On the Culture Industry

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If awards were handed out for hip references in band names, Ahleuchatistas would be up at the head of the line, even if the call were not alphabetical. The instrumental trio's name is forged out of a combination of "Ah-Leu-Cha," a vintage bebop tune featuring fascinating counterpoint between Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, and the Mexican revolutionary movement known as "Zapatistas." Much sensual and visceral input into the group's music comes from these watershed points of social change, at least if the group members' own publicity ravings can be trusted, and why not trust people who have such noble influences? There is a third influence that, although not named, has an equally large impact on what goes down musically: Captain Beefheart. Ahleuchatistas is one of many groups since the late '80s who have explored the world of instrumental rock with a heavy emphasis on the electric guitar, naturally. A mode of operation is followed in which a series of instrumental patterns with various amount of repetition make up the main compositional thrust. While the original vision of Beefheart was also swamped in his eccentric personality and lyrics of an extremely poetic nature, the presentation and content of at least some purely instrumental pieces has inspired groups to go beyond the surf music connotations of rock & roll instrumentals. With revisionist thinking, entire albums such as the great Trout Mask Replica have been made available as purely instrumental exercises, the original lyrics filed away in order to allow even more attention to be paid to the shifting instrumental patterns. Tin Pan Alley notions of song forms with verses, choruses, and bridges mostly get the Quonset hut treatment -- as in the Quonset hut that got in the way of the out-of-control tractor trailer going 80-miles-an-hour. Yet the destruction of control mechanisms in the arts usually signals the creation of new ones -- true musical freedom seems elusive, an ironic part of a music scene in which groups such as this play tightly-structured music that much of the audience "thinks" (the word being used loosely) is completely "free form." While hardly as repressive as the sounds of Mexican soldiers' boots stomping through the jungle on a hunt for Indian rebels, the repetition of phrases or sections in this music may eventually wear the listener down, like spending the weekend with someone's nagging mother. While there are many groups playing music such as this in Europe, Ahleuchatistas hails from Asheville, North Carolina, performing at venues such as Vincent's Ear, which at least at one point was associated with strains of experimental music and jazz fusion. The playing of the three instrumentalists on On the Culture Industry is something along the lines of immaculate, the pieces sounding as if they have been rehearsed to a total comfort level and the interplay crisp and vigorously defined in tone and texture. What the group needs to work on is creating something of an even more unique nature. Finding inspiration in real on-the-ground revolutionaries is understandable, but the real kernel of wisdom in this case lies in a close study of "Ah-Leu-Cha" -- performances of which have become of a favorite of many jazz listeners -- simply because the piece is so different than so many other pieces in this genre.

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