Chapter 24


(the energique superfast funky punky speedy free jazz chapter)

Black faces, white faces, male female and indeterminate faces. Excitement dripping from the tobacco stained ceiling, people overflowing into the sticky summer Café terrace night. Tiled floor, wooden beams, acrid stench of Gauloises, clinking cups and glasses, hiss of espressos being made, posters of jazz musicians past and present, dead and alive.

Head full of hashish and Irish Whiskey, Xero steps up to the small podium that is the stage and blows a long, continuous "C" for the bass to tune up. Gillespiesque cheeks inflate to breathe a circular breath. Behind gleaming drums and cymbals, molten metal man nervously taps and chews. Louis listens intently and turns the arthritic, creaking keys on the upright bass.

"Pixieland" Slingsby whispers into the mike, and voices hush; "Where all the dead jazz people go!" he adds after a lengthy pause, the crowd cheers and the headlong charge begins as the three of them race each other to the end of the tune. The energy thus created takes the awed, disbelieving, grinning faces along in its wake, charging forward, seemingly out of control until the alto pulls back on the reins, calming the tempest.

"Dearly Beloved" he states deadpan. He adjusts his reed and the bass re-tunes. "We Are Gathered Here Today - To Do This!" he shouts and the music takes off again, the alto continuing to wheedle its way into guts and brains. The minds of those watching and listening, open mouthed and open eared, never stray to missing persons or pleasures. They are focussed right here right now in the present as Xero continues to blow for all he's worth.


The three play their well-rehearsed set like never before with plenty of improvisation thrown in. They wallow in the appreciation lavished upon them by this jazz-loving Xero-loving Café Damberd crowd. All of their tunes are delivered with a panache which even I have never witnessed before. The bass hops and struts and runs and leers whilst constantly on the leash of the beat, constantly constrained by Gene's geological intensity.

Everyone is teased by the mischievous gutturals, the bleeps and screeches and squeaks and belches of the horn, the sixties Selmer, sounding ever better with age, majestically sweet one minute then demoniacally fearsome the next.

This is music for four fifteen in the morning, music for a passing lonely, drunken soul who feels the rhythms and hears the harmonies and disharmonies from outside in the ghostly cobbled city square. Drawn inside to drink some more and to feel alternately happy and sad, high and low. It is music to drive the very demons themselves away, to leave everyone tired and elated, privileged to have been there, to have borne witness.

Exhausted, drained of emotion and energy, not really wanting to talk to the scores of admirers who besiege him, Xero lovingly puts away his saxophone and wistfully wonders what Sally's up to.

visit the cafe damberd

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