Monday, January 31, 2022

Farewell, Jerry Weber

I’m sad to report that my good friend Jerry Weber passed away on Friday, January 28. He was 73. Not only was Jerry the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, he was one of Pittsburgh’s most beloved personalities and well-known throughout the world as one of the greatest of all record sellers.

There was nothing about music Jerry didn’t know. His first love was the blues – and he had a thing for old rock and jazz too. But ask him anything about records, even if you weren’t sure of what you were asking, he’d know about it. His mind was a virtual encyclopedia of records.

While still delivering mail in the late 70s, Jerry opened up his first record store in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. Just blocks away from the University of Pittsburgh, it wasn’t just any old record store. Jerry’s store – known then as Garbage Records – carried a huge selection of everything from rock, pop, blues and jazz to soundtracks, classical, easy and cast albums (all used). And this doesn’t count the insane quantities of 45s and 78-rpm records.

Jerry’s store wasn’t some hole-in-the-wall shop either. Records literally overflowed from the second and third floors of a storefront on Forbes Avenue. The selection was always fantastic but Jerry’s business model made you want to buy: he paid a reasonable rate for just about anything (from estates, libraries and individual sellers) and most of his records were about three of four dollars each, priced so the added tax would round it up to the even dollar amount (I remember many records priced at $2.83). It made it a lot of fun to buy – and an affordable way to try something new.

One of my first visits to Jerry’s store was after graduating high school in 1981. The earliest purchase there I can remember was Chas Jankel’s Questionnaire. It’s still a favorite of mine…and one that brings back very happy memories of that time and that place.

Jerry was a character and would chat with you about anything (especially sports or drinking) – but never faulted anyone for loving records (he wasn’t a big fan of CDs), even if it was one of his multiple copies of a Michael Jackson record or dozens of some easy listening record.

Every phase of music I went through in my life, Jerry conjured up the requisite records to satisfy: here was where I discovered jazz, funk, P-Funk, soundtracks, easy-listening and so much more. Thanks to Jerry, I was also able to discover and, of course, later chronicle both Gabor Szabo and Gary McFarland, among many others.

Eventually Jerry gave up his postal job and renamed the store Jerry’s Records. By 1993, Jerry relocated to the store’s current location on Murray Avenue in Pittsburgh’s wonderful Squirrel Hill neighborhood. I moved to the Washington, DC, area in the late eighties but Jerry’s was always my first stop on any return trip home (I moved back in 2015).

Jerry shared my love of records, yet he did far more for me than open my ears to new sounds. Any time I pursued a musical research project, Jerry would let me sample or borrow whatever record I needed. I usually ended up buying most of the music, but Jerry’s kindness and trust in me was something I appreciated and never took for granted.

More than once, Jerry gave me work when I needed it. But working for Jerry was never work – there was always music, Jerry, Bobby and Diane. As an employee, customer or researcher, my time at Jerry’s was always magical. Jerry made it magical.

Health issues forced Jerry to sell his store to an employee in 2017, but it was agreed that the store would still be called Jerry’s Records. Because Jerry had millions more records at his warehouse home in Swissvale, he and his son, Willy, continued selling records out of his own home.

Jerry isn’t just someone I cared deeply for. He was a beloved icon here and one respected by many throughout the world. His kindness was genuine and is unprecedented among the other record purveyors here in Pittsburgh and in far too many record stores throughout the world.

My thoughts and prayers are with Jerry’s family. And his many, many friends: Jerry took great care of his family – and even his friends. I will miss you, my friend.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Causa Sui - Szabodelico

The Danish quartet Causa Sui is an instrumental band that goes out of its way to defy categorization. Neither the sum of its influences – psych rock, Krautrock, indie rock, spiritual jazz, what have you – nor the result of a successful (or any) formula, Causa Sui is an exceptionally refreshing way to experience electric music.

Since 2005, Causa Sui – whose name comes from a Latin phrase that beautifully suggests a thing which generates something from within itself – has waxed eight discs of largely instrumental music. The band consists of Jakob Skøtt (who also produces much of the band’s artwork), Jonas Munk, Jess Kahr and Rasmus Rasmussen. In true deference to the group’s name, none are credited as individual instrumentalists and no one person is identified as composer of the band’s music.

Causa Sui claims its sound “owes as much to (70s-era) Miles Davis and (70s Krautrock pioneers) Can as to American stoner-rock,” which probably means jam bands like Gov’t Mule, Phish, the Allman Brothers and, of course, the Grateful Dead. To these ears, there’s much more going on here. There’s an elegant European sensibility that sharpens the group’s metallic edges and refines its jazz-like approach. Causa Sui has the rawness of renewal I attribute to fellow Danes Ibrahim Electric as well as an effective approach to ”jazz rock” that probably hasn’t been heard in at least half a century.

By all accounts, the band’s 2020 double album (single disc) Szabodelico is a departure, if not a new high on Causa Sui’s multi-year continuum. While previous efforts were workshopped or meticulously composed, Szabodelico was largely improvised. “Each track was put together from improvisations,” Jonas Munk told DenpaFuzz. “At no point did we talk, or plan, where to go, and no one told anyone what to play.”

Given its on-the-spot invention over lengthy sessions recorded between 2019 and 2020, emerges as one of the band’s most compelling and melodic statements to date. While the album gets its name from jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo, it is inspired more by the guitar legend’s approach to music than by his distinctive sound or iconic songbook.

Szabo, like Causa Sui on Szabodelico, conjured most of his best and best-known music on-the-spot right in the studio. On the bandstand, Szabo was also one of music’s most gifted storytellers, able to craft dramatic solos with a gypsy (or folk) flavor and hypnotic fervor. Szabodelico doesn’t mine or mimic Szabo so much as channel him – and it’s all the better for it.

Other than namechecking Gabor Szabo on “Gabor’s Path” and “Szabodelico,” the closest this record gets to appropriating the guitarist is on “Vibratone,” which launches itself off a variation of “Gypsy Queen,” and the title song, seemingly built upon a “Passin’ Thru”-like foundation. “Laetitia” – along with “Sole Elettrico,” among the disc’s best tracks (both also featuring Jans Aagaard on Bansuri Flute) – revels in the spacey 70s-era Charles Lloyd, a frequent Szabo associate.

The melancholy “Honeydew,” like Santana’s 1972 “Song of the Wind,” feels like the offspring of Bobby Womack’s “Breezin,” infused here with the ballad “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” which Szabo covered in 1970.

To Causa Sui’s credit, Szabodelico relies more on Szabo the muse than Gabor the musician. Over a baker’s dozen songs – with evocative titles like “Echoes of Light” and “Merging Waters” that could have come right out of a film-music library or a David Lynch soundtrack – the band paints psychedelic soundscapes that have a positively hypnotic draw.

Here, though, the band evinces a newfound focus on melody. Whether or not this, too, was inspired – or as delico indicates, revealed or clarified – by Szabo’s influence, only the band can say. (I think it is.)

Szabodelico, more than previous efforts, tempers tension-building and repetition – qualities which, to this writer, are positive and make Causa Sui’s work in the collective as compelling and appealing as, say, Philip Glass’s film music or Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin – with a welcome amount of reflection and rumination.

As ever, the four players are especially sensitive to one another; each responding to the other with an engaging empathy and musical invention that is positively beguiling. Little wonder that Causa Sui is such a draw live – an appeal to anyone who likes the exploratory sides of rock, (electric) jazz and the blues.

If this is, as they say, “stoner rock,” consider me stoned.