The Jazz Legacy of Jim Pepper: An American Original

CD: John-Carlos Perea’s Blues for My Blood Quantum

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Blues for My Quantum is one of my favorites (and there are many) among John-Carlos’s recordings. It’s filled with the pain and humiliation of being stereotyped by TV and Hollywood– and it’s also filled with an incredible humor – along the lines of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but a stupid stereotype ain’t gonna hurt me”. When you’re from among peoples who have been victims of government-sponsored “ethnic cleansing” (another euphemism for “genocide” or “holocaust”), how can you not laugh sometimes at the crude and misinformed stereotypes that still endure, right up through the silly “Dances With Wolves” and “Last of the Mohicans” movies, or Mal-formed Glib-tongue and his “Apocalypto” (funny — he made such a big deal of the whole movie being filmed using the “real” language of the area, and yet the movie uses a Latin-sounding version of “Apocalypse” for its title?) So even those who claim to be giving indigenous people respect have to shroud it in colonialist labelling. But I could be wrong… if we got the word “apocalypse” from Central America, and then it somehow found its way into the New Testament, I stand corrected!)

But I digress. We were talking about Blues for My Blood Quantum, weren’t we? John-Carlos writes that it’s about “American Indian musical stereotypes”, and that it is — you can hear almost every movie Western’s soundtrack in it. But what gets me sometimes is this: the drummer, Elliot Humberto Kavee, just happens to be the son of a Nicaraguan/Spanish/Italian mother, and a father descended from Russian Jews, so you can only imagine the mix of influences in his life — but the Russian Jew comes out frequently in his playing, especially when Blues for My Blood Quantum suddenly seems to take on the flavor of a hora (a Jewish celebratory dance, most often performed by circles of family and friends at a wedding dancing around the newly married couple, who sit in chairs watching circle around circle around circle (depending on how many people are there), led by the driving rhythms of Kavee’s drums.

Perea starts by making us laugh at the beginning of the song, with the obvious put-on of all the cliches ever done to “represent” Indians in music; then it gets serious, but for me it ends with a party, complete with hora dancing!

I don’t know if the hora reference was deliberate or not, but that’s part of the magic of Perea’s compositions — the way he mixes ethnic musics so seamlessly and naturally that it seems like it was always that way.
And yet, he retains the integrity of each style of music without making a mish-mosh of it, or call-and-response between separate voices. It’s a single, unified presentation, even though it might be Native American/Hollywood/Jewish wedding; or powow honor song and Celtic folk; or Plains Indian chant or cedar flute with flights of Coltrane. Just as his model, Jim Pepper, had done.

Rock on, Mr. John-Carlos! I’m proud to call you my friend, and I’m proud of the work you’re doing. Tell Mom and Dad to admire your shiny Grammy statuette, and know that their son is on a true and honest path with his music.

– Bill Siegel, November 2007

Written by Bill Siegel

July 25, 2008 at 12:57 am

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