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queen esther, music


This Rock n' Roll BlackGrrl's High Life

A Cautionary Tale

My first European review (I think)
queen esther, music
A severe amount of spring cleaning led me to this German review of a show I did in Nuremberg with James "Blood" Ulmer some time ago. I was curious enough about what it said to get it translated professionally but I never found the by-line, so the date and the publisher was lost on me.  I think this is probably my first European review. Actually, there may be more -- we bounced on and off the road quite a bit with this particular configuration -- but God knows how I would even begin to find any of it.  One would think I'd be more mindful of ephemera from foreign countries but at the time, gathering any of it was like catching a pillowful of down feathers as they take to the wind.  I'm usually flying by the seat of my pants when I'm on tour. If I managed to do a thorough idiot check as I left every hotel room I occupied, I was fairly convinced that I was batting a thousand.

Luckily, a little research on the internet filled in all the details with this review. It was published in the daily newspaper Nurnberger Nachrichten in October 16, 2000.  The editors at the paper were kind enough to send me a text version. Thank goodness I kept a copy of the original.

I thought it was an interesting snapshot of what we -- Jeremiah Landress (bass), Swiss Chriss (drums), Blood and myself -- were collectively bringing to the stage and why Germans especially really seemed to enjoy it. (The translation is below the article.)

I liked Nuremberg. It was old and strange and just a little too friendly. Strangers would walk by me slowly and wave, smiling incessantly. Sometimes one of them -- I specifically remember an old lady with a bright scarf on her head and a small wide-eyed child by her side -- would stand at a distance and gleefully take a picture of me. That was especially disturbing. On my day off there, I spent an afternoon wandering through its endless array of underground labyrinths with Jeremiah and a German guitarist I met at the gig and ended up at a sun-drenched festival in a large, wide open space of a plaza, where i ate strange windmill-shaped cookies and daydreamed.

How weird. Believe it or not, I look exactly the same.


The Blues as a Musical Weapon
Black Pride: James "Blood" Ulmer and Queen Esther in the Nurnberger Jazzstudio

"Are you glad to be in America?" asks the 40 year old James "Blood" Ulmer in his song of the same name, which gave him his big break in 1981. Naturally, the question posed by this African-American Blues agitator was cynical as well as political. The powerful guitarist who was hard and precise, but could also be elastic and fluid, used these skills to combine the incompatible. Initially, he developed in the shadow of free jazzer Ornette Coleman. In the popular Nurnberger Jazzstudio, the audience was able to see if Ulmer's 1980s motto -- Jazz is the Teacher, Funk is the Preacher" -- still holds true.

In the middle of this "Blues Experience," as Ulmer calls his unusual and intensely sharp trio is Queen Esther, who made her mark four years ago with the avant garde guitarist Elliot Sharp on his album Mighty.

With nonchalance, ease and strength, this cool, attractive singer turns the blues into a weapon loaded with aggression, aimed at African-American's oppressors.

In unmistakable terms, she formulates her opinions on "Black Culture": I'm looking for a man who never has been in a white man's jail. Disassociated yet filled with soul, leaving behind both scorn and charm as she searches, the Queen sings from a blues throne never before occupied in quite this way by a guitarist.

This kind of disturbing arrogance is unusual for Ulmer. This time, his refrains are soft, and because of this, the 58 year old Ulmer can restrain himself. He plays quietly sitting in a chair. Let me take you home, Queen Esther sings enticingly in the song of the same name, which was featured eight years ago on the Blues Preacher album. But, she adds sarcastically afterwards, her home is far away.

In this way, her blues exude exclusivity as opposed to the Ulmer's solidarity. The old wall of protest is broken down, invitations to outsiders (whites) are no longer valid, and the landscape has changed: What was brought to the fore on this evening of amazing music leaves one with goose pimples.