We just finished our first tour with the new lineup of the Rempis Percussion Quartet, and I’m sitting on a plane back to Chicago. As usual, kind of anxious about returning home to civilian life, but definitely looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. The tour was fantastic. Ingebrigt’s contribution to the band was great, and I’m very excited about the directions the band has been moving in during this period of work. As Ingebrigt is soon moving to Austin, it shouldn’t be too hard to get him to Chicago a few times a year for a gig, and we’re already looking at next May for a trip in Europe.
Since my last update, we had gigs in Krakow and Poznan in Poland, and at the Moers Festival and Weikersheim in Germany. Krakow, to be honest, was depressing. The audience was a bit light since the Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet played a few days before us. But the changes at Alchemia, our home away from home in Krakow, were disheartening. After having a difficult year financially in 2008, the bar has cleaned house, and fired many of it long-time staff. This began in March, but culminated just before we arrived when they also fired their long-time general manager, Ania “Czarna” Adamska, who has become a close friend.
It seems the owners may have little or no interest in continuing with the work that they’ve put into building their jazz concerts into a world class series. Marek Winiarski, who has curated these concerts since beginning with The Vandermark Five in March of 2004, and who runs the Not Two label which put out our new record, hopes that things will change, but is afraid that this amazing period of work in Krakow may need to find a new home. It’s truly depressing to see the speed at which these things happen….the changes at the Empty Bottle in Chicago between 2003 and 2005 were a very similar wake up call to the fact that no matter how special a club or scene feels, they all dry up sooner or later. I hope this is not the case, but at least the period up to now has been an incredible one. Thanks to Marek and Ania for making something truly special for us for so long.
Poznan was a contrast, with the typical enthusiasm from Polish audiences apparent as soon as we walked onstage at Estrada. We played one long concert-length set, and two encores to a packed house, then graduated to Ken Vandermark’s favorite restaurant, The Sphinx, for Polish fajitas. (If you see Ken in Poland, be sure to take him to the Sphinx.) We finished the night back at Estrada killing one of the four bottles of the Polish vodka Zubrowka that our good friend Wawrzyn Makinia from the MultiKulti label brought us before the gig. Many thanks to Wojtek, Eric, and all the folks at Estrada for a special concert.
After Poznan, our fifth gig on the trip, we seemed to be hitting a good stride musically for our Moers Festival appearances. Moers is one of the biggest and oldest jazz festivals in Europe, and takes place inside a circus tent that fits about 2000 people. Thankfully, we had the luck to play the “night sessions” in a small club called Die Röhre, where the festival actually started back in 1968.
The club is a bunker below a bar that fits about 120 people, and it was packed both nights that we played with musicians, writers, presenters, fans, etc. stretching all the way up the stairs and into the bar. The sound here was about a million times better than what we would have had in the Big Tent, and the feeling was just right for what we do musically. And the band did a great job on these gigs, playing some really fresh and inspired music to a crowd that was looking for it. It was a tiring weekend though, since we played until 2:30 am, and also had to drag ourselves out of bed for the “morning sessions” at 11 am, where we were paired in various groupings with other musicians on the festival in free-improv settings. I can’t say that these were musically very rewarding experiences, but I did play with Angelika Neischer, who organized the sessions, and who’s a great alto player from Cologne – a nice new discovery for me. We finished the weekend with myself, Ingebrigt, and Angelika, who is of Polish descent, sampling another bottle of Zubrowka at a picnic table outside our hotel until the wee hours.
Finally, we ended our trip heading to Weikersheim, a small village in south central Germany, about 45 minutes from Wurzburg.
This ending couldn’t have been any better for us. After getting off at the wrong train station (morkelsheim instead of weikersheim) and trying to figure out how to get two towns over without waiting 2 hours for the next train, we eventually met up with our friend Norbert Bach who organized the concert. Apparently our mistake is a common one, since every town in the area ends with “sheim.” We are in a long history of artists, musicians, and writers who Norbert and his wife Elsbeth have invited to their club who made the same error.
After getting settled in at Norbert and Elsbeth’s beautiful home, just outside of the main town square, we shared a great home-cooked meal which Elsbeth prepared. We also talked at length about the wines of the region, as this is a major production area for German wines including Silvaner, Moller-Thurgau, Riesling, and a light red called Tauberschwarz. Elsbeth is actually a wine grower, and spends her days tending the vines on the side of the enormous hills just outside of town.
The club which they book concerts at, W71, is a collective all-volunteer organization which they have been working with since 1971, when it started. They work to bring music, film, literature, and arts of all sorts to their small space, situated on the outskirts of town between two football fields. This was a fitting ending to a trip which started back in Serbia meeting Daniela Jelisavac in Nis, where she is three years into a similar undertaking with her club Klupce. To be a part of this 38-year old tradition was really an honor – the list of musicians who have played there over the years is unbelievable including jazz, African music, rock, hip-hop etc. (Norbert and Elsbeth even presented Youssou N’Dour on his first trip to Europe in the 1980’s) They are obviously people with broad taste in good music, and after the gig we spent several hours listening to some fantastic African music they have from Ghana, Mali, and Mauritania, where they recently took a road trip!! Thanks for all of your hospitality Norbert and Elsbeth!!
As I get back, I have several upcoming concerts that I’m excited about including a solo set at Experimental Sound Studio, and a weekend at the Green Mill with The Vandermark Five, including special guests Haavard Wiik and Magnus Broo. My work for the Pitchfork Music Festival also kicks into high gear, so that will explain the break I’m taking from concerts in July.