Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 44) transports me to the Baked Potato jazz club in Los Angeles, circa 2004, where I added the name Laboriel to the long list of musical parent-children collaborations: von Trapp, Carter, Staples, Partridge, et al. I had gone to LA to attend a grantee meeting at UCLA, with folks from around the country who were working on engaged learning. As had been the case at other such meetings in other cities, I had scoped out some live music for our free night on the town. I persuaded two or three colleagues to take the plunge with a hefty taxi fare and cover charge, explaining what a unique experience lay ahead with bassist Abraham Laboriel and Jazz Ministry set to play. I had been a fan of Abe’s since the 80s, when he did studio work for the likes of Donald Fagen, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder, among hundreds of others. But his musicianship was only half the story. I had seen him perform live in 1985 with a jazz group called Koinonia, comprised of some of the best LA studio musicians who came together because of their common Christian faith. They didn’t say a lot about their faith in the concert, just enough to let people know that their sense of vocation was based on a belief in God’s love, and they wanted their music (which was all instrumental jazz) to convey that love. What was most memorable about that concert was the stage presence of Abe Laboriel. As the band played their way through celebratory swing numbers and high-octane bebopping tunes and down and dirty blues, Laboriel’s facial expressions and gyrations and dancing across the stage with only his bass guitar for a partner provided some of the best entertainment I had ever seen. That’s what I sold our little group of engaged learning grantees on, and they were not disappointed. Laboriel and his fellow Jazz Ministry players came out to the stage of the small club, circled up and held hands for a brief prayer, and then started taking the crowd on a rollercoaster journey of high swinging celebrations and low lamenting blues, with Laboriel in true form with his facial expressions and dance steps. What made the Baked Potato event even more spectacular was that the band included, along with legends Greg Mathieson on piano and Mike Landau on guitar, Laboriel’s son, Abe Jr, on the drums. It was a true “like father like son” experience, for Jr. matched his father in both musicianship and stage presence; his gyrations and facial expressions behind the drum kit really stole the show.
Family musical talent has been around a long time, long before Shirley Partridge took her kids out on the tour bus or the Laboriels started delighting club crowds. Many of the Psalms are attributed to a musical family known as the Sons of Korah. These “sons” were actually cousins, seven generations removed from Korah, a rebel leader who had challenged the priesthood during the time of Moses. But the boys, listed by name in I Chronicles 15, were still known by that moniker, not by the names of their own fathers or grandfathers. We can only guess why the compiler of Psalms chose to identify the choral composers and arrangers by the name of one so far removed, both in time and in official standing. Korah’s attempted coup landed him in a deep hole, literally, as the earth split open and swallowed up the rebel leader and his guerilla army, proving to all on-lookers that Aaron’s priesthood had divine rights. My suspicion as to why the musical geniuses of David’s day were known by the name of their rebel ancestor is that he must have had music in him, too, and it is the music, not the traitorous traits, that was passed down through those seven generations. Whatever the case, today’s song demonstrates that the Sons of Korah indeed had the gift, as they were able to take their listeners on a rollercoaster journey from the celebratory swinging sounds of praise for God’s goodness (verses 1-8), to the down and dirty lamenting blues of God’s rejection and judgment (verses 9 ff.). I can imagine the kind of dancing gyrations and facial expressions that the Sons could present when performing this number on stage.
The Sons of Korah are some of the people I hope to get to meet and hang out with in the sweet hereafter. Until then, I’m content with the great blessing of being able to meet folks like Abraham Laboriel and Jazz Ministry. When they concluded their set, they hung around for a few minutes in the club, chatting up their fans. I told father Abraham about seeing him in Louisville with Koinonia when I was a seminary student, and conveyed my appreciation for his good witness. He said that he was no theologian, he just didn’t believe in hate, and wanted to do what he could to share the love of God. I told Mike Landau how much I loved the work he had done with James Taylor; I especially liked that Martha’s Vineyard video of Fire and Rain where he got his guitar to sound like a pedal steel. I told Greg Mathieson that I had worn out two copies of the Larry Carlton Room 335 album, and really appreciated how his keyboard work drove the rhythm. And then I met Abe Laboriel, Jr, and didn’t know what to say, except, That was by far the best percussion performance I’ve ever seen in my life. What do you do when you’re not playing with your father’s band? I shouldn’t have been surprised at his answer. He was getting ready to go on a world tour with Paul McCartney. Sir Paul knew the best when he saw it, and I’ve enjoyed keeping up with the musical adventures of the son of Laboriel ever since.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.