band that night was setting up. I honestly wasn't expecting too much in the way of music; I just wanted a place to chill out for a couple of hours, have some booze and hear some organized noise.

Well, the band that night, Brazzaville, COMPLETELY blew me away, from the very first note! There were a gaggle of them up on stage, with varied instrumentation - trumpet, accordion, exotic percussion instruments, guitar. But the sound they made was completely original, and hard to catagorize - it wasn't rock, it wasn't jazz, it wasn't world music or lounge music or alternative . . . and yet, it was all those things at once. I was stunned, and very happy - who would have thought that at some nothing bar in Los Angeles, I would hear something so good?

Here's one of the songs they played that night, "Shams":

During the break between sets, I practically ran up to the stage to speak with the band's leader, David Brown. I'm sure I sounded foolish, gushing on and on about what a great band they were, but he took it gracefully and all in stride. I noticed they had CDs for sale - I couldn't buy one fast enough! Without a doubt, Brazzaville was the best bar band I ever heard in my life.

A little history about the band: Brazzaville was started in 1998 by Brown, a widely-travelled former heroin addict and (at the time) saxophonist for his old friend Beck's touring band (he also played on Odelay). After returning from the Odelay tour, Brown assembled an eclectic group of session players from the LA area and beyond, and began creating his hybrid sound. He released the band's first self-titled album in 1999 on his own South China Sea Records label, and got good local buzz regarding it. Later that year, the album was picked up by Engine Records and rereleased as 2002.

Brazzaville released two more albums in the U.S., Somnambulista in 2001 and Rouge On Pockmarked Cheeks in 2002, before Brown broke up the band, moved to Barcelona, Spain, and assembled a new European version of Brazzaville which is still recording to this day. I haven't heard any of his latest stuff, but I hope that it's as strong as his debut album. Have a listen, and let me know what you think.

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