Well, based on the last posting date here, I’m clearly delinquent in my blog postings….been a busy spring, I guess. Some highlights included a fantastic duo tour in Europe with Frank Rosaly, some record release concerts with The Rempis Percussion Quartet in April, a performance and recording for the Hungry Brain’s tenth anniversary series with The Engines, featuring John Tchicai, in May, and some concerts and recording with Joe McPhee in June. Just finished my “season” so to speak at Elastic last night, with a trio set by Wheelhouse, with Nate McBride and Jason Adasiewicz. Now deluged by my “day job” as Pitchfork Music Festival organizer. Won’t play a gig again until the end of July, but it should be a good one….with Mars Williams, Kent Kessler, and Avreeayl Ra!!
Till then, a few highlights from the last few months….
Video of the Rempis/Rosaly Duo Live in Paris on March 27th…..
Video of a duo concert with Jim Baker at Heaven Gallery in Chicago on May 21st.
Video of a quartet with Jeb Bishop, Josh Abrams, and Paal Nilssen-Love at The Hungry Brain in Chicago on June 5th.
See you later in the summer!!
Getting ready to hit the road next week in Europe with Frank Rosaly. This will be our first tour since last June’s mini-tour in the midwest, and the longer North American tour we did in December of 2009. Both of these were ostensibly in support of our duo cd Cyrillic, which came out just over a year ago on 482 Music. Although really, just an opportunity to work on our music some more! As I try to get all of the details of our itinerary together, still reflecting on some great stuff that’s been happening in Chicago the last few weeks.
At the beginning of March, I spend a fantastic ten days working with Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble, featuring some of my favorite musicians – particularly the brass section of Magnus Broo, Steve Swell, and Per Ake-Holmlander. Not that the rest of the band is a bunch of slouches, but I challenge anyone to show me a finer group of section players and soloists than those three in any band around. After some nice small groups at The Hideout, Elastic, and the Sugar Maple (I ended up playing in a quartet with Magnus, Devin Hoff, and Michael Zerang, a wind quintet with Steve, Magnus, Per-Ake, and Waclaw Zimpel, and another quartet with Waclaw, Devin, and Tim Daisy), we did two afternoon concerts at the Sugar Maple and the Chicago Cultural Center, performing the music Ken had written for the occassion. After a long day on Sunday at the jam-packed Cultural Center concert, and setting up in the studio, we went in and nailed everything on the first take monday afternoon, leaving Tuesday unexpectedly free. This was nice for the visiting musicians (reed player Mikolaj Trzaska and his wife Ola were staying with me for the week….fantastic folks!!!) as they had a chance to wander into Chicago finally and do some sight-seeing after a jam-packed week of rehearsals and gigs. We finished the project out with an informal after party at Lincoln Hall, watching Ken sit in with Dutch punk band the Ex – a great set, and the first time I’d heard them with their new singer.
The night after, on Wednesday, March 9th, I finally had the chance to work with Nels Cline, in a quartet with bassist Devin Hoff, and Frank Rosaly on drums. I met Nels back in 2004 when Glenn Kotche brought him to a record release party I had with the now defunct Dave Rempis Quartet, with Jim Baker, Jason Roebke, and Tim Daisy. Although we’ve been talking about doing a project ever since, this is the first time something really came to fruition, and what a great night – luckily I get to work with Frank all the time, I’ve been working with Devin more and more in the last six months, and Nels is all that he’s cracked up to be. I couldn’t do anything that he wasn’t immediately right on top of. Whether it was harmonic motion, textural shifts, etc. etc. Nels would catch everything the instant I did it. An incredible musician! Hopefully we’ll get a chance to work with this group some more….
Also had the chance to play a duo with my friend James Falzone, for my money the best clarinetist working in Chicago, if not the U.S. right now. We both felt it would be interesting to see how clarinet and baritone saxophone work together, so I limited my arsenal to that instrument for an early evening concert at Myopic Bookstore on Monday, March 14th. We’ll be performing again at Elastic on May 5th, so looking forward to digging even further into that.
Finally, getting ready for a few more big things before I leave with Frank – some mixed groups at Elastic featuring Nate Wooley and Paul Lytton, and a concert with The Engines at the Hideout – our first gig in several months.
As winter slowly turns into spring, gearing up a for a busy period of work! The first big project on the docket is a week of rehearsals, performances, and recording with Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble at the beginning of march, a 10-piece band first assembled in the fall of 2007, featuring musicians from the States, Poland, The Ukraine, and Sweden. This band is really the culmination of Ken’s relationship with presenters and record labels in Poland – especially with Marek Winiarski from Not Two in Krakow, and Wawrzyn Makinia from Multi Kulti in Poznan. After our first period of work, we met again in the fall of 2009 for a European tour. This will be the first time the group makes it to the States! Check Ken’s website for details on the concerts, or the fantastic Resonance Festival website created by Wawrzyn at Multi Kulti. You can also check the discography page of my site for the LP and 10-cd box set released by Not Two documenting the work by this band. I should also point out that this is perhaps the best brass section in any improvising band in the world – Magnus Broo on trumpet, Steve Swell on trombone, and Per Åke Holmlander on tuba!!!
New for 2011
January 10th, 2011
Just got a giant box in the mail yesterday from 482 Music, with copies of the brand new Rempis Percussion Quartet cd “Montreal Parade,” which is slated for official release in March. Very excited about this one – our first with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass, and the first recording since 2009’s “The Disappointment of Parsley” on Not Two Records. Looking forward to doing some playing with the group around Chicago in April. Email me for your copy of the new cd……
This winter is starting out a bit quiet, with the first half of January free. Had a nice concert at the tail end of December in Boston with the now regular quartet of myself, Forbes Graham on trumpet, Pandelis Karayorgis on piano, and Luther Gray on drums. Despite the massive snow storm which ended the morning of the gig, we had a modest crowd at Outpost 186 in Cambridge, and a new batch of tunes to present. The last batch was recorded a year ago during another holiday visit to my folks in Boston, and will be released on Not Two Records sometime this spring under the name Construction Party.
In January and onwards, getting ready to brush off the quartet with myself, Jaimie Branch on trumpet, Kent Kessler on bass, and Steve Hunt on drums at Elastic on January 23rd. Also gearing up for a few concerts with the Engines this spring as we get ready to welcome special guest John Tchicai for a concert and recording session on May 15th at the Hungry Brain as part of their ongoing 10th anniversary monthly celebrations. The first of those concerts is January 23rd at the Hungry Brain. Finally, finishing up the bookings for the Rempis/Rosaly Duo tour in Europe in March and April of this year. Check out the home page for those dates…..
It’s been quite some time since I had to chance to update the blog, so there’s plenty to report. Most recently, just returned from a week on the road in the Midwest with the new trio Ballister, featuring myself, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. The band had only done one previous gig, back in June of 2010 at the Hideout, which we recorded for release. With a quick turnaround, we were able to get this out as our debut cd “Bastard String” which arrived a bit late from the manufacturer, but still in time for the second gig of the tour. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Fred regularly over the years in the Vandermark Five, and plenty of other projects, but getting the chance to play with Paal every night was really special. Although we’ve known in each other for years, and have played in some one-off contexts, as well as Ken Vandermark’s Territory Band, doing a tour was really fantastic. Hopefully more will come of the group in the next year – we recorded our last trip of the tour for another possible release, so keep your eyes out.
Also in the recent past – the Vandermark Five played it’s last gig ever at a festival in Morelia, Mexico on November 17th. Ken’s decided to discontinue the band, so a group that has become somewhat of an institution on the Chicago jazz scene has disappeared. It was an interesting way to end, outdoors at a courtyard in a 17th century building, with about 700 people there to watch. Who knew that Mexican teenage girls were so interested in free jazz?? We signed autographs for about 20 minutes after the concert!
After these whirlwind back-to-back trips, I returned just in time for Thanksgiving, and finished this run of gigs sitting in with both Rabid Rabbit and Yakuza at the Empty Bottle on Friday, November 26th. I’ve been getting asked by friends in these bands to sit in more regularly, which is a blast – some great dark music, and some of my favorite bartenders in town make up both of these bands. Hopefully will have a chance to keep doing this……
In other upcoming news – new records recorded with The Rempis Percussion Quartet for March release on 482 Music (Montreal Parade) with Construction Party (w/Bostonians Forbes Graham, Pandelis Karayorgis, and Luther Gray) for release on Not Two, and with Wheelhouse (w/Nate McBride and Jason Adasiewicz) for an unknown label….
Also working on another duo tour with Frank Rosaly in Europe during March/April of 2011. Let me know if you’d like to present the group!
Percussion Quartet Tour May
Just returned last week from 10 days on the road in Europe with the Rempis Percussion Quartet. We started out in Belgrade, Serbia, with a performance at the Ring Ring Festival, which is curated by Bojan Djordjevic, manager of the now world-famous Boban Markovic Orchestra – one of the best gypsy brass bands working today. I first met Bojan in 2008, when Boban Markovic played at the Pitchfork Music Festival, and I had no idea that he also worked with jazz and experimental music. But Ring Ring’s been going for 15 years now, and this is the second year in a row I had the chance to play on it, last year as a duo with Michael Zerang.
Although we hadn’t played in a few months, and didn’t have time to get together before the gig since Ingebrigt was flying in that day from a festival in St. Petersburg, the music unfolded nicely, and the Saturday night crowd was really enthusiastic – got both an encore and a bow after the set, and the reviews, I’m told, were great. (Although I don’t read Serbian!) Frank Rosaly and I also got alot of questions about our new duo record “Cyrillic,”a title that many Serbians seemed interested by!
After a nice Sunday afternoon off in Belgrade the next day, we took an 11-hour train ride up to Slovenia on Monday (man are the trains slow – it’s only about 300 miles!!!), and met David Braun, an old friend who produces concerts in Maribor, just across the border from Austria. Since it was already 9:30 pm when we got in, and the food that day had consisted of greasy burek (cheese pastries), chips, and other junk we got at the train station that morning, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to find something decent in a relatively small city. But, thankfully, it’s not the U.S., and we had perhaps the best meal of the tour at a great seafood restaurant in the center of town. Thank god for Serbia and Slovenia, where we ate incredibly well, because the food for the rest of trip almost made we want to stop eating altogether……
The concert in Maribor on Tuesday was good – an intimate crowd of about 30 folks. A bit lighter than usual, but the annual Cerkno Jazz Festival had just happened the previous weekend a couple of hours away, and many of the fans who might otherwise travel to see us were probably still hungover from that!
After the concert we had a ridiculously late night – all of the bars were closed, so we opted to take a gamble on the largest outdoor party they have in Maribor, which just so happened to be going on that night. Apparently the former Yugoslavian dictator Tito started a party for all of the students in the country each May several decades ago, and the tradition continues – on the outskirts of town, on an island in the river. So we joined about 7,000 staggeringly drunk students, and had a pleasant night sitting in a small shack by the river where a woman poured homemade schnapps from a plastic water jug.
The next morning the real working stretch of the tour began – no more vacations! Three countries in four days. First off to Mainz, Germany, where I played with the Vandermark Five the second time I ever performed in Europe back in 1999. Many of the organizers were familiar faces from that concert – a group of volunteers and fans who present 6-8 concerts each year because they like the music! At first I was a bit nervous about the room – a café in a small modern art museum – which seemed incredibly sterile. But, it turned out to be one of the best shows of the trip – probably our largest crowd, and definitely enthusiastic, which is not always the case with German audiences. Also ran into a friend from Paris – Antoine De la Ronciere, who was nice enough to make the trip all the way just for this show!
On Thursday, we were off to Oslo, which was probably the dog of the tour. The venue was very nice, they treated us well, etc. etc. but the audience was in the range of 20 people, and 12 of them were my friend Martin Revheim and a bunch of his friends! So it felt a bit empty, and musically was my least favorite gig of the trip. As usual in a country the size of Norway, we had a funny coincidence the next morning running into Paal Nilssen-Love’s brother Carl on the street as we were returning a borrowed bass to its owner…..
Friday found us in Stavanger, on the western coast of Norway. A really pretty town, and the hometown of some great musicians including Frode Gjerstad (who came to the concert and recorded it!), Paal Nilssen-Love, and Anders Hana. We played at Sting, a small basement club at the peak of the town, overlooking the harbour. This was an incredibly enthused audience, and one of my favorite gigs of the tour.
Finally, after a couple of hours of sleep and a 4 am pickup, we flew for our last gig to Warsaw (via Latvia?!?) arriving at 12:30 pm. Just in time for a nap! The last gig was at Powieksczenie, which I still can’t say properly although I’ve played there 3 times. Another great club owned by one of the many entrepreneurial geniuses I’ve met in Poland. Borek, as he’s known, owns two clubs now, and just turned 30.
The gig wasn’t as crowded as usual for Warsaw, but it was the hottest day of the year which kept some folks away. But the crowd was enthusiastic as usual, and we had a great time hanging out at the club after the concert.
Now, the challenge is finding more work for the group – negotiating schedules with these musicians is not easy!! But hopefully next spring we’ll have another tour of Europe, and the cd we recorded in January should be out in the winter on 482 Music. I’ll be mixing it with Griffin Rodriguez this month.
Next up – a short duo tour with Frank Rosaly in the Midwest, and some Canadian gigs with The Vandermark Five.
Percussion Quartet News
A couple of bits of news for the Rempis Percussion Quartet as we get ready for our upcoming tour in Europe this May. First off, our first cd, “Circular Logic” is now available for free at the new website Candy Dinner. This cd is long out of print, as only 125 copies were made, and they went quickly when it was released on Utech Records back in 2005. So for those who have been asking me – here’s your chance to check it out, and even download if you want.
Also new, the great Chicago photographer Jim Newberry was kind enough to film and edit the quartet’s most recent Chicago concert on January 27th, 2010, at the Hideout, the night before we headed to the studio to make a new cd. He’s uploaded the first two parts of it to YouTube this week. Check them out below!
Finally emerging from winter here in Chicago, which is always pleasant! After a busy period in town, working on several different projects including a recording with the Rempis Percussion Quartet in January, and a series of gigs with The Engines in February and March, I just returned yesterday from a few weeks in Europe on two different tours. The first was a quartet featuring myself and Tim Daisy on drums, along with Polish clarinetist Waclaw Zimpel, and Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar. I’d met both of these guys during tours in Poland over the last several years, and we all play together in Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Project which last met for two weeks of work back in late October.
Our quartet project first met in April of 2008 when I was in Krakow for a gig with The Rempis Percussion Quartet. Mark and I were added as special guests on a duo record that Waclaw and Tim made for the MultiKulti label, which came out as “Four Walls” in 2009. We subsequently convened for a short tour in February of 2009, and decided to do it again this year, with gigs in Krakow, Warsaw, Poznan, and Gdansk. The music grew quite a bit, which was a pleasure. Waclaw is an incredibly talented young clarinetist who plays Bb and bass clarinets, and tarogato. His playing grows by leaps and bounds every time we work together. And Mark is the same – a musician who has no fear to put himself out there, and take risks. A real wellspring of ideas, which is great since the worst thing to deal with onstage is an improviser with a tentative approach.
You can check out some live clips on youtube from our concert at Powieksczenie in Warsaw here.
From our last concert in Gdansk, Tim and I headed out to the airport at 3:45 am, after about an hour of sleep, for a flight to Amsterdam.
There we met up with Jeb Bishop and Nate McBride to form The Engines, and started our tour with that group the same afternoon in Zaandam, a suburb of Amsterdam. The great trumpet player Eric Boeren was nice enough to organize a concert for us on his series there, which started us off in a good way for the tour.
We continued from there to Enschede, a university town in the eastern Netherlands for a fine concert with a heavily student-based audience, and a fun after-hours hang at the Belgian beer bar on campus, which has apparently led to trouble for some other musician friends over the years, Mr. McBride included!
We mostly escaped the trouble though, and managed to make it to Paris for a needed night off (my first in a week) the next day. Here we spent time with Nate’s friend Nicola, having a great dinner at Brasserie Flo, one of the oldest Brasseries in Paris. We continued with some cognac and round after round of speed chess at Nicola’s apartment until the wee hours.
Wednesday the 24th was my birthday, and we celebrated with a concert in Brest, at the furthest western tip of France. We also met up with our good friends from Mike Reed’s People Places and Things – Mike, Greg Ward, Tim Haldeman, and Jason Roebke. Although they’d just arrived from Chicago, they played a killer set, setting a high bar for us!
After heading back to Paris for another night off (no complaints!!) and a lengthy dinner at A la Biche Au Bois with both bands, and our old friend Danielle Oosterop from Amsterdam, we continued to Poitiers for a somewhat lightly attended but really enthusiastic show at Carré Bleu, and on to Nantes for another packed double bill with People Places and Things. Since I hadn’t played in France in several years, I really wasn’t sure what to expect overall, but had an incredible time. All of the presenters – Christophe in Brest, Matthieu in Poitiers, and Frédéric in Nantes, were great guys who really understand the music and work hard to present it. They were all warm, and down-to-earth, and ran their clubs in a very friendly way – including some home cooked meals where all of the staff and musicians sat down together before the show. Really pleasant, and a great way to create a nice feeling for everyone with the show.
From Nantes, after very little sleep and a time-change that night, we headed up to Belgium for our first gig with this band in Hasselt at Belgie. This is definitely one of my favorite places to play in Europe, with great audiences, and old friends at the helm – Koen and Christel. I’ve known them since they first brought the Vandermark Five to Belgium in 2002, and have played there about 4 times since. Incredible people with energy and vision who welcome us into their home every time we have a night off, and who do an incredible job organizing concerts. As usual, Christel turned on her charm to sell about 500 euros worth of cd’s for us as well!!
Our last gig as a quartet found us in Eindhoven, Netherlands, on a Monday night for a decent sized, and again enthusiastic, crowd. From there, we had a short trip up to Amsterdam for some mixed groupings with Dutch musicians at Zaal 100 on our last night, including Eric Boeren on trumpet, Jasper Stadhouders on guitar, Wilbert De Joode on bass, and the great Sean Bergin on saxophone, ukelele, and vocals! A great way to finish the tour – the crowd in the small space was really intimate and enthusiastic. The whole vibe at Zaal is very similar to some rooms in Chicago in terms of the knowledgeable audience, and relaxed informal atmosphere.
Overall, this was an extremely rewarding trip. At times over the last year our approach with this quartet felt like it wasn’t really working right, and we spent our time in Chicago over the last several months rehearsing, playing weekly gigs at Elastic, and then doing this tour, working on a totally new approach. Rather than playing discreet tunes and arrangements, as we’d done previously, we left things more open, working with a large book of thematic material that anyone could introduce at any time. The arrangements were left open so that we could try to find new ways to juggle the balance between improvising and composition, and I think the approach has really given new life and interest to the band.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had time to update the blog, which I guess is a good thing! The holidays and early january were relatively slow musically. Spent more time practicing and working on the Pitchfork Festival for this summer than anything else. By the third week of January things were in full swing though – first with a week of Don Cherry’s music that Ken Vandermark arranged for septet, and then with a week of gigs and recording with The Rempis Percussion Quartet.
The Don Cherry stuff featured me, Ken, Jeb Bishop, Pandelis Karayorgis, Jason Adasiewicz, Nate McBride, and Chad Taylor. We did two gigs in Chicago, at The Hideout and Elastic, and then flew to Philadelphia for the big showcase concert that funded the project at Ars Nova Workshop. Playing that music was absolutely great – Cherry is one of my favorite artists, and all of the music came from some incredible sixties and seventies records – Complete Communion Suite, Live at Cafe Montmartre, and Brown Rice. It was also the first time I’ve played with Chad Taylor, even though I’ve known him for years. What an incredible feel he has! And Pandelis, the other out-of-towner in the band, also sounded great. Thankfully we’ve had a chance to do several things together in recent months, including a trio with Frank Rosaly in Boston in December, then a recording session with a quartet we’ve been working on with Forbes Graham on trumpet and Luther Gray on drums. Since my folks live in Boston, I try to make sure we get together when I go home to visit. So we’ve generally worked once or twice a year since 2008.
After flying back from Philadelphia on Saturday, I had one day to get ready for Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s arrival on Monday, for three gigs and a two-day recording session with the Rempis Percussion Quartet. The result will hopefully be our first record with him! The gigs went well – at Elastic and the Hideout in Chicago, and then at the Sugar Maple in Milwaukee. The session didn’t feel quite as good – it’s always challenging to play free-improvised music in the dead atmosphere of a recording studio, and nothing ever feels as good as it ends up sounding on tape. But, listening back, it has the same energy as a live show, so I think it went well overall! We’ve got four hours of material to choose from anyways, so I think something will work….
In the upcoming weeks we’ve got a month of weekly gigs with The Engines, as our second cd is released on Okkadisk, and we prepare for a tour in France, Belgium, and The Netherlands in March. Plenty of rehearsals with the group too, as we attempt a whole new book of material based on a much looser concept that will require learning everything by ear, and calling tunes on the fly during the set, rather than playing charts down. I’ve never worked with a band this way before, and am really looking forward to the rehearsal process. Perhaps almost more like a rock band than a jazz band.
In other news, been working on tours for this spring – The Engines tour in March is all set, but the Percussion Quartet tour for March is still up in the air. I knew when the financial crisis hit in late 2008 that 2010 would be bad, since all the arts funding decisions are made in the year previous. But trying to book this tour has been like pulling teeth. Nothing but dead air back from presenters all over Europe, many of whom I know quite well. I’d take it personally, but based on the number of tours that I know have been cancelled this year, everyone’s in the same boat. I certainly hope it bounces back in 2011 or 2012 though, and that this isn’t just the end of these concert series all across Europe. For those of us who make what little money we do by playing over there, this could potentially have a huge impact on the music, and our ability to keep working on it.
Ok, enough bitching. Hope to see you at a concert soon!
Just returned yesterday from two weeks on the road as a duo with Frank Rosaly. As usual with projects involving Frank, what can I say…..absolutely an incredible experience. I’ve long been interested in the saxophone / drum duo, and have done plenty of duo work with my other regular co-conspirator Tim Daisy. This is the first real tour I’ve done in this context though, and working with Frank is an adventure night after night. Unlike many drummers, Frank will insinuate time for long periods without ever actually digging directly in. This makes for some great stretches of tension in the music, where we keep pushing closer and closer to it, without ever quite actually playing the rhythm that’s underlying everything. It makes for some really interesting stuff….if you’re interested, you can check out YouTube clips of our entire concert in Columbia, SC here.
This was also the first tour of my own that I’ve booked in the US in two years, which seems like a decade. Between 1998 and 2007, I was normally doing 2-3 tours each year in the States, in addition to work in Europe. But with the state of the economy, and the state of venues around the country closing left and right, touring has become an extremely difficult proposition. There are actually a number of cities that I used to play in regularly that just don’t seem to have viable venues for the music any more (Syracuse, Washington DC, Chapel Hill, Athens, Atlanta, Knoxville, etc.) The decision to do this tour as a duo was perhaps dictated by economic realities as much as by musical interests.
On the happier side, the places we did play were great. We kicked it off in Buffalo at Hallwalls with a smallish crowd on a cold Tuesday night just after the first snowfall, and after Thanksgiving weekend. They more than made up for it with their enthusiasm however. We followed with Rochester, NY, at Bop Shop Records. This is one of the first places I even played on tour, stopping there with the Vandermark Five in 1998. Since then, owner Tom Kohn has been extremely gracious in welcoming various projects of mine on his series, including Triage, The Rempis Percussion Quartet, The Engines, and now the duo with Frank. We were also lucky to stay with old friend Robert and Donna Iannapollo, two huge enthusiasts of music, art, and food. We were treated to an incredible meal by Donna, who broke out her Provencal chops for this one – chicken roasted with artichokes, peppers, and olives, which were then pureed into a gravy-like sauce for the bird. But the highlight (perhaps of the entire trip….) still remains her chocolate tort with lavender-honey ice cream however. After the concert, we stayed up late with Robert listening to sides by Braxton, Ornette, and the Globe Unity Orchestra with Don Cherry from 1971.
The next trip was a long one, as we were denied entry into Canada at one border crossing in Ontario due to a work permit issue. They “believed” that the venue we were playing was a restaurant, not a concert hall, which meant that we would need work permits to enter Canada. Since I’ve played the Sala Rossa about 12 times in the last ten years, and never needed a work permit, I knew that was ridiculous, but arguing with border officials isn’t necessarily the best approach. So, we turned back into the US, who of course also harassed us for awhile to find out why they wouldn’t let us into Canada. We then continued along the dark and rainy local highways following the St. Lawrence seaway across upstate New York, and took a big gamble by trying to enter in Quebec, at Interstate 87. Luckily, the border was empty, they knew the venue well, and they let us right in. They also mentioned that maybe we should carry a brochure about the venue in case we tried to cross in Ontario next time…..overall that episode made our travel day 10 hours instead of 6, and we pulled into the gig a half hour before kickoff time. Luckily, seeing many old friends from the club (Mauro, Marielyne, Brian, Peter, etc…..) put us in a great mood right away, and the gig went well.
After another good food day on a day off in Montreal – smoked meat sandwiches at Schwarz’s – we headed down to Middlebury College for an afternoon workshop, and an evening concert where a very supportive but small crowd cheered us on during a quaint snow-filled Vermont evening.
Continuing with the food theme, we found ourselves at my parents’ house outside of Boston on Sunday, December 6th. Here we feasted on Stifado, a greek beef and onion stew that cooks over low heat for many many hours, as well as artichokes with tomato and dill, hilopites (greek egg noodles) followed by homemade pumpkin pie, and white chocolate/cranberry cookies. That evening, we played at the Lily Pad in Boston, doing a set as a duo, and then another joined by Pandelis Karayorgis on piano. The crowd was again small, but included some old friends like the great drummer Curt Newton, Stu Vandermark – Ken Vandermark’s father, and Mike Mesleh – a guitarist, oud player, and mad scientist who I played with in a funk band in college.
Monday was mostly a bad food day as we rushed from Boston to Providence for a morning concert and workshop at The Gordon School, where my brother teaches 7th grade history. The kids seemed to love the concert – the most “out” sounding stuff was their favorite part. The workshop portion with the music students was a major challenge – trying to get 30 13-year olds to shut up and stop banging on their drums, etc. is quite a challenge!! But I think they got something out of it nonetheless.
From there, we hurried down to Philadelphia for an evening double bill with Spencer Yeh, Nate Wooley, and Chris Corsano. This was a pleasure, not just because the music was good, but Spencer is an old friend from college, and I’ve known Nate for several years, but haven’t had a chance to see him for a little while. And this was the second time I’ve seen Chris play in a month, after only hearing about him for years. A fantastic musician…..
The evening finished with Philly Cheese steaks at Pat’s in south Philly – supposedly one of the best. My advice – skip the traditional cheese wiz and upgrade to provolone. Also, get it to go in the winter time….freezing your way through a sandwich under some heat lamps at a picnic table isn’t the best approach to good food……
Leaving the colder weather behind, we headed south to Columbia, SC, where the temperature was 75 degrees!!! Here we feasted on braised lamb shanks and collared greens which the esteemed Arnold “Ross” Taylor made for us, continuing to blow my mind with his pan-Asian southern cooking.
The gig was one of the best, both musically and attendance-wise. Because the food was so good, we also agreed to take a request from Ross – “Ram On” by Paul McCartney. We played in a huge open wood and brick room in the 701 Center for Contemporary Art, a new venue for the music that Mr. Taylor’s been using. Ab Baars Trio with Ken Vandermark graced the space back in April to kick it off. After the gig, Ross continued to blow our minds with the Telly Savalas classic “Redneck,” a must see for Telly fans.
As we headed back up north, the temperatures dropped quickly, and we froze our asses off in Asheville, NC, high up in the mountains. A great double bill at Bobo Gallery with guitar and drum duo Lulo….then onwards to Kentucky where we did another concert/workshop for high school and college students at Thomas More college. After a late night hanging out with friend and fellow saxophonist Dave McDonnell (a recent Chicago transplant to Cincinnati) at The Comet – a bar with one of the best juke boxes in the country – we made a late start down to Lexington to finish up at Al’s Bar. My old friend Ross Compton has continued his “Outside the Spotlight” series there after changing venues several times over the last few years. Another hugely enthusiastic crowd snatched up the new cd faster than we could keep up. And the evening finished with belly-dancing, middle eastern, and klezmer music by the Lexington group Mezrow, joined by two friends from Asheville on accordion and dance. Our last tour meal involved a late-night stop at the best fried chicken place in Lexington for some spicy chicken. We were warned not to order a “bucket” because they would laugh at us. In the morning, we left with a batch of spicy beer cheese dip, and garlicky black bean dip, that Ross made us for the trip home.
Many many thanks to all of the presenters, venues, fans, old friends, and great cooks who made this trip possible for us!
The last few weeks have brought some pretty amazing musical experiences. Our trip with Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Project took us on hour after hour of bus rides back and forth across Eastern Europe, from Poland to Italy, to Hungary, back to Poland, to the Ukraine, and then back and forth across Poland again a few more times for good measure. The music was well worth it, however. All of the musicians in this ten-piece band show up to play every night, but I’d have to single out the brass section as perhaps the best section in improvised music – Magnus Broo on trumpet, Steve Swell on trombone, and Per-Ake Holmlander on tuba. Beyond being incredible soloists, their ability to work as a unit is astounding. Hearing Magnus’s combination of Louis Armstrong and Don Cherry is a treat night after night, as is the endless wave of ideas from Steve Swell’s Roswell-Rudd influenced trombone playing. I think he’s perhaps the most overlooked musician in New York. And Per-Ake killed the house night after night in his solo features, ranging from the tiniest of breath noises to a herd of elephants running through the stage. Not to mention that his time, when he’s working more in the rhythm section, in so rock solid he could pretty much beat out any bass player on the planet.
We did, however, also get completely ripped off by a presenter in Szekesfehervar, Hungary. This is the first time in 12 years of touring that I’ve actually been ripped off, to the tune of 1900 EUR, or about $2700 US. This was a total disappointment as I’ve worked with this presenter twice before, and he took great care of us, to the point of becoming almost a friend. But things change I guess, and we left Hungary at 3 am for a 15-hour bus ride not in the best of moods!
As always, the Polish concerts made up for that quickly. We travelled to some beautiful cities that I’ve never been to before, including Lublin in the east, and Torun, in the north. Both are old university towns. Gdansk was also a treat – the first time I’ve actually spent time in the old city there, part of the Hanseatic league during the middle ages, and architecturally very similar to Amsterdam and some cities in northern Germany.
But the highlight would probably have to be our gig in Zaporozhye in the eastern Ukraine. Despite a 20-hour travel day to get there, the hospitality when we arrived was unbelievable. We felt like a delegation from the US State Department. And the response from the soldout 500-seat concert hall was also incredible. Check out some live video here :
It was sad to leave everyone behind at the hotel in Gdansk on the last morning, as we all went our separate ways. But, returning home meant diving right into the Umbrella Music Festival which I help program – now in it’s fourth year. And what a treat – although trumpeter Bobby Bradford had to cancel at the last minute due to a minor medical issue, we managed to get Roscoe Mitchell to come in his place. This meant a first time opportunity for me to work with him in a small group getting, free improvising together with Junius Paul on bass, and Frank Rosaly on drums. In many ways this concert represented the epitome of what we’ve been trying to do with Umbrella for years – creating first time pairings of folks who wouldn’t normally work together. This concert had the added dimension of uniting one of the most important musicians to have ever emerged from Chicago with a younger generation who are fueled by the work he’s done. I won’t venture so far as to give a critical analysis of the concert, but I will say that I had a blast. What an incredible player – studious, rigorous, uncompromising, and totally original. It was interesting to try to weave around his lengthy forays into circular breathing, and I quickly realized during a long alto duet how much I had learned from him on that instrument.
I also had the chance to work with Joe McPhee in Ken Vandermark’s Topology Project, where Ken arranged eight of Joe’s tunes for nonet. Although I’ve known Joe for many years now, this is only the second time I’ve had the chance to play with him. The highlight of the night, despite Ken’s great arrangements, was a solo version of “Goodbye Tom B,” that Joe played on tenor. Joe has the ability to make any instrument sound incredibly beautiful, and what he’s able to do with space, pitch, and timbre define the phrase “dark beauty” for me. Absolutely incredible. (It was also his 70th birthday last week – another reason to celebrate!!)
The other big highlight of the festival for me was Akira Sakata – a 5 foot tall volcano. His playing and sound on alto blow me away, and his set with Jeff Parker, John Herndon, and Nate McBride was one of the best things I’ve heard all year. Hopefully we’ll get him back to Chicago sometime soon.
Now, gearing up for the duo tour with Frank Rosaly starting in early December….
Joys of Touring
While I do love touring – having the opportunity to play each night in front of a new audience, sometimes in places I’ve never been before, and sometimes in places that have become quite familiar in a great way – there are sometimes some drawbacks. For those who think it’s a glamorous lifestyle, here’s an excerpt of an email from Ken Vandermark’s agent in Poland describing some of the travel we’ll be doing next week when we start a two-week tour with his Resonance Project in Poland, Italy, Hungary, and The Ukraine:
“The Lublin concert for Resonance is confirmed for Oct.25…..The only problem with this concert is nearly 12-hours travel from Hungary to Lublin by bus. We’ll have to leave Szekesfehervar so early as about 3am – sorry for that but there was no possibility to find another date. The concert is at 19:00pm.
On Oct.26 we’ll drive by bus to Katowice (about 6 hours) and take the evening flight at 21:20 to Kiev (Ukraine) – arr. 23:50 (Ukrainian time – the flight duration is 1 hour 40 minutes). Sasha will come there with a bus and will drive us to Zaporozhe through the night. We will arrive to Zaporozhe for breakfast in a hotel. Some rest during the day, lunch, rehearsal and the concert at 20:00pm – Oct.27. On Oct.28 after lunch we’ll travel back to Kiev by bus and we’ll take a flight to Katowice at 20:50pm. I will find a hotel/apartments in Katowice or we’ll go directly by bus to Torun and stay two days there – what would be better? We will have to stay with our luggage under 15 kilos per person plus hand luggage….”
Sound like fun? I’ll try to post some updates from the overnight buses…….
The summer Post-Pitchfork was a relatively relaxed period, with some highlights including a Vandermark Five tour that took us to some favorite places, as well as a gig on the Newport Jazz Festival, which is now known as George Wein’s Jazz Festival 55. It seemed that the loss of a major corporate sponsor (JVC) gave Mr. Wein the opportunity to program a somewhat broader array of the modern world of jazz, including us, The trio of Charles Gayle, William Parker, and Rashied Ali (two days before his death…) and some other more adventurous stuff. We weren’t exactly sure what kind of reception to expect at a festival which has been extremely “mainstream” for the last two decades, but as soon as we hit the stage, we were met with a lengthy and enthusiastic round of applause that went on much longer than normal, letting us know that many of the folks there actually knew the band. And plenty more who had never heard of us responded similarly to the music during the set. Perhaps the best moment was after the third tune, as we were about to go into a ballad, a 7-year old kid shouted out “they’re great….” which made the band and audience all break up. Mr. Wein himself, now 82, and in his 55th year of programming the festival, sat at the side of the stage for the majority of the set, and sent Ken a really gracious and enthusiastic email after the festival saying he had really enjoyed the music. Overall, a very positive experience, and definitely something that I’ll remember for a long time, since so many of my jazz heroes (Coltrane, Monk, Miles, Ellington, Shepp, Dolphy, etc.) were all featured on the festival at one time or another. (below you can see me, Kent Kessler, and Fred Lonberg-Holm onstage at the festival. Fred dressed up in his best Fred Katz outfit, as tribute to the documentary on the festival made in 1958 called “Jazz On A Summer’s Day,” that featured Katz as part of Chico Hamilton’s band with Eric Dolphy.)
The rest of the tour went well, especially in some of my favorite places to play like the Sala Rossa in Montreal, and Union Hall in Brooklyn. It’s actually been about a year and a half since I’ve done a tour in the States, since the financial side of things is so difficult here. It’s somewhat depressing at times to see how many cities and towns that used to be viable places to play no longer have a venue or audience. But, at least some of the ones remaining are still good.
After returning home, I did a few more gigs in August. Frank Rosaly and I played at Elastic in preparation for our duo tour in December, and I also did a duo with Michael Zerang – something we’ve been working on a bit since our brief tour in Serbia in May. We also had another chance to work with the double quartet of myself, Jeb Bishop, Mars Williams, Jim Baker, Kent Kessler, Brian Sandstrom, Steve Hunt, and Michael Zerang. Working with this group is incredibly fun, but it’s also amazing for me since so many of these guys were the ones who got me really excited and interested in this music back in the mid-90’s when I was first discovering the scene here. Brian Sandstrom played bass in the Ed Peterson Quartet at the time, a group that also featured Willie Pickens on piano and Robert Shy on drums. They used to play every Friday night at the Green Mill, doing mid-period Coltranish type stuff which really blew me away. During my freshman year of college I went there almost every week to see them.
A little bit later, I started going to the Lunar Cabaret, where I first saw Kent and Jim with Steam, and Mars and Steve with Witches and Devils. All of these bands made a huge impression on me, and the work these guys were doing was one of the things that made me decide to stay in Chicago after I graduated from college. So it’s a huge honor to stand onstage with all of them at the same time! Locking horns with Mars, who has one of my favorite sounds on both alto and tenor, is especially great.
So now, into the fall, with some touring in Europe with Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Project, and in the US with Frank Rosaly. The Umbrella Music Festival in Chicago in November also promises to be great, as I’ll have the chance to work with both Bobby Bradford and Joe McPhee…..
Back in the thick of it…
It’s been awhile since I last updated this page, as the summer season is when my day job as one of the organizers of the Pitchfork Music Festival really gets crazy. I actually haven’t been able to touch my horn for the last three weeks, but after a seemingly succesful conclusion to Pitchfork last weekend, I’ve got both the tenor and alto up and running as I prepare for an upcoming Vandermark Five tour including a concert at the Newport Jazz Festival. Who would’ve thunk it…
June was full of some great concerts, with an intensive period of work featuring old friends Magnus Broo (trumpet) and Haavard Wiik (piano) as special guests with the Vandermark Five at the Green Mill in Chicago. Both of them absolutely killed, with the MVP award going to Magnus for quoting just about every standard under the sun in his Don Cherry meets Louis Armstrong solos. A personal favorite was, or course, “My Kind of Town” or whatever the hell it’s called, during the third set on Saturday.
Also got a chance to work with my quartet featuring Jaimie Branch on trumpet, with the telepathic rhythm section of Steve Hunt and Kent Kessler. Hoping to record this group sometime in the next six months.
June ended with a record release party for the Rempis Percussion Quartet at the Hideout, with the Chicago debut of the band’s new lineup, now featuring Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass. It was alot of fun to return home after the tour we did in May and early June, and crank it up for the hometown crowd. The response was quite enthusiastic. Ingebrigt, Frank, and I then popped up to Milwaukee for a trio gig as the Outskirts the next night at the Sugar Maple. Pretty interesting how different the subtraction of one person can make for the music…..
And then, on to Pitchfork. While it would be great to just exist as a musician, that’s not very easy in this day and age. But I’ve been very lucky to pick up a gig organizing a rock festival for the last five years. I always get a kick out of watching some snotty flash-in-the-pan 22-year old band who’ll be washed up in six months, while I see the entire improvised music scene of Chicago running the show behind the scenes. Josh Berman at artist checkin, Jason Adasiewicz hauling ice, building stage barricades, and spreading mulch, Anton Hatwich, Jeff Kimmel, Jaimie Branch and many more in the beer tents, Fred Lonberg-Holm onstage as a tech, and Mike Reed schmoozing an agent from William Morris before moving onto a chat with the alderman. The irony of the situation isn’t lost on any of those folks, many of whom will be around, still playing music, long after the 22-year olds have hung up their guitars, tight tshirts, and white belts, and taken a job at an ad agency.
Anyways, hope to see you some of you on tour in August with the V5!!
Percussion Quartet tour part 2
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.
Percussion Quartet on the road
Currently, I’m on tour with the Rempis Percussion Quartet, supporting the release of our new cd “The Disappointment of Parsley” on the Polish label Not Two. After a few days off in Serbia, hanging out with Frank Rosaly, and going to see our friends Loose Assembly play at the Ring Ring Festival in Belgrade, we took the train north to Budapest, and met up with Tim Daisy and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Those of you who have followed the band for awhile will probably ask where Anton Hatwich is. Although we’ve had a great run with Anton, and I think this new record is the best document of the group yet, it seemed to me that it was time to change the group’s sound a bit. After five years working as a free-improvising unit, there were sonic territories that seemed to be recurring more often than I’d like, preventing us from reaching new areas to explore. So I made the decision a few months back that it would be best to try a lineup change for the group to see if that might help knock things around a bit. Not an easy one, as Anton is a great musician, and a good friend, but in the long run I think it will help the group continue to grow.
In his place, I asked Ingebrigt to join the band. Having worked with him in a number of different contexts, especially during his two-year tenure as a Chicago resident, I think his ability to navigate the broad range of reference points that we cover will be an asset to the band. And so far so good…..although there’s always an adjustment period, the first three gigs have felt more “open” than some of the ones the band has done over the last year. The issue of getting into and out of “time” in a logical way seems to have been addressed by simply not locking into it with the entire group, allowing different members to push and pull against the dominant rhythmic feel as they wish. Looking forward to the next several concerts as we try to work on these ideas further.
And about the gigs…..we’ve had a great start, playing first in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, about an hour south of Budapest.
Although the town itself is small and somewhat quiet, the audience at Petofi Mozi is unbelievably enthusiastic, having driven in from all over Hungary for the concert. Before we even started playing, we’d sold 30 cd’s!!!! Many thanks to Levente Dudas, who started his N.O.E.W.A. series back in October 2008. He’s quickly made this a special place to visit on tour, and has hosted 12 fantastic concerts, including performances by The Thing, The Sclippenbach Trio, Veryan Weston/Trevor Watts duo, and much more. We’ll also be returning to Szekesfehervar in September with The Vandermark Five.
With two days free after our Friday night concert, we killed time by heading into Budapest to check out some of the tourist attractions, including the Budapest castle, and the Szechenyi Baths, a huge outdoor public bathing complex with thermal baths, saunas, steam rooms, pools, etc. etc. I wish Chicago had one of these……We also were invited to Levente’s home on Sunday for a fantastic traditional meal of noodles and beef paprikash, along with some Hungarian wines.
On Monday morning, we headed west to Vienna, meeting Heinz Henning, who organized our concert at the Martischloessel, a traditional social club and beer hall.
Heinz’s enthusiasm for the music is uncontrollable. So much so that he’d almost completely lost his voice after spending the previous three days hosting the Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet. Although he has no background in presenting concerts, his passion compelled him to invite some musicians to do concerts last year (including friends like Jeb Bishop, Jason Stein, Ken Vandermark, and Mike Pride) and he’s trying to build that up even further into a yearly season of 10-12 concerts.
Several friends also showed up for the concert, including Hans Falb from the Nickelsdorf Festival, and Walter and Andrea – two extremely nice folks who have come to almost every concert I’ve ever played in Austria, even though they live in the far western end of the country. I think I first met them at the Music Unlimited Festival in Wels in 2000, and have run into them again in Wels, Vienna, Salzburg, Ulrichsberg, and Graz in the years since. Thanks for your support and friendship Walter and Andrea!!
Of course we stayed too late at the venue, leaving around 3:30 am, which made the 7 am start to our travel day a bit rough. Thankfully, we slept on the train, waking up in the early afternoon in Ljubljana. Ljubljana is also home to many good friends. The first full-on tour I did in Europe was in 2000, when the Vandermark Five played the Druga Godba festival in Ljubljana, organized by Bogdan Benigar. Bogdan was also the one who invited us this time, on his series at the Cankarjev Dom, the main cultural center in the city. Some time to relax in the afternoon and a great meal at one of the oldest restaurants in the city made it easy to play that night. While the crowd was nowhere near the soldout show we played here in February with The Vandermark Five and Atomic, it was a really warm reception nonetheless.
Currently, we’re in the middle of a 14-hour train ride north to Poland, where we first head to Krakow to meet Marek Winiarski from Not Two, the record label that put out the new cd. Thankfully we don’t play tonight, but can just relax and sleep late tomorrow before the unofficial record release concert at Alchemia. From there it’s on to Poznan, and then three days at the Moers Festival in Germany, where it seems like we’ll be meeting up with a number of friends, including Colin Stetson, Tomas Fujiwara, Jasper Stadhouders, and many more.
Serbian Duo Concerts
Just ending a one-week stay in Serbia, after several great gigs, and a few days off to explore. The trip started with three duo concerts with Michael Zerang. Although he and I have both worked together in other contexts, this was our first time to play as a duo, and it was really enjoyable.
Michael’s a completely unique percussionist whose background is in classical percussion and middle eastern hand-drumming techniques. His playing is totally different than many of the more jazz-versed drummers I frequently work with. Surprisingly, we ended up playing quite a bit of time on the three gigs though. When I return to Chicago in June, we’ll have another opportunity to work on this music thanks to Mitch Cocanig at the Hideout, where we’ll be playing on Wednesday, June 10th.
The concerts here were all set up by Bojan Djordevic, a gentleman who’s quickly become a great friend. Although I’d heard many great things about Bojan through Ken Vandermark and Mike Orlove from the Chicago Cultural Center, our only previous interaction had to do with a wire transfer for the Pitchfork Music Festival last year. Bojan, in addition to being a lawyer, and producing several festivals in Belgrade each year, is also the agent and manager for Boban Markovic, perhaps one of the best musical discoveries I’ve made in the last ten years. His brass band is mind-blowing…..
The first concert was in Belgrade as part of the Ring Ring Festival at the Rex Theater. The lineup for the seven-day event was stellar, with performances by Keith Rowe, Peter Brotzmann, Peter Evans, The Necks, David Stackenas, etc. etc. The way it’s produced couldn’t have reminded me any more of the Umbrella Music Festival which we produce in Chicago each fall. Like our festival, Bojan himself is the one picking people up at the airport, getting them to the train station etc. Bojan also relies on arts support from the countries that send musicians to the festival, including, for the very first time in my career, support from the Illinois Arts Council, which made this trip possible for Zerang and myself, Keefe Jackson’s Fast Citizens, and Mike Reed’s Loose Assembly. Overall, the concept seemed very similar to what we do with the “European Jazz Meets Chicago” night of the Umbrella Music Festival each year, partnering with foreign consulates and cultural groups to bring musicians for the event. It was a great pleasure to work with everyone at Ring Ring, who actually care about the music, and work extremely hard in a difficult economic environment to make it happen. As is often the case, the contrast in attitude with some of the bigger Western European festival couldn’t have been greater. Thanks for everything Bojan, and congratulations on 14 years!!
In addition to the concert at Ring Ring, Bojan also organized two smaller club gigs for us in Nis and Zrenjanin. Nis is the second largest city in Serbia (about 200,000 people) and Zrenjanin, although smaller, was a major agricultural production capital in the former Yugoslavia. Both gigs were special. In Nis, we started the afternoon by going directly to the “TV station” for an interview. The station was situated on the top floor of a 20-story Eastern-bloc style apartment building.
Nothing on the outside of the building indicated that there might be a television studio inside, and the exposed wires, missing buttons, and open circuit board in the elevator didn’t inspire much confidence. When we got the top (well the 16th floor actually – we walked the rest of the way up as the elevator wouldn’t go all the way up……) we found a phalanx of older gentlemen smoking cigarettes at the top of the stairs. Guards perhaps? The studio itself was inside a small converted apartment. The first room was full of ladies, a few sitting behind desks, but most busily running back and forth, speaking in short clipped bursts. In the room behind them were several gentlemen in suits, all smoking. A shorter woman penetrated the crowd every two minutes to bring water, coffee, or juice to anyone who needed it. She was a diligent worker. I felt well-hydrated for the interview.
The interviewer himself wore a silver, shark-skinned suit. He explained beforehand that the interview would last five minutes. He would ask a question, and we were to give a brief answer. He would then translate it to mean whatever he wanted. While we did the interview, two of his lovely young students from the journalism school in Nis looked adoringly on.
After becoming the face of American jazz for the television viewers of Nis, we rested at the hotel for a couple of hours, continuing on to the venue that evening. The club was small inside, but the glass walls opened up, exposing it to a garden full of tables and chairs. We played two improvised sets to a crowd who had clearly not heard anything like that before. But they seemed totally into the music, despite the lack of a reverent silence as we might enjoy from the initiated. We made some great friends (Ivan and Dragana) who took us out after the concert to sample the great beers of Serbia. Ivan had designed the poster for our concert, and Dragana worked with the NGO that produced the concert. Although I don’t remember the name of the group, they have a broad mission to bring arts of all sorts to Nis.
The next day, after taking the 3-hour bus back to Belgrade, and changing to the 2-hour bus to Zrenjanin, we arrived in a rural town full of trees and gardens, surrounded by rich agricultural lands that seem to support a wide variety of crops, as well as many orchards. (Perhaps this is the source of the fruit that goes into making Serbian “rakia” – a schnapps-like clear brandy that is quite enjoyable after a concert……
After a relaxed Sunday afternoon lunch of deer stew on the patio of a small countryside restaurant, we had a chance to relax before heading to Klupce, the club for that evening’s concert. Klupce is run by Daniela Jelisavac, a Serbian woman about my age.
She and her husband Zlatko spent several years in Sweden after seeking political asylum there during after the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia. After returning in 2005, they decided to buck the trend whereby the population is rapidly draining out of the countryside into Belgrade, or simply leaving Serbia altogether. They opened their club in Zrenjanin, trying to bring some life and cultural activity to a city that had nothing. In addition to organizing concerts and other cultural events at the club, they also host political talks, show movies, and ask questions with regards to the events that transpired here in the 1990’s. This might explain why the night before our gig, two tax inspectors showed up for a routine inspection of the club, but brought 25 SWAT-team style police with them and threatened to close the club over a minor discrepancy of approximately 6 euros. With luck, Daniela will continue to stay open though. Her fight seems like a more extreme version of what many other friends who present concerts or own clubs have had to deal with to do something they feel is important for their communities (Ross Taylor in Columbia, SC, Ross Compton in Lexington, KY, etc. etc.) Good luck Daniela, and thanks for hosting us, and for doing what you do!!!
Now, I’m finishing the week in Serbia with some sightseeing in Belgrade. Today, Joseph Biden is visiting Serbia, the first American president or vice-president to come here since Jimmy Carter in the late 70’s. The city is effectively shut down, with streets closed, buses not working, the cell phone system shut down, etc. Welcome to the emperor, I suppose…..
This weekend, I had the great fortune to be a part of the 15th anniversary celebration of the Okkadisk record label in Milwaukee. The concerts featured many of the artists on the label, including Peter Brotmann, Joe McPhee, Fred Anderson, Ken Vandermark, Michael Zerang, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jeb Bishop, Jim Baker, Nate McBride, Tim Daisy, and myself. It was a great celebration of the label and the community that owner Bruno Johnson and his wife Adrienne Pierlussi have created around themselves at their two amazing bars, The Sugar Maple, and The Palm Tavern.
The shows started with a tribute to Joe McPhee, featuring Ken, Jeb, Tim, and myself playing 10 of Joe’s compositions from some early records including Oleo, Tenor, and Old Eyes. I’ve been a fan of Joe’s since I first heard him in 1999 at the Empty Bottle when he and Hamid Drake played a duo concert as part of a Vandermark Five record release party. I’ve heard him many times since, and am always blown away by the beauty of his sound and playing on every instrument he touches. (tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, alto clarinet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn…..and probably many more I’m not even aware of….) It was a great honor to have the opportunity to play his music for him, and Joe couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about what we did with the tunes. Joe is one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met, and I’m sure would never let on even if he hated it, but he seemed genuinely thrilled to hear what we did with his music.
The fun continued on Saturday afternoon, when I actually got the chance to play with Joe for the first time in an afternoon concert at The Palm Tavern. Flooded with sunlight on a beautiful afternoon, we set up with Ken, Jeb, Tim, Joe, and myself, and did a long set with various solos/duo/trios/etc. The crowd was really enthusiastic, and the weather had everyone in a great mood, despite the pervasive round of hangovers from the night before…….
Saturday night continued with a show by the Engines, featuring mostly new music we’ve been working on during our Tuesday residency at Elastic. The music seemed to really come together finally, which always feels good after putting the time in on it!
Peter Brotzmann’s trio with Eric Revis and Nasheet Waits headlined that night, and slaughtered the house. Nasheet has become perhaps my favorite drummer in recent years, with an unbelievable sense of both feel and time and an amazing ability to create structures in free-improvised settings. Eric was not an apparent choice for this trio, being much better-known for the more straightahead work he does with Branford Malsalis, etc., but he pushed the music in some great directions, and certainly held his own during the Brotzmann onslaught. Peter’s new alto, apparently a Yamaha prototype of some sort, seemed like it might actually be louder than the one he was playing before……but as is frequently the case, he brought just as much beauty as energy to the concert, opting for some Gene Ammons-like quiet moments that are rarely discussed in descriptions of his playing.
Sunday afternoon wrapped up with a six-guitar piece by the Milwaukee group Collection of Bees, a trio set with Caffeine, and Fred Anderson and Tim Daisy playing duo. It’s a great testament to the label’s continuity over the years that the first two records Bruno put out were by Caffeine and Fred Anderson with Steve McCall. All these sets were appropriately great…..Caffeine sounded like a working band, even though they haven’t played in about 6 years. Tim Daisy played his ass off with Fred, and Fred continues to surprise me every time he picks up the horn, even though I’ve seen him play hundreds of times by now. Truly inspiring…..
Overall, I can’t say thanks enough to Bruno and Adrienne for all the support they’ve given me over the years. Bruno had no reason to work with me when I first talked to him about putting a Triage record in 2002. He was pretty much guaranteed to lose money on a release by a young unheard-of trio. But he liked the music, and that was enough. We’re now working on our fifth release together, the second cd by the Engines, due out this summer. As I mentioned to the audience at the Engines concert on Saturday, Bruno is one of the unsung heroes of the resurgence in the improvised music scene in Chicago, having been there since the early 90’s when things really started moving. His humble and unyielding support for what we do is greatly appreciated.
CONGRATULATIONS AND MANY THANKS BRUNO AND ADRIENNE !!!
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