Friday, April 10, 2015

Jorma Kaukonen 1: Quah

Jefferson Airplane wasn’t for everybody, but one of the bright spots of their shall we say seminal album Surrealistic Pillow is still “Embryonic Journey”, a gorgeous fingerpicked acoustic instrumental by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. As the Sixties dwindled into chaos and the band got more political, Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady put their energy into a side project called Hot Tuna, which interpreted traditional blues and similar material. By the time of their fourth album, and the demise of the Airplane, they had progressively become more electric and less traditional.
So it was considered another departure, if not a throwback, when Jorma released his first solo album. However, Quah was originally envisioned as a collaboration with another acoustic picker named Tom Hobson. While he only appears on three tracks (reportedly at the demand of the label), he’s still credited as “with” on the spine and the label itself.
The album mixes originals and old blues tracks, all fingerpicked and occasionally accompanied by strings. Side one is perfect, alternating Jorma’s contemplative “Genesis”, “Song For The North Star” and “Flying Clouds” with the covers “I’ll Be All Right” and “Another Man Done Gone” plus “I’ll Let You Know Before I Leave”, a jaunty instrumental duet. The overall feel is relaxed, ideal for the first nice day of spring, and you don’t have to be high to enjoy it either.
Side two is more quirky, beginning with the traditional “I Am The Light Of This World” and “Police Dog Blues”. Hobson sings the next two, a cover of Gordon Jenkins’ “Blue Prelude” with heavy delay and his own “Sweet Hawaiian Sunshine”, which might as well predict Leon Redbone’s entire career. Studio effects return on “Hamar Promenade”, and edgy but effective closer.
While apparently not a smash hit when first released, Quah has gone in an out of print over the years, usually resurfacing whenever there’s renewed interest in anything remotely connected to psychedelic San Francisco. One of these reissues included liner notes from Airplane expert Jeff Tamarkin, along with four outtakes, two of which have vocals by the long-lost Mr. Hobson. Had these appeared on the original LP they would have been fine, but would have likely edged aside some of Jorma’s, and then we’d’ve missed them.

Jorma Kaukonen with Tom Hobson Quah (1974)—4

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