Old Smoke

They were playing a pretty faded copy of The Slider at the Love Song while I hovered over my drink. The raw umbers and rich hunter greens made for pleasant company as I sipped some concoction of rye, cognac, and Benedictine that left me pretty stoned. There was a battalion outside, but it was nearly empty in the bar.  The Bots were playing next door and the bass was making its way through the wall, competing with the voices of the crowd. The needle was leaping over ‘Telegram Sam’ like it was written in hot coals and I could feel my eyes begin to sag under the weight of my consciousness. I made my way to the door and then through the mob that was surrounding the entrance. It was half a block until I was clear of them.

At the corner I was squarely in the path of an errant board loosed by a kickflip that left the rider carded by a rail while his friends laughed. I handed the board back to him as politely as I could. He already had enough embarrassment to swallow and I didn’t want him to choke. I zig zagged around a couple blocks and wound up in my apartment. Folding my shirt from the day and preparing another for the next I reached for an LP I had purchased the morning before.

Morning is an interesting time in a record store. There are two in my immediate neighborhood and I’m pretty familiar with the stock. Whenever I get the chance I like to grab a coffee and drink it while digging through the new arrivals. There, shouldered with excellent dads, I carefully read jackets and liner notes catching conversation whenever one happens to fall. That particular morning was overwhelmed with options. Regretfully, I passed up a pristine copy of Arthur… Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, though the clerk was right to point out I wasn’t going to find it for any less.

Lingering around the same dent to my Chase account was Kamasi Washington’s The Epic – a hexagonal album of six perfect sides – Someday my Prince Will ComeWild Gift, the Blade Runner OST; I hadn’t even finished my coffee yet and I was considering buying an estate. When first building my record collection, I rarely bought anything on LP that I had heard before. It saved money. If I was going to make it out of this record store without pawning all of my roommate’s stuff that was how. I put them all back. I began to dig into the cumbersome jazz section that occupied the middle third of the crates.  That’s where I found Blowin’ Some Old Smoke, but it didn’t necessarily looked like it belonged.

Reading the sleeve’s passionate, if confoundingly drafted, refusal to categorize Szabo’s career as a guitarist my interest piqued. I’m weary of greatest hits. I own very few of them. Sequenced with care, there are some that play like albums themselves but most sound like a mix cd you’re forced to listen to in your friend’s car. I wasn’t incredibly familiar with Gabor Szabo, though, and Blowin’ Some Old Smoke seemed as good as any place to start.

I left with the record and a receipt and headed down the congested block to my apartment. Placing the needle on the A-side, my speakers let out a soft thud before a stunning arrangement of Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’ began to fill my room. Delicate, sophisticated waves of cool found their way through my ears directly to my gut. This was nameless music. Equal parts composition and improvisation. Szabo’s acoustic guitar levitates just above the arrangement, altered ever so slightly by the amplifier. It’s a stunning tone.

Gabor Szabo’s combination of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Jazz, European Folk, and classical is singular. Like the funky jazz inflected playing of Joe Pass or the stately playfulness of Chet Atkins, Szabo’s style is all his own.  I listened to its 37 minutes ceaselessly until I grew briefly discontent and headed to the Love Song for a night-cap 36 hours later. Returning home to a now familiar friend I struck a match and blew some old smoke trying to decide which track was my favorite and which Gabor Szabo record I now have to buy.




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