Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Española at the Village Vanguard

The show hadn't started yet. They were playing Count Basie in the background -- Jimmy Rushing singing, "You've got a home as long as I've got mine." D. ordered a Johnny Walker Black on the rocks and Lil Eddie said, "Make that two." The waitress was cute but her glasses were a little too big and kept slipping down her nose. The place was packed. The usual French and Japanese tourists, but also a lot of Latins tonight. Taking pictures with their phones before the set got under way. A few climbing back up the narrow stairs to the street for a smoke.

Now it was Dexter Gordon's "Soy Califa" coming over the club's sound system. D. was trying to relax. "I been livin with all this anger pent up inside me and I'm tellin you it's not healthy. Headaches, back-aches, dizzy spells, palpitations, whatnot. I'm eatin like a pig cause of the stress. If they dint cost so much, I'd take up cigarets again. I keep turnin it over in my mind, you know, that grasshopper and ant thing, all play and no work, or vice versa. If it wasn't for music I'd be a wreck." Lil Eddie was trying to focus on what D. was saying, but it was hard. It had been a long week at work, and he was looking forward to watching El Negro's left foot work the cowbell. "Lemme tell you, Hernandez is one of the best drummers around -- wait till he and Nĩno get into that flamenco thing of theirs. It'll knock the shite right out of you." Sometimes all you want is rhythm. An effin pile-driver to the heart. The rest is extraneous.

"I saw 'em here a coupla years ago. They started slow, but god, once those two cats started playin off one another, they had everybody in the joint bouncin off the walls. What a joyous sound. I swear they were levitatin at one point. When they did 'Turn Out the Stars' even the bartender stopped talkin. Sublime." They ordered another round. D. thought it was funny -- at the next table there was a young Spanish guy with his girlfriend wearing a black t-shirt with the word "Sublime" written across it in gold Gothic letters. Lil Eddie's eyes followed the waitress, "She's cute. I like the way she keeps adjustin her glasses." D. chuckled, "Oh man. Chicks with specs. Right?"

"I guess. Listen. I just wanna see you relax. Let it all go tonight. If you like what you hear, we'll stay for the late show." It had gotten loud down there, and warm.

All of a sudden the background music stopped. After a minute or so, some long-faced dude in a cheap sport coat and black shirt took the mic and asked everybody to turn off their cells. "And there's no photography allowed once the lights go down. We ask you to be quiet and enjoy the show. Now we're proud to introduce Nĩno Josele and his band." D. and Lil Eddie joined the crowd in greeting the great guitarist with loud applause. Nĩno gave a shy smile and sat down. A woman sitting next to D. leaned over to her companion and said, "God he's beautiful." He was wearing a white shirt open at the collar, a loosened striped tie, and black pants. Longish black hair like it had been mussed a bit just before the show and a day or two's worth of heavy stubble. He squinted into the lights while attending to the matter of making some final adjustments to the tuning. The rest of the band sat off to the side in the shadows. You could hear the air moving through the ventilation system. Everyone was waiting.

Then, very softly, he began to play.

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