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Kirk Silsbee (Last Time Around)

One truism of being a freelance jazz writer is the fact that some pieces you write never actually make it to print -- thanks to those pesky last minute editorial decisions (i.e., "$$$$$$"). Our guest blogger this week, Kirk Silsbee, was kind enough to provide us with an unpublished piece he wrote on Cryptogramophone's late, lamented concert series Cryptonight at Club Tropical, which ended almost a year ago when the new owners booted us out sooner than expected (cutting off a highly anticipated evening with singer Dwight Tribe.)

"Hola chicos! Vamos a poner en un espectáculo!"

Although this piece now reads bittersweet, it reminds us that, in the words of Crypto house pianist David Witham, "the time has come to start a discussion on when and where Cryptonight can rise from the ashes." Well, as it turns out, Mr. Witham will be dueting with our Fearless Leader Jeff Gauthier on June 6, 2008 at the Museum of Neon Art in downtown L.A., which just happens to be the re-launching of CryptoNight MACH 2!!!

by Kirk Silsbee

The street lights on the 8600 block of West Washington Blvd. are unique. On each of them, four steel beams rise up diagonally out of the ground around a tree, ribboned at the top by a large band of metal in the shape of a piece of film. One classic movie or another is noted on these bands, up and down the thoroughfare. This is Culver City, after all. Laurel and Hardy and the Little Rascals shot their comedies in these streets in the 1920s and ‘30s. The corporate headquarters of Sony Pictures now reside in this little town.

Amid the steel and glass buildings on West Washington, an unassuming one-story bungalow sits off the street at 8641. Its neon proclaims Club Tropical, befitting the Salvadoran restaurant.
Although entertainment happens here most nights—from cumbia to flamenco to tango—Thursday nights at the Tropical are where the new music-minded in Southern California go to hear the boundary-breaking sounds they crave.

Violinist Jeff Gauthier, whose studio is down the street, noticed the small dance floor and playing area (you couldn’t call it a bandstand) when he ate lunch here. Gauthier’s the major domo of Cryptogramophone, the SoCal label that releases boutique-quality CDs by deserving contemporary artists, mostly local. He enlisted the help of owner Carlos Rodriguez, the Salvadoran who gave the Thursday night slot to Gauthier. “Cryptonight,” as it’s called, has brought an entirely different demographic to the Tropical.

The soft-spoken Gauthier is grateful for the use of the venue and calls Rodriguez “the patron saint of new music in Los Angeles.” He’s used the series, which is now three years old, to book a wide variety of music. “This place has exceeded my wildest expectations,” he confesses. Locals like reedmen Vinny Golia and Bennie Maupin, guitarist Nels Cline and electric bassist Steuart Liebig take turns with ensembles led by visitors like bassist Mark Dresser, pianist Myra Melford and the Dutch ICP Orchestra.

There are other venues for new sounds: the Metropol and the REDCAT in downtown L.A., Alex Cline’s monthly Open Gate concerts in Eagle Rock, the Harbor College concerts and the Electric Lodge in Venice. Gauthier, however, sees cooperation, rather than competition. “All of the people who book this kind of music,” he offers, “talk to each other and we try to help each other out. When someone like (cellist) Erik Friedlander comes out, he’ll play more than one place and we cross-promote each other’s gigs.”

At the oaken bar near the door, Rodriguez, an affable, round-faced man in slacks and polo shirt, speaks about this venture. “When I was growing up in El Salvador,” he begins, “I was listening to Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana and—for me--this was the outer limits. When I came here, I found that the Baby Boomers and I liked the same music. The music that they play here is for musicians, I think. It’s a new experience every week and we have a good audience. Every week we hear something different.”

Cosmologic, a quartet from San Diego, is playing tonight. Trombonist Michael Dessen and tenor saxophonist Jason Robinson lead saw-toothed themes that extend Monk’s musical shorthand into the realm of free-time sound explorations. Underneath the room’s cut glass disco ball (off-duty tonight), the quartet works to the small room, which seats about fifty. The Corona beer flows freely and the pupusas (think of a small, folded pizza with the edges pinched together) are shuttled out to the tables by busy waitresses. The intricate percussion and contrabass aural labyrinths, by Nathan Hubbard and Scott Walton, respectively, take on an added dimension with the pervasive aroma of garlic.

“The people from Central America,” Rodriguez stresses, “are happy to be in this country. We want to be part of America. I’m grateful to this country for the opportunity it has given me. I’m happy to support the musicians, because they are supporting me, too.” Together, they offer music in a setting that is, daresay, unique.

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