BSE Ramblings

Jesus Acedo at San Xavier Mission, 2005 It saddens us to report that local musician Jesus Acedo passed away on Sunday, March 3. No cause of death is known at this time. Acedo, a masterful and unique guitarist, performed with his on-and-off psychedelic rock band Black Sun Ensemble (or Black Sun Legion, as it was sometimes called) since its formation in the mid-1980s. Black Sun Ensemble's releases received fervent praise in magazines such as Rolling Stone and by tastemakers like famed music critic and musicologist Byron Coley, who wrote the liner notes for the 2001 reissue of the band's 1985 self-titled debut album. The band opened for Camper Van Beethoven on its Key Lime Pie tour in 1989 and performed at showcases at South by Southwest several times. But, despite his band's innovative music and the loyal cult-fandom it inspired, Acedo — who often identified himself by an ever-changing list of monikers: Bolt of Apollo, Psycho Master El, Prince Master Blaster, Dada Gaga, etc. — suffered from mental illness that led to substance abuse and landed him in and out of jail and psych wards repeatedly, all of which was difficult to witness for anyone who knew him to be the kind, sensitive soul he was. These episodes were largely responsible for the on/off nature of Black Sun Ensemble, but longtime fans were encouraged by a recent band reunion. On Saturday, Feb. 23, Black Sun Ensemble performed its last show as part of an art opening at Solar Culture Gallery. Steven Eye, the arts space's proprietor, who describes Acedo as "a true visionary," says it was "a magical night" and recounted that one attendee, who was seeing the band for the first time, asked him, "Do these guys know how good they are?!" Reportedly, Black Sun Ensemble had also recently been working on a new song for which Acedo had already finished his parts. The band plans to finish the recording. Service arrangements are currently being conducted, and there will, no doubt, be benefits held for the family. We'll keep you posted about these details as we get them. In the meantime, at the request of his family, a Facebook page called Jesus Acedo Memorial has been set up for his friends and loved ones to leave their thoughts and memories about Jesus. Please do so, as his family can use the support right now. We at the Tucson Weekly offer his family our sincerest condolences at this difficult time.   Rock critic Fred Mills's musings on Black Sun Ensemble's Sky Pilot  "Jesus, Dadagaga and Me" Charlotte, NC, circa 1988... Most likely, the first time I heard of Tucson's Black Sun Ensemble was while thumbing through a pair of the UK's then-premiere psychedelic/underground zines, Bucketfull of Brains and Unhinged. Of the group's self-titled album (technically its second, but the first one to have any real distribution outside the Old Pueblo, courtesy of the eclectic tastemakers at Reckless Records), the former had wholeheartedly endorsed the "riveting potpourri of mesmerizing Eastern and Latinate riffs and ragas, amplified by 20th century technology and spiked with cruel bursts of feedback." The latter simply gurgled with awe, "There's fire coming out of these here speakers." Color me under the spell of Jesus Acedo, his mystical 6- and 12-string iconography, and his Ensemble. From '89 to '91, three more mind-opening Black Sun albums would be released: Lambent Flame, Elemental Forces and the live/rarities collection, Tragic Magic. During that time I was hatching plans to move to Tucson, having fallen under the spell of not only the many talented bands based there, but the geography, climate and mysteries of the Lower Sonoran Desert itself. Of course, once you actually wind up living in a new place the grass, if not necessarily not greener, often takes on an entirely different hue from what you expected. Tucson, AZ, autumn 1993: Having been here for about a year, I'd already seen several favorite local bands break up or otherwise turn out to be anything but the rock deities I'd imagined them to be, based on recordings and hyperbolic press reports, from afar. This was to be expected, I supposed, but in the case of the Black Sun Ensemble's crumbling-from the combined forces of rampant LSD abuse, Acedo's personal instability brought on by chronic bouts with schizophrenia, and a declining local fanbase despite all the overseas accolades-I almost felt like I'd been cheated. One day, who should wander into my place of employ, a new/used record store, but the erstwhile Mr. Black Sun himself, Jesus Acedo. Turns out he'd spotted me snapping pics of a local band in concert, and despite my insistence that I was only doing it for the personal archives, that I was anything but a professional photographer, he talked me into shooting a few rolls of film for the cover artwork for his soon-to-be released comeback album, Psycho Master El. Acedo was now calling his group the Black Sun Legion, billing himself, incidentally, under a bizarre array of monikers including Dadagaga and Jodie Cosmo. Just prior to the release of the record Acedo, depending on how you want to view things, either succumbed to the voices in his head or simply listened to a different set of them, resulting in his torching nearly 500 CDs and all of his musical paraphernalia. Later Acedo would claim that the album had been Satan's work, telling one interviewer that he "was like one of those little radio-controlled dune buggies and the devil was the controls," and that in order to serve God he had to cleanse himself. (Acedo even rang me up and asked me to burn both the negatives of the photos and a taped interview I'd done with him in preparation for a profile of the reincarnated Black Sun.) What was left of the ...El stock did come out early in '94, on long-running Tucson label San Jacinto, and while it had its moments of brilliance peeking through, listening to it was at times painful (particularly for me, having invested more than the casual fan's emotional stake), as much of Acedo's visionary fretwork was buried in a murky, cluttered mix, not to mention the vocals of Odin Helgison on several tracks which, where once provocative and enticing (an almost Celtic spice added to the Middle Eastern and Latin stew), now just seemed abrasive. Tucson, AZ, spring 1999: By now I'd heard encouraging news several times over the intervening years, that Acedo, through the intervention of his family and his church, plus some very rigorous chemical fine-tuning of the synaptic areas by professionals, is well along the way to, if not outright recovery, a regulated and productive existence. And that he's playing music again, too. I'd seen some signs firsthand on occasion when Acedo would come into the record store and have me special order practically every title in the Mahavishnu Orchestra or John McLaughlin catalog. ("I've already got everything Jimmy Page ever did," was his stock answer-with a telltale mischievous smile, I might add-whenever I kidded him about his McLaughlin fetish.) And then one night I finally get the reward I'd felt I been unjustly deprived of. Wandering into a local venue, who should greet my eyes and ears onstage but the new, improved Black Sun Ensemble. Jesus Acedo, on acoustic and electric 12-string, Mike Glidewell on electric bass and Manny Peters on tabla, bongo and percussion, working their way confidently through about a half-hour's worth of tunes every bit as potent and soul-piercing as those from nearly a decade prior. One moment Acedo was emitting ripples of sitar-like acoustic notes as if they were delicate crystal to be cradled and protected; the next, he's gripping his electric axe, spraying incendiary bursts of improvised sonic lava reminiscent (but not derivative) of, you guessed it, Mahavishnu John McLaughlin. A couple of days later San Jacinto Records impresario Rich Hopkins hands me a cassette, informing me that he's completely overhauled the Psycho Master El tapes, renaming the remixed album Sky Pilot. The difference between the old version and the new is like the difference between McDonald's coffee with powdered creamer and a premium roast served up by a professional barrista and spritzed with the exotic flavorings of your choice. Acedo's fretwork literally burns with a virtuoso's very real passion, so focused and precise-even when charting epic freeform and psychedelic dimensions, Acedo seems to know how to keep at least one toe planted firmly on the ground-that recalling what the musician was going through at the original time of recording this material makes hearing these tunes all the more inspiring. There's no murk, just clarity; rhythmic cul-de-sacs which previously rendered some of the tunes thrashy have now, with the magic of multitrack wizardry, been opened up to let the material breathe; and yes, just in case you were wondering, those Odin vocals have been mercifully excised (or at least buried so deep in the mix that I can't hear them). Additionally, some stellar bonus material now rounds out the disc. There's the limited-edition "Staying Power" single (a sweet love ballad, sung by Acedo himself and featuring piercing lead guitar from Hopkins) plus brand new B.S.E. recording "Sky Pilot Suite". This lengthy number is marked by the hypnotic interweaving of acoustic guitar and bass, plus deft ethno-tribal percussion, and joined by economical melodic flourishes from both the electric guitar (in full modal effect) and saxophone. It all hearkens back to the vintage B.S.E. sound and points the direction forward, offering old fans familiar touchstones with which to resume the love affair as well as giving a whole new generation of acolytes reasons to pick up the torch. The Lambent flame burns anew? It would seem so. Welcome back, Jesus. -Fred Mills Jesus Acedo 1987January 2008 - Its kind of funny how the last entry here was from nearly two years explaining my departure from Black Sun Ensemble, even though I have spent a number of months last year putting together my final CD with BSE.  In fact, we are about ready to have it shipped out to our friends at Camera Obscura Records for a release date in summer 2008.  In the future, I am planning to compile a collections of outtakes from the years I have spent with Jesus, going back to 1999.  There are quite a few tracks that didnt make it onto the four records we have release since then and a number of alternate takes of songs that are quite different from what has been released.  And there are a couple of songs I would like to remix from the good ole' Hymn of the Master CD. In addition,  there are some surviving old songs from 1980s that we have discovered that should make it onto CD someday.  That material is truly magical and I am pretty dedicated to getting that material the proper attention it deserves.  I have played one show with BSE in the last few years - I can't even really call it a show.  We played a couple of tunes on a local cable access show.  The experience was both ridiculously funny and just ridiculous at the same time.  Not because of the music though.  No matter what state Jesus is in, he guitar playing doesnt usually suffer greatly.  Granted, he can't pull off the that amazing phrased solos that we have heard him do in the past, but with some REAL practice, he certainly could be as good as he was - I am convinced of that.  As for the future of BSE - its up in the air.  Will Jesus make yet another comeback??  Will he find a solid band to back him??  Will he find another engineer who is willing to record him for free??  I hope so.  Well, look for Across the Sea of Id: The Way to Eden to be released in summer 2008 - our swansong it turns out, which makes it all more bittersweet.  Its the best thing we did together.   And  wait and see if Jesus can come back from the dead again.  One thing about Jesus, he is a surivor.  - Eric Johnson Black Sun Ensemble on stage 2005April 2006 – I talked with Jesus the other night and let him know that I will not be playing with Black Sun Ensemble in the future.  I joined the band in early 2000 and have spent a great deal of time and energy to create a relevant present and future for the band.  I have loved Black Sun Ensemble for years and have been witness to the sheer ferocity of Jesus’s vision and guitar abilities.  Honestly, I would have done just about anything to join the band at the time, not only because I am a fan, but BSE is truly the most interesting and challenging group in Tucson, perhaps Arizona.  While other bands struggle to be a rad punk band or go the often bland desert rock route or the quirky, novelty band route, Black Sun Ensemble has lived completely outside of all of that crap.  For better or worse, BSE has practically ignored other genres both locally and historically, creating music that is in a category of one.  (I will admit that Jesus has done a fair amount of pinching from Jimmy Noland, Jimmy Page and John McLaughlin.)   When asked to describe the music Jesus usually says, “its psychedelic music!”  It is definitely not in the model of 60s/70s acid rock per se or is it space rock.  To me, Black Sun Ensemble is at its best when I hear its music as a reflection of its surrounding –reflecting the unique spirit of our culture in the desert. Sometimes it goes beyond that, some of the melodies to me are like channels to ancient past where musical melodies were both incredibly dark and exquisitely beautiful but somehow forgotten over the centuries.  Jesus Acedo is all of that, and is like no one else.  However, the line between genius and madness is often blurred and dealing with less than magical side of the band has become a weight I no longer can carry.  Beside, in the end we will have release 4 full length studio CDs and two limited edition CDs of live radio performances.  I truly feel like there is no place to grow –I think we have exhausted all of our ideas and tricks.  Because of this, I have no regrets at all.  I can only wish the band well from my heart and hope that they make it through another 20 years.  -Eric Johnson Jesus Acedo 2003January 31, 2006 - A brief BSE history in the form of an email to a progressive rock website. Hello, My name is John Paul Marchand.  I love your website, and it has helped me incredibly with my progressive, psychedelic, and overall weird radio show "Tempest Broog." (91.3 KXCI FM-Tucson, Az kxci.org Monday Morn, 12am-2am, now in it's tenth year!  yea!). I do want to say however your entry for the Black Sun Ensemble (of which I am a member)  is very out of date. Your description would be right on if it were the mid 90's, but not now.  With the help of Eric Johnson (bass, guitar, banjo,moog and a whole lot more ) Brian Maloney (Sax, and also and a whole) lot more Leila Lopez (Drums) and myself (percussion) we have helped Jesus De Paz (he has not used  the "Dagan" moniker in ages...).  Eric and Brian have been recording and playing with Jesus since 2000, I have played with them live since 2001 but was not an official member until 2003.  I have played with the band at the South By South West musicfest in Austin the three times we have been invited there.   Leila has just joined the band. The first offering from this line up (Brian "Otto Terrorist" Kohl on Drums) was "Hymn Of The Master." (2001) I was not on that record. The new band was just getting their footing and it is rough,but not without inspiration. It's almost on the brink of train wrecking all through the album but I like it more than any other member of the band for that reason!   Largely because of the vocals, which is all done by Jesus.  He can't sing, but pulls it off somehow.   It was released on Camera Obscura Records out of Australia, which we are still on.  The title track is great, as is Captain Wormwood, 669, The Beast, 999, Love In The Heart of The Joyful,  Lamp Lady Vision, and Song for Precious.   The band was still getting to know Jesus the madman, and pretty much followed his lead creatively in the early daze.  So the sound was very crunchy and aggressive.  It was the primordial new beginning for the Black Sun. In 2003 came "Starlight." It is obvious the band has matured with this second offering.  Eric Johnson and Brian Maloney took on more songwriting credits, and shared a lot more of the creative decision making. The production and songwriting is far superior.  The whole album has a holistic flow and flavor.  The opening track "Jewel of the Seven Stars," is a lush trance-inducing number.  "Loki's Monstrous Brood" is very reminiscent of King Crimson's "Red" period.   "Arabic Satori" has some intense stream of consciousness spoken word by one time percussionist for the band, Joseph Graves.  He plays some bass on the album as well. He also reappears on the final title track bringing the album to a great conclusion with style!  "Angel Of Light" is a much like the feeling in "Hymn," but is still more clearly played and executed in every way.  The other gems to me are "Mascara Moon," a song which certainly illustrates that this new incarnation is something to be reckoned with. "The Lycian," is also very Crimsonish, which is alright by me, but has that Black Sun drama on it's own right!  My two favorite tracks are "I am I was" with Eric on vocals.  Eric has a great and distinct style.  He has his own band Sun Zoom Spark (a more psych-pop band) on his label Slowburn Records-check them out!  I also love "Remedios Rising" a Brian Maloney instrumental.  Beautiful. Then came the self released "Live at KXCI" and later "Live at KXCI vol II." The latter is the better offering, for no other reason than the band started to head off to more early waters-sounding much more like the first album than ever before.  We had just gotten back from SXSW, and we were very tight.  Eric is heard playing banjo and kick drum at the same time!  Then bass.  I am on percussion, Brian on sax.  Jesus on Electric Sitar guitar. Now we have completed "Bolt of Apollo," soon to be released on Camera Obscura once again.  Oddly enough,  it is the current NEXT album "Across the Seas Of ID (The Way to Eden,") that  is more like what the band currently sounds like live.   "Apollo" is all instrumental, with Ernie Mendoza as a guest  (an incredible drummer) on kit.  I will not go into these two albums all that much, but I will say both offerings we are very proud of, and Jesus is playing better than he has in years.  Which is why I am writing this, because he has been playing amazingly well, and has been incredibly creative these past six years, overcoming great odds.  I am in the band, but I do not write this because I want to brag about the band I am in.  I am writing this because Jesus is one of the greatest guitar players I have ever heard. Playing with him has been like a shamanic experience at times, especially lately.  With two  new albums, very good albums soon to be released, he and the band deserves a better entry within your awesome web site. If you can offer this email to other web sites that might have a similar entry I would appreciate it.  I first heard the band when I lived in the NYC area, in a record store called "It's Only Rock'n Roll." They were playing on the speakers (Lambent Flame) and I was instantly captivated.  I was too broke to buy the record (a common malady for me) but stayed for  the rest of the record.  I did not forget the band's name and I didn't even know they were from Tucson.  I then moved out here, and after meeting Eric was shocked to realize I could go see them! Now I am in the band, and it is an honor.  I was barely a musician when I first played with them, but now I can call myself one, simply because playing with Black Sun isn't easy, it's an education, and it's a fucking trip! Respectively, John Paul Marchand Percussionist for BSE aka Cozmik Jon on Tempest Broog   May 25, 2005 -- Its incredibley hot here in Tucson,  I think around 106 degrees, which is a bit premature even for the desert.  It always seems like we wait till the summer kicks in to begin recording every time.  Last night, while the temp outside was a stuffy 97 degrees at 9pm, the indoor temperature at Slowburn Studio hovered in the low 90s.  We have a series of fans, which we need to turn off because of the noise when we are recording.  The swamp cooler runs nicely but needs a new pump for the water so no help there.  Such is life in the desert.  Times like these you kind of question if humans really belong here.  Anyway, we began the process of completing the next BSE record "Across the Seas of Id: A Way to Eden." More of an acoustic project then the all of the releases we have done since 2000, "Seas of Id" looks like it will be much more reminiscent of BSE's mid to late 80s acoustic work.  We are planning to include new songs as well as new acoustic versions of older songs.  Last night we began with a new version of Sky Pilot Suite, adding sax and tampurna.  Thats all we could take working on in the heat so we called it a night. -Eric Johnson April 29, 2005 -- Been spending the last few nights in the studio remixing a few songs from the rock opera we did called Twitch A Rock Opera from the Earth. John Paul Marchand, creator and film maker, showed me some lengthy clips for the movie version of the opera a couple of months ago.  I was inspired by the progress and the quality of his work to go back to the archives and redo a couple of things that I didnt do so well the first time around.  Because of my lack of gear and experience in the studio back then, a couple songs really needed to be reworked.  "She Enters the Dream" is one that needed to be tweaked primarily because of the complexity of the tracking.  Back then I only had an 8 track so most tracks had 2 or more instrument parts on them, which makes it really hard to mix something complex without automation.  The other song was the "Stone God Awakens" track featuring Jesus's super bizarro guitar solo.  The solo was recorded back in 2000, during the "Hymn of the Master" era, which is rather foggy in my mind now but do recall that Jesus was playing thru that horrible Crate amp and insisted on using a variety of pedals like the Phase 45 and I think even an old DOD Flanger we had lying around.  The resulting track was series of noise that seem to emulate either the buzzing of a swarm of bees or the song of a whale who was very unhappy.  Jeez.  I knew that Jesus would be very unwilling to come back in and do a new track for this because he would rather take the path of least resistance in all things.  So I cleaned up the other tracks, isolated or eliminated other stuff that was just adding to the chaos and I was left with Jesus track.  Because of its overloaded sound, it just would not sit comfortablely on the rhythm section so I first put it through the Joe Meek compressor.  It sounded a little more under control, but still was wierd.  Actually the song is pretty wierd to begin with.  There is crashing and machine noises, didgereedoos, Moog, the whole psychedelic enchilada.  So I also ran Jesus's track through the Line 6 delay box thru the reverse setting and added a interesting complexity to the barrage of notes Jesus spit out that day.  This extra step seemed to do the trick, I was able to control the amount of effect throughout the song.  Now if John Paul ever finishes the damn movie, you will get to hear what I am talking about.  -- Eric Johnson

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