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Bajo Turbato: Musician Chris Black debuts endeavor with Gabriel Sullivan

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Music profile

Bajo Turbato: Musician Chris Black debuts endeavor with Gabriel Sullivan

First local appearance promises to surprise and delight Plush audience

  • Chris Black on gypsy violin.
    Courtesy Jacob SullivanChris Black on gypsy violin.

Tucson will be introduced Thursday to self-proclaimed "Latin-gypsy party band" Bajo Turbato, who will open for one-man-band and curiosity That 1 Guy at Plush.

The band is actually a duo: Chris Black, local singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, on violin, and Tucson mariachi/punk icon Gabriel Sullivan (American Black Lung) on bajo sexto. While they plan to collaborate with other musicians, including the French Tourist, the foundation of Bajo Turbato is the duo.

Sullivan and Black eschew set lists, opting for a more improvisatory route into songs. Black explained the duo's method over coffee by the train tracks at Maynard's on Saturday.

"The idea is, we make a beat, have people dance around, and then we can do anything we want inside that beat."

With the stew of influences brought to the table by Black and Sullivan, anything does, truly, mean anything.

Gypsy music, mariachi and blues all contribute their unique sense of melody and rhythm to the set, comprised of originals and covers. What that shape can hold is truly surprising, as a Pixies song leads into a gypsy traditional that leads into a sweet song by The Inkspots.

In Flagstaff two weeks ago, the crowd was dancing the whole time, and, according to Black, "the show kind of went nuts."

Gadjo Bango

Local musician Chris Black refers to his entire musical outlook of late as that of the "gadjo bango," Romany for "crooked stranger."

Black is a literary sort of musician, equal parts Jim Thompson and Flannery O'Connor. The Texas native cuts an imposing figure as he plays whatever instrument is at hand (including guitar, stand-up bass, violin, piano) with a know-it-all swagger.

Black arrived in Tucson from San Francisco to join friends and musicians he had met on many trips through town. He has collaborated with just about everyone kicking around downtown, including Vicki Brown, Emilie Marchand, Amy Rude and Naim Amor, as country tear-in-your-beer cover band The Ashes of Love.

Three records that changed Chris Black's life

 Switched on Bach, Walter Carlos, (later Wendy Carlos), 1968.

Black first heard this record as a child, and has recently brought it back into his current listening rotation. The record, one of the first classical albums to sell over 500,000 copies, renders famous Bach compositions on a Moog modular synthesizer, using overdub after overdub to recreate an orchestral arrangement. Black refers to it as "the Bikini Atoll of my musical life."

Swordfishtrombones, Tom Waits, 1983

Black's musical "Hiroshima," Waits' first self-produced album introduces Tom Waits' signature whacked-out arrangements for which he is now famous, abandoning the piano-heavy, safer sound of his previous releases. Black, 18 at the time he first heard the record, found himself riveted by what he calls its "otherness." At a time when Black was adding instrument after instrument to his arsenal, he was struck by songs like "Shore Leave" and "16 Shots From a 30.6," delighted by their "exotic, creaking sounds that weren't Bon Jovi."

Taraf de Haidouks, self-titled, (Nonesuch compilation), 1999.

This large gypsy band from Clejani, Romania, one of the best Romany groups of the post-Soviet era, released music internationally starting in 1991. Upon hearing this album, Black had the top of his head metaphorically blown off— an aural "Nagasaki." Black says that this record, and the music of the Romany people in general, "changed everything I thought about music, specifically why it is played and what it does for people."

Crooked Stranger

Returning to that strange phrase, "gadjo bango," Black reveals that he has reformulated his entire approach to music with that idea of the crooked stranger in mind. In whatever configuration he finds himself, he intends to bring a mindfulness of occasion and of the organic, bodied nature of music-making. He encourages readers to keep an eye on his website.

As for Thursday night's debut, Black is thrilled to be bringing the project to a local audience. His guarantee of a good time seems pretty solid.

"This is music for the people," Black declares, "music for a feast, for a wedding, for a party."


Black on relocating to Tucson

"It's ridiculous. Everything I need is here— all the people. all the stuff— like Austin before the tech boom. Every conceivable artist is here within 10 blocks."

If you go

Bajo Turbato opening for That 1 Guy at Plush, 340 E. 6th St. Thursday, Jan. 28 at 9 pm. Admission $7

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