Review of Sunset Jazz Club performance, Paris, 3/9/19It was cramped and crowded and hot and jam-packed at Sunset in Paris, just as one would imagine a popular Paris jazz venue would be on a Saturday night. But stereotypes and convention stop there. The evening was billed as "Gary Lucas & guests, a tribute to Jeff Buckley and Captain Beefheart." And here, the cliche "for lack of a better name" kicks in gloriously. The name of the show itself and the history behind it raises eyebrows in wonder. Indeed, Gary Lucas was a close collaborator, bandmate, and co-creator with two artists as iconic and diverse as Beefheart and Buckley. He is credited as "magical guitarness" on Buckley's opus, having mentored Jeff and written the music and those enchanting riffs for Grace & Mojo Pin. He was in Beefheart's Magic Band too. But to call the evening a tribute to "just" those two artists would only be small piece of the picture. In addition to Buckley and Beefheart, we heard blues-rock, country-blues, reinterpretations of a classic Czech composer and Shanghai pop songs of the 1930s. A bit of waltz and a nod to cinema happened somewhere in between, along with Gary's own Gods and Monsters songs.
The ensemble on the tiny stage varied from solo to seven with a total of 8 musicians (Gary included) gracing the stage at some point in the two exhilarating 45-minute sets that flew by. While the evening was primarily genre-defying and only tangentially jazzy, special guest Jean-Philippe Rykiel did add some serious jazz street cred to the mix on piano and an instrument that was part keyboard part wind instrument whose name I know not.
All this to say it was astonishing and complemented marvelously by Gary's good-humored and fascinating anecdotes. The New York Times once profiled him saying something like the music business didn't quite know what to do with him. It's unfortunate that such virtuosity combined with purposefully curated and inventive eclecticism is not better compensated commercially. We often become fond of artists who define themselves and never truly redefine themselves, producing new music that sits well within an easy-to-market "catalogue", evolving yet not transforming or taking risks. Gary clearly didn't choose that path, and tonight, every soul squished into that hot room was thrilled he opted to trailblaze instead.