My February 2015 trip to Tucson, to hear Steve Roach live for the first time, should have been documented, but somehow was not. I didn’t even think to take my camera with me, and my impressions faded before I could try to give them written form. This suggests to me, in retrospect, that I somehow held back from immersing as deeply in the experience as I could have. None of this was conscious back then, or at any point during this five-day visit, but it seems clear enough now, just after my return.

Leo CatIn any event, I definitely felt more open to everything this time, making more and better connections with many of the kindred spirits who always gather when Steve comes out of the cave to share the latest turns in his musical quest.

Necessities aside, I traveled light, with only headphones and my copy of Lord of the Rings, which I had just begun reading for at least the seventh time. Why visit just one magical realm, when you can have two?

I was lucky to find a really comfortable, affordable lodging in Tucson during its huge Gem and Mineral Show, within walking distance of downtown. My host’s cat Leo paid a few visits, to receive his requisite worshipful attention.

Steve played Feb. 9-11, at Solar Culture‘s Galactic Center in downtown Tucson. I arrived on the 8th and settled in. On the 9th, I took the opportunity to catch the last day of Ralph Prata’s art show at the DeGrazia Little Gallery.

Ralph is known to Roach fans for his artwork on Steve’s collaborative albums Trance Spirits, Dream Tracker and Tales From the Ultra Tribe. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the 2015 concerts.

I earned my relaxing time at Ralph’s show the old-fashioned way, walking five miles up Swan Road in the sunny, windless, dry low-80s late morning, into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. On the way I passed over the Rillito River bed, which has long been dry, except during southern Arizona’s periodic torrential rains. I foolishly forgot to bring my Tilley hat, but the straw hat I picked up along the way was much more suitable for the locale.

The adobe buildings of the DeGrazia site, designed and built by Ted DeGrazia in the 1950s, are a perfect setting for Ralph’s work, in particular his earthy concrete sculptures and metal constructions.

We shared a couple of enjoyable hours of conversation. Ralph has followed the lead of his fellow visual artists, painter Lucette Bourdin and photographer Stu Jenks, by venturing into ambient/atmospheric music-making. Ralph’s music was playing at the gallery and I encouraged him to post it on Bandcamp, and look forward to sharing that in due course.

Tucson has some righteous resources for musicians and music lovers. I found just enough time to work in a short visit to the Folk Shop, a cool musical instruments store in the city’s southwest quarter. In that small space live a terrific variety of instruments, including hammered dulcimer, kalimbas, percussion instruments and much more. I had a great chat with Milo, the owner, who worked at the Celestial Harmonies label back in the 1990s, when Steve was releasing some of his landmark albums on its Fortuna imprint.

I also managed a visit to Zia Record Exchange, which was recommended to me, and had to make my escape after picking up five CDs – otherwise it might easily have been ten or fifteen… I found music by Michael Manring, Azam Ali, Jon Anderson, Rush – and John Abercrombie’s final quartet album for ECM. (You can pick an ECM album at random and your odds of finding gold are very good.)

Tucson’s Presidio district features an oasis of funky shops and eateries, and we’ve had a big group lunch at each of the essential Mexican restaurants El Charro Cafe and !Toma! Live music and great browsing all around.

Part 2: the Concert Report.