Black Sun Ensemble
“Watch the stars, see how they run. The stars run down at the setting of the sun. Watch the stars see how they run. Look at the chariot of the sun, see how she glows. I hide my golden chariot behind purple clouds. Look at my chariot of the sun. See how she shines star bright. Look at the moon, see how she glows. The moon shines down at the setting of the sunlight.” – Jesus Acedo (2013)
Jesus Acedo (1962-2013) was the quixotic leader of Black Sun Ensemble (1985-2013) who, on the basis of his enigmatic recordings, has been hailed by critics as “the most important guitarist in psychedelic rock in the last 20 years.” Born on Christmas Eve, 1962 in Tucson, Arizona, to Mexican immigrant parents, Acedo was one of eight children, the only one with an interest in music. After the death of his father in 1975, Acedo grieved by immersing himself in music. He spent most of his early adolescence at the Tucson public library listening to Ravi Shankar and Led Zeppelin records. At this time, Acedo bought a guitar and in high school, he began experimenting with the unique tunings of his guitar that give his music what one reviewer reverently called “peculiarly mystical, twangy, meditative, Middle Eastern rock sound”. Muze, in describing his style, said he can “spit blasts of dragon fire or conjure the exotic, iridescent mystique of peacock feathers with a single stroke.” A self-titled debut album was released by Tucson’s Pyknotic Records in 1985. Its extraordinary qualities led Acedo to sign a three album contract with England’s Reckless Records, and in 1988 the label released “Black Sun Ensemble” (1988), “Lambent Flame” (1989) and “Elemental Forces” (1991). At the time, Offbeat exclaimed that BSE was “possibly, the world’s coolest band.” After touring the West Coast with Camper Van Beethoven in support of “Lambent Flame” the Ensemble was captured live on the first side of “Tragic Magic” (1992) for Absolute A Go Go Records.The second side was a magical suite of mostly acoustic pieces that presaged the extensive title track of the later “Sky Pilot” CD.
The inexorable weight of personnel changes, drugs and unexpected success eventually unbalanced Acedo’s mental stability. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1992 and spent the next several years in and out of local hospitals. During his breakdown, the band recorded the damned “Psycho Master El” album for Tucson’s San Jacinto Records (1994). This record was remixed,remastered, and repackaged in 1998 for Camera Obscura Records. The results were issued as “Sky Pilot” in 1999, which also included rare Black Sun singles tracks and a brand new 20-minute work called “Sky Pilot Suite“. Sky Pilot got rave reviews by critics and sold well locally and internationally.
That same year, Acedo joined forces with Tucson pysch-rockers Sun Zoom Spark as a backing band. The initial BSE line-up of Jesus Acedo (guitar), Eric Johnson (bass), Otto Terrorist (drums) and Brian Maloney (saxophone) began playing regular gigs again around Tucson. News of Black Sun’s return to the stage was appreciated by grunge-rock legend Mark Arm of Mudhoney, who engineered a shared performance at Tucson’s Club Congress in early 2001. In February 2001, Camera Obscura reissued the debut Black Sun Ensemble recording from 1985, again to extraordinary reviews. The quartet recorded “Hymn of the Master” at SlowBurn Studio in 2000. The project was mixed at Tortuga Studio by Ducan Hudson and was released on Camera Obscura Records in 2001.
Former BSE saxophone/flute/clarinet player Nervous Duane Norman and poet/percussionist Joseph Graves joined the band to record “Starlight” at SlowBurn Studio and was released in 2003. The sextet, with the addition of percussionist John Paul Marchand, who replaced Graves, was invited to showcase at 2002 South by Southwest music festival in Austin Texas. Based on the success of their performance, BSE was invited back to showcase in 2004 and 2005.
Otto Terrorist left Tucson for New York City in late 2001 but still managed to record two songs for 2006’s “Bolt of Apollo.” Otto Terrorist’s drum duties were temporarily filled by veteran Tucson musician Ernie Mendoza for the remainder of the record. “Bolt of Apollo” also featured a music video, shot on location by in China by long-time friend and BSE fan, Jonathan Levitt. During this time, Black Sun Ensemble released two limited-edition live recordings exclusively on SlowBurn Records called “Live At KXCI” & “Live At KXCI Volume II,” documenting the band’s live on-air perforances and interviews from 2001 and 2004, repectively. In 2006, the core band of Acedo, Eric Johnson, Brian Maloney and John Paul Marchand began to splinter due to the weight of personal and artistic differences. It was these stresses that led to Eric Johnson to quit the band in 2007. Johnson, however, continued his role of engineer and producer for the next BSE recording project, “Across The Sea Of Id: The Way To Eden.”
For live shows, Johnson was replaced by Tucson multi-intrumentalist Scott Kerr. The band played a few more gigs in Tucson before the remaining members called it quits in 2008. In summer 2008, Black Sun Ensemble published the last collection of new works with SlowBurn Records thru Camera Obscura Records. “Across the Sea of Id: The Way to Eden,” has the band coming full circle to the semi-acoustic recordings that began the their career in the 1980s. The CD also featured a music video and artwork created by BSE percussionist, John Paul Marchand.
During the next several years, Black Sun Ensemble was dormant. Jesus Acedo again struggled with many of the demons that have haunted him throughout his adult life, including a period of incarceration. However in early 2012, Acedo began to get his life back on track. Returning percussionist Scott Kerr became instrumental in bringing Jesus back to music, helping Acedo with equipment and with both emotional and musical support. With the help of flautist and ex-Distortionist Joe E. Furno, the trio re-recruited multi-instrumentalist and engineer Eric Johnson. The new quartet returned to SlowBurn studio in summer 2012 to being to assemble a new set and direction. With an emphasis on world and electronic music influences, the Ensemble returned to the stage after a 5 year absence. Black Sun Ensemble played a benefit gig for the Southern Arizona Humane Society – an annual event organized by Acedo and Kerr themselves. The gig was a success raising over $1000 for the charity and encouraged BSE to begin to discuss the possibility of future gigs and new recordings.
In late 2012, Black Sun Ensemble began to record a new collection of works, called “Behind Purple Clouds.” In February 2013, Eric Johnson, drummer Otto Terrorist and BSE videographer Jonathan Levitt, successfully negotiated with the CEO of Reckless Records Charles Taylor to return the publishing rights of the “Goldfish” record to Acedo and SlowBurn Records. A planned reissue of this and other unreleased material from that era, called “Ragas Del Sol,” is planned.
Later that month, Otto Terrorist returned to Tucson to record a new version of the signature song “Captain Wormwood” for a proposed 7″ with Tucson’s Dead Chiefs. During his visit, Otto Terrorist joined BSE to play a show at Tucson’s Solar Culture art gallery on February 23, 2013. Solar Culture owner, Steve Eye was quoted by the Tucson Weekly that it was a “magical evening,” and that one person in attendance commented to Eye how powerful the band was by saying “Do these guys know how good they are?!”
Ten days later, on March 4, 2013, Jesus Acedo died in his apartment in Tucson. The cause of death was heart-attack. The remaining members of BSE played “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison at his funeral a week later. The surviving members organized a benefit show called The Jesus Acedo Memorial Concert at The Hut in Tucson to help the Acedo family with funeral expenses. The remaining members of BSE, along with Howe Gelb, Al Perry, The Swigs, The Dead Chiefs, Michael Henderson, Leila Lopez, Fonda Insley and the Black Sun Tribe Belly Dancers – and many others played the memorial concert. The remaining members plan to complete the recordings that Acedo started the last few months of his life, called Behind Purple Clouds, and continue to create music – under a different name. Members chose Cobracalia, after a BSE song from their first record in 1985, as a tribute to Acedo.
In August, the remaining members of Black Sun Ensemble were awarded the New Works Grant from the Tucson Pima Arts Council, for the completion and duplication of both the Behind Purple Clouds CD and the 7″ split with the Dead Chiefs. The project features several guests artists, including Al Perry, Carl Hall, Michael Henderson and former BSE members Bridget Keating and Otto Terrorist.
Jesus Acedo truly was Black Sun Ensemble, without his presence and his incredible fret skills, they band could never be the same. SlowBurn Records plans several Black Sun Ensemble releases in the future, that Acedo and Black Sun Ensemble have left behind. With Acedo’s passing, a unique vision and musical language was lost – lucky for us, recordings are forever.
May you walk in light, love, wisdom and beauty, Jesus. (September 2013)