Thursday, December 6, 2012
Cinco: The Human Condition
Jet Magazine; Issue 376; December 2012.
Early Thanksgiving morning I received a call from Jet magazine's long time entertainment editor, Dastephen "Drizz" Broadus, who was nearly in tears as he described an album he had come across and the immediate effect it had upon him. The album that produced such a reaction was 'Cinco' from a San Jose band by the name of Corduroy Jim. 'Drizz' wanted me to not just review the album, but to find out how such a work could possibly have human origins. I was solemnly informed that I would receive an unlimited budget and unprecedented access, and that the future of Jet magazine, and perhaps that of music, was now in my hands.
Raymond St. Martin had a vision; a serenely tactile sensation that started at the base of his spine and moved up, in soft metallic tendrils, through his heart and lungs where it gathered momentum, spiraling through his neck and finally exploding with inhuman light into his brain: "Cinco."
I first met Raymond on a rainy Tuesday morning as he was kneeling on a handwoven mat in front of his teepee, deep in the Santa Cruz mountains. He looked up at me with large knowing eyes and motioned for me to sit beside him. I had spoken with him earlier, over the phone, at great length about his process and the genesis of 'Cinco' and I was eager to hear more.
I had listened to the album several times on the drive up and was struck by the variety of euphoric sensations that it produced in me. From the sylvan rumble of "Home" to the plaintive lament of "Little Child" to the effervescence of "Purple Light" I found myself navigating unfamiliar waters of emotion and sound that were at once frightening and alluring.
"I was not always a child of this Earth," Raymond breathlessly said, describing his first conception of the album. The rain had stopped and two more of the band members, Richard "Richie" Thomas and Martin Rodriguez, had arrived with a twelve pack of Sierra Nevada IPA and what appeared to be a crystal goblet filled with verdant foliage.
Richie, who is apparently Australian, wrote the song "Little Child," which one reviewer described as '... an anthem, in 3/3, that is littered with 'prog-rock'." It starts off with Raymond's trademark Juno stylings and quickly moves into a syncopated Bacchanal, thrusting and churning with dark insinuation as a cloud of ethereal synth-nuances floats over a sophisticated, but not pretentious, guitar ostinato. Richie sings this tune with a worldly voice, as though acknowledging the inherent limitations of human striving while, at the same time, extolling the virtues of responsible parenting.
Raymond went on about his efforts to get his message out to the world through music, saying more than once and with great emphasis that he was much more than a "luxury" for this band, when a figure clad entirely in white emerged from the woods and silently sat down beside us.
Michael Palladino has been Corduroy Jim's drummer for twenty-three years and is universally considered the spiritual center of the band. I was informed that Michael had taken a vow of silence while he was continuing his studies at the Unitarian seminary. Looking over the group he lightly tapped his fingers over his freshly pressed white tunic and the rest of the guys laughed at what was clearly some kind of inside-joke.
"Home" is a Martin Rodriguez composition that clearly reflects his Appalachian roots. It is clean, forthright, and of the soil. Home is not a concept Martin takes lightly, and you can hear it in his subtle approach to the acoustic guitar. "I don't play the guitar," he has often said. "I let the guitar play me." And play him it does! This tune has been seen on the iPods of such luminaries as Griffen Dunne and Doris Kearns Goodwin, and now, thankfully, this very author's as well.
"Thief-The Ballad of Johnny Cat" is a Martin Rodriguez composition that clearly reflects his metropolitan roots. It is powerful, moving, and of the street. The song, as such, is clearly an interior journey through the vibrating unconscious self, speaking to you in the galvanizing tones of an, as yet, unwritten language as it guides you to an understanding that exceeds the human capacity for wonder. It also has a guitar solo.
Nick "Mooshie" Chargin drove up in a sort of orange-ish boxy thing and parked next to one of the many outdoor kilns. He is the band's long time keyboardist and vocalist and he looks as though he could be Paul Newman's less glamorous but equally charming second cousin. He is also responsible for the tune "Purple Light."
As a Dungeons and Dragons aficionado myself, I immediately recognized that the tune was about the Arch-Palladin Quentinal's treacherous odyssey into the underworld to retrieve the Violet Crystal of Wandering from the mad half-orc, Phino, who had stolen it from its rightful heir, the Prophet Esmerelda. Mooshie subtly references the ritual mythology of the Valyrician Society with the line, "Dancing in the purple light," and it is so refreshing to see this topic finally represented, in a serious work of art, the way it was meant to be. Bravo, Mr. Chargin!
The sun was beginning to disappear behind the redwood canopy and I knew this would be my last opportunity to find out what I could about this band's monumental achievement. As if anticipating my question Michael began to hover, ever so slightly, off of the ground and Raymond leaned in to whisper: The total is greater than the sum of its parts. A wolf bayed in the distance and the smell of vegan flat bread began to emanate from the warmly glowing teepee. I made my way to my car and was about to get in when I remembered something.
"Oh yeah, don't you guys have a bass player."
"Yeah, he's in my car over there," Nick said, pointing to the orange-ish boxy thing. "He hates this kind of shit."
"Didn't he write one of the songs?" I asked. "I haven't gotten to it yet."
"Eeets cowled beelowe," Richie said.
"What's it about?"
"I think it's about boating," Marty said. "Or maybe some kind of fishing, like net-fishing or something."
"I'm pretty sure it is about fly-fishing," said Raymond as he swung his arms in a mock fisherman's style.
"He likes fishing, a lot," said Nick.
And with that I left them to the night.
Back at my house I listened to the album again a couple of times. Not bad. Four and a half stars out of five and two thirds.