Diplomats of Solid Sound, May 05 | Diplomats of Solid Sound, Jerry Garcia, Ticonderoga, Foolhardy


It’s springtime, and, OOF (as my favorite person-friend says),I got my hands on some new recordings. For the record, I’ve been goingthrough some personal hells of late, the details of which I’ll spareyou.

Perhaps all those uber-religious end timers are onto something. You know,the folks who believe if Palestinians are awarded their own state, it willsomehow hinder the four horsemen of the Apocalypse from delivering their finalsweepstakes coupons. (Cue: Harry Belafonte as the Grim Reaper singing, “Deo,De-e-o . . . hellfire come and me wan go home . . . .”) For the right-wingedrapturous, eager for birthday-suit heavenly levitations directed by the BigHoly Comptroller in the Sky, any delay is unbearable (no pun intended). There’sno Tom to Delay, as it were, (ethics problems and puns notwithstanding) forthose longing for the end and praying their backsides won’t be left behind.

Bookend that with crusading religiosos who mock militant “Moozlims” (asradio talk show host Michael Reagan pronounces it) for believing thata bevy of virgins awaits them if they blow themselves up for Allah. Eversee that old movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World? How about OneFlew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? The inmates are not only running theasylum, they’re franchising, globalizing, and super-sizing it daily.It’s definitely a Felini meets Dali at the corner of David Lynchand Alfred E. Newman world.

Diplomats of Solid Sound

Against this backdrop comes a sweet record of instrumental soul froma band of musical ambassadors out of Iowa City called the Diplomats ofSolid Sound. The CD is called Destination…Get Down and, man, formy money, it does.

From the opening number, “Smash Up,” this party disc cruiseswith a semi-Euro insouciance that is smart, seductive, and replete withinbred hip-swayability. Swanky guitar parts, banked by doubled organ riffs,appetizing headers, simple chords changes, drop outs, pop ins, short numbersthat travel the distance, funky soul flavor in shiny go-go boots.

(Lest you think I’m blowing smoke up the ass of Doug Roberson,the group’s guitar player, who doubles as the manager/booking agentfor Gabe’s Oasis, let me just say, by way of disclaimer, that myband, the Apocalypso Tantric Boys Choir, has officially disbanded, soall the good that could possibly accrue from blowing said smoke up saidass has alas become el mooto del pointless.)

The Diplomats feature that chunky, rich Hammond B3 sound prominently.Pure sweetmeat to these vegetarian earballs. Percussive, velvet-hammered,moist, furry organ tones that growl or caress or slap or scream—it’san instrument that jazzes up blues, or blues up rock, pulls the tinseloff Christmas trees, and sinks nuclear submarines all in one fell swoop.First record I ever owned was a Blue Note release by Jimmy Smith featuringthe immutable, inscrutable “Chicken Shack.” Oof.

Nate “Count” Bassinger is the Diplomats’ designatedorgan grinder, including pedal-to-the-metal bass lines. His brother David(I presume) contributes saxaphonics via alto and the oh-so-woompy baritone.Rounding out the square is the agile and facile Jim Viner on percussion.These guys play tight and loose with a sound that stays in the pocketand leaves plenty of room to breathe. It’s happy feet stuff, suaveas an intercontinental ballistic missile in a mohair sweater filled withparty favors.

All original, all instrumental (save for a few group chants like “Holdingthe Money” and “Loaf and Jug”), there is a raw—butnot too raw—60s, uptown, get down, neo-soul jazzbo vibe emanatingthroughout. A nice range of material from the ballsy “IntercontinentalGit” to the demure “Ladies Choice” to the sizzling “Sizzler” tothe stomping “Growing in It.” This is triple starch, gradeA dance music. Nicely packaged with a cerulean retro-mod design; engineeredby John Svec; produced by Svec and the band; recorded at Minstrel Studioin Iowa City; on the ESTRUS! label.

My only criticism is that the whole thing could get more bonzo once ina while, but then, what couldn’t?

Jerry Garcia & Merle Saunders Band

Deep from the vaults of Jerry Garcia’s estate, another recordingreached me via local music aficionado Hugh Harvey. I’d heard itwas a jazz album. The three-CD set was recorded with keyboardist MerleSaunders and saxophonist Martin Fiero at the Keystone Berkeley in 1974,live during a Garcia Dead hiatus.

It opens with a disappointingly average blues song, anemic singing, dawdlingDead leads. So go the next two cuts. The fourth is called “Favela” byA.C. Jobim with an extended sax solo, Garcia wading into jazz-mode guitaronics.My ears perk up. Songs average like 12 minutes each—definitely notfor the feint of attention span. I actually nod off listening to the Dylancover “Tough Mama.” The final cut on Disc One is a 23-minuteopus (“La La”) written by Fiero, who starts on flute beforemorphing into endless ensemble jams and stratospheric hyperboles a la “BitchesBrew.”

Disc 2 is straight back to the blues. It’s fine stuff, but it ain’tjazz. Fourth cut is a floofy, blow-dried Delbert McClinton version ofJimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come.” Then a pallidrendition Smokey’s “I Second That Emotion” and an outof tune take of Dylan’s “Going, Going, Gone.”

The third disc kicks off with a jazzy blues swing mis-nom-de-plumed “SoulRoach.” Country blues follows, then a Pink Floydian minor amble.There is a trumpet-addled piece called “Keystone Jam” whichgets back to the “Bitches Brew”-ian vista, fumbling nicelytoward ecstasy. The collection closes with Robbie Robertson’s “TheNight They Drove Old Dixie Down.” (The best Civil War song everwritten by a Canadian.)

From my POV, this trifurcated recording could have been pared down toa solitary jazz foray minus the mostly so-so covers. Much as I enjoy theart of the jam, it’s always an Iliad and an Odyssey. Wasn’tit Captain Ahab himself who said indulgence is as indulgence does andsometimes it’s hard to tell the Forest from the Gump?


A group called Ticonderoga sent something in as well. The three bandmembers emigrated to Raleigh, NC, from Iowa and have homespun their firstfull-length release. It’s a tranquil affair with a lot of deft touches.A bit Radiohead, a bit Bono on ludes, it’s impossible not to likethis record. It seeps into the crevices of your psyche like an undergroundspring boring through limestone. Pretty as a William Blake robin and equallyunremitting.

There’s a beautiful sense of reach and introspection, unusual instrumentationand chord choices. Childhood friends Phil Moore, Mark Paulson, and WesPhillips all share guitar and drum duties. Moore, the main vocalist, addsbass and clarinet; Paulson organ and violin; Phillips accordion, keyboards,and contrabass. It’s a supple batch of songs performed with integrity,all delivered with the greatest of ease. Definitely a “High Score.”


Also received a copy of Foolhardy’s recent release. A nice rockrecord, good fodder for live mutter, but lumbering bass lines, a bit tooex-pat, too mach-English for my tastes at the moment. Hope this assessmentisn’t too rash, risky, reckless, and/or imprudent.

But if you promise not to tell anyone, I’ll tell you a little secret:Foolhardy spelled backwards is ydrahl…OOF.