Gabriel Kahane has created a musical triumph, The Ambassador, in which he uses iconic Los Angeles landmarks for the inspiration for the vignettes that comprise the album. Rolling Stone is hailing The Ambassador as "one of the year's very best."
The Ambassador "is a meditation on the underbelly of Los Angeles seen through the lens of ten street addresses," including those of the Bradbury Building, Musso and Frank, the Ambassador Hotel, Griffith Park, Union Station, and several obscure locations that have stories he wanted to tell, including, for instance, the Empire Liquor Mart.
The album also includes a booklet containing an essay by Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne and the complete lyrics. As a bonus there is The Ambassador Atlas, a Google map featuring the locations covered in the music.
One of the themes of Kahane's work is the concept of "erasure"-- the reality that LA is "this incredibly vulnerable, physical city'" that is subject to destruction from fires and earthquakes. It is also vulnerable to the erasure of its landmarks by the wreaking ball. (Check out this Mother Jones article for a detailed exploration of The Ambassador's sociopolitical and geographical themes and its musical references and construction.)
Though Kahane was born in Venice, he was raised primarily in Northern California and the East Coast and is now a resident of Brooklyn. His appreciation of LA's architecture, history, and civic culture emerged from his engagement with LA as an adult returning to his hometown for work and perhaps visiting family here. (His father is the long-time music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.)
Though The Ambassador explores troubling and noirish themes, Kahane is enthusiastic about LA and its future, as is apparent in these quotes:
On Mayor Garcetti and the Great Streets Initiative:
"New York is a city of public spaces, and LA still is largely a city of private spaces, although one of the things that's so exciting to me is Los Angeles, and particularly under Mayor Garcetti,...is changing. I feel like he has such an incredible vision with the Great Streets Initiative."
On the lack of cynicism in LA regarding politics:
"I love New York, but there's a way in which I think local politics in Los Angeles are much more exciting than in New York. There's a kind of cynicism to local politics in New York that I don't feel to be the case in Los Angeles right now. Part of what was attractive to me about writing about Los Angeles was that it is a city undergoing a major transition in very wonderful and rewarding ways."
Listen to Kahane performing The Ambassador at an Occidental College on urban design. (Mayor Garcetti and Christopher Hawthorne are seated to Kahane left on stage.)
Do Good LA nominates Gabriel Kahane as LA's 2014 "musical laureate" even if he is does live in Brooklyn.