Texas Tour Recap

We had a great little tour through Texas with the Log Ladies, and me. I have played with Dave Cappello on a regular basis since about 2004, and with Jesse Morrow since 2009. Chris Alford was a member of a short lived quintet I had a couple of years ago, and also played on one of the Instigation Quartet shows. Given that I have had some history with each member of the Log Ladies, I was honored that they asked me to join them on this tour, in spite of that history.

The first day involved driving from New Orleans to Dallas, and performing that night. Aaron Gonzalez presented our concert at The Oak Cliff Cultural Center, and the trumpet/effects/drums duo Swirve (from Dallas) was also on the show. The Oak Cliff Cultural Center has a very nice, if quite resonant space, in which we performed.

We were hosted by Dennis and Carol Gonzalez (Aaron’s parents) who provided us with a place to sleep, two beautiful home cooked meals, and some wonderful fellowship. Of course Dennis is also a renowned improvising musician himself.

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Dennis cooking eggs.

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Carol’s world famous biscuits.

On Sunday, we drove to Austin, and played Sunday night on the Church of the Friendly Ghost concert at the Salvage Vanguard Theater. We stayed at the home of my friend and colleague John Worthington. Thanks, John.

The show in Austin also included sets from SYSTM, and Lunch Money. It was nice to get to hear and hang with some of Austin’s improvisers, who also offered excellent post gig taco truck suggestions.

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The venue.

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Sound check/set-up and the COTFG logo.

Monday we drove from Austin to Houston, and played at the fabulous “They, Who Sound” series at The Avant Garden. Dave Dove organizes the series, and they have a very cool scene happening there. Nice venue, great audience, the real thing. Damon Smith opened the show with a solo bass set, that was excellent.

Just to make sure the tour was grueling enough, we drove back to New Orleans after the concert on Monday night. By the time I dropped every one off and got back to my house, it was about 7am on Tuesday. The tour was fun and the music was good, but it was nice to be back in my own bed.

June travels

I was on the road for about half of June. From the 14th to the 23rd, my wife Jennifer and I were in Italy. The trip was half business/half vacation. I played four different concerts with Marcello Benetti. Two in a trio with Helen Gillet on cello, and two as a guest with his Italian band Supuesto Blue.

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Supuesto Blue bassist, Silvia Bolognesi during sound check before our performance at the UDIN & JAZZ Festival.

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Our fabulous lunch at a privata near Cervignano, Italy. All of the meat, cheese, salad, and wine was a product of the farm at which we were eating.

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The view from Castle Runkelstein, looking back down the valley towards Bolzano.

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The main course of our meal before the gig at the Mirano Oltre Festival. I called them tuna-scicles, which doesn’t come anywhere near doing them justice.

When we got back from Italy, I had a day and a half at home, before I left for a week long music information retrieval workshop hosted by the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University.

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The Knoll – Home of CCRMA

The week was great. On top of the beautiful weather, the instructors were fabulous. They were each among the best in the world in their specialties, and came from a healthy mixture of academic and industrial situations. There is a course wiki that has lecture slides, and a wealth of material about what we learned over the course of the week.

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Course participants and instructors, from left: Chris Colatos, Jeff Albert, Kamlesh Lakshminarayanan, Sean Zhang, Doug Eck, Eli Stine, David Bird, Gina Collecchia, Stephen Pope, Steve Tjoa. Not pictured: Jay LeBoeuf, Rebecca Fiebrink, George Tzanetakis, Leigh Smith, Dekun Zou, Bill Paseman, John Amuedo.

On the last afternoon of the workshop we took a tour of the CCRMA facility. They have a great vibe going there and some super cool stuff. There is a bit of a museum aspect to it at times, but also some state of the art gear for making sonic art.

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One of Max Matthew’s Radio Batons that had recently been revived and played at Max’s memorial.

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The view from the front of the Knoll, looking across Stanford’s campus.

Hamid Drake’s Bindu-Reggaeology in Tampere (photos)

The following photos of our performance in Tampere (Finand), on November 6, 2010, were taken by Alejandro Lorenzo. Alejandro is a fine photographer, and he was also on the staff of the Tampere Jazz Happening and helped keep us all running smoothly.

I won’t label each pic, but the band was: Napoleon Maddox (vocals), Jeb Bishop and me (trombones), Hamid Drake (drums), Joshua Abrams (bass and guimbri), and Hervé Sambe (guitar).

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Why I will never fly Vueling airline again (and if you travel with an instrument should consider the same)

Yesterday, I travelled from Seville, Spain to Brussels, Belgium with Hamid Drake & Bindu Reggaeology. Our tickets were sold to us by Iberia Air, but the flight was operated by Vueling. When we boarded the plane in Seville, Jeb and I had no problems getting on with our trombones, but Hervé and Hamid were each carrying a guitar, and they were hassled greatly. Eventually they were allowed to bring the guitars on, but only after all of the other passengers were on, and the flight attendant determined that there was room for the guitars. Even that required some persistent negotiation. At the time, it entered my mind that the two dark skinned band members carrying instruments were hassled and the two light skinned ones were not, but there was no other evidence that it was anything other than guitar prejudice.

When we made our connection in Barcelona, it was a different story. As soon as I entered the plane, I saw the two guitars in the flight attendants area, and thought that we might be in for the same scene, but the flight attendant then told me that I must check my trombone, and said the same to Jeb, actually following him down the isle because he didn’t notice the trombone right away.

I explained that I have flown many times, and the trombone always fit, and that that very morning we had flown on the same airline in the same model aircraft, and it fit just fine, but he adamantly said that there was no other way but to check them with the luggage. We asked if they would gate check them, so that we got them back right at the plane door in Belgium, but he aid that was impossible because they must go through security in Belgium (which was a stupid excuse because the flight would be over at that point, and they had already gone through security). We soon realized that his sole intent seemed to be to exercise his power to see that we were not satisfied customers. Several flight attendants were involved in these conversations, but none of them seemed to have any interest in solving the problem in a reasonable fashion. They kept saying that they were not allowed to make exceptions. He then said that if we want to bring the horns on, we must purchase a seat for them. i said “great, how much are the seats,” and he said, “well, it is too late now to do that,” even tough that had been offered (by a different FA) as a option early in the guitar negotiations in Seville. I left my horn and sat down. Jeb continued to argue that he didn’t trust the latches on his case and asked for tape, which they didn’t have, but eventually the guy told Jeb that he would put his horn in a closet in the cockpit. Jeb asked about mine and he said, “No, it goes under.” So even though they weren’t allowed to make exceptions they did.

I tried to be nice and not become enraged or be a jerk, but that didn’t pay off. I got screwed because I was trying not to be rude to the people. Eventually Hervé left the plane (and caught a later flight on a different airline) because he would not allow them to check his guitars. That seems to have been the right call. My horn was checked, and when I got to it in baggage claim in Brussels, the bell was severely damaged. The case has a big roughed up scuff where it was dropped and that spot aligns perfectly with the damage that was done.

The claims office in the Brussels airport says there is no recourse because the case wasn’t damaged (the big scuff is normal wear and tear). I have insurance and we’ll see how that shakes out. A wonderful repairman, named Jos Briers, in Genk fixed my horn so that I can finish the tour, but that bell will never be the same.

I have never before encountered personnel in an allegedly customer service oriented position that showed so little interest in helping the customer find a viable solution to a difficulty. I have never dealt with another airline that had what seemed like an active vendetta against musical instruments.

The things I have learned from this:

1- If they make me check my horn, I will leave the flight. (Gate check is different) Getting to the gig with an unplayable instrument is the same as missing the gig.

2- The people in Belgium, specifically Taxi Peters Genk and Jos Briers, and great helpful wonderful people.

3- I will never again board a flight operated by Vueling.

Vueling code shares with Iberia and they are part of the OneWorld system along American Airlines. I would like to publicly ask AA to disassociate with these people. I know when I deal with AA that I am dealing with a real airline, when I deal with their partners, I would like to be able to know the same, and in the case of Vueling that is simply untrue.

Tour Diary – Bolzano, Vienna, Seville, Genk

We have been traveling almost every day since my last post, so blogging time has been hard to come by.

On Monday night we played in Bolzano, Italy at a great small theater called Carambolage. It was a nice intimate space, and we were treated to a wonderful meal by our gracious host Vic. The music was really great, there was a lot of energy from the crowd, and the band went to some fun spots that we hadn’t found before. Jeb and I ended up doing an unaccompanied trombone duo in “Kali Dub” that was a lot of fun, and seemed a bit telepathic at moments.

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The stage during soundcheck in Bolzano.

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Our green room in Bolzano.

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Our manager, Ludmilla, and driver/man-who-gets-things-done, Matteo.

Tuesday morning, we left very early to drive through the mountains to Innsbruck to catch a flight to Vienna. Our flight to Vienna was on an airline called Niki. The plane was comfortable, and the people were very friendly and helpful (this will contrast greatly with a Vueling Air experience I will get to in a minute). We also flew Niki from Vienna to Seville, and my experiences with them were great.

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The view from the tarmac as we boarded our early morning flight in Innsbruck.

In Vienna, we played at Porgy & Bess, and again we were treated very well. Porgy is a pretty big club, and the Austrians are not so obviously enthusiastic as the Italians, but the music was good, and the friendly experiencers seemed to dig the show.

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Hamid at soundcheck in Vienna.

Wednesday we travelled to Seville, Spain. What a beautiful city. We didn’t perform Wednesday night, but the guys in the band went out for tapas at a cool sidewalk café that was on a little park, and it was great. There was a strolling accordionist, who was not great, but he did almost accidentally play “Space is the Place” at one point.

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The sidewalk view (with Jeb partially in view).

The concert in Seville was good. It was in a big hall, and the crowd was enthusiastic. A big thank you to our host Ivan for his hospitality, and excellent transportation planning.

Yesterday, we travelled to Genk, Belgium. It was a long travel day, made even more difficult by the actively anti-helpful policies and attitudes of the people of Vueling Airline. I’ll dedicate an entire post to that ordeal, but for this entry I will simply say that i was forced to either check my trombone or not take the flight. Of course the trombone was significantly damaged. The bright side is that by the time we had reached Genk from the Brussels airport, our wonderful driver (from Taxi Peters Genk) had phoned ahead and found an instrument repairman in Genk. After he dropped the band at the hotel, he took me to the repair shop, where a lovely man named Jos Briers took the time at 5 PM on a Friday to repair my mangled trombone bell. He even offered to deliver my instrument to the venue when he was done, so that I would have time to have dinner with the band before we played. I now call him “The Angel of Belgium.”

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Jos, and me, and my no longer mangled bell.

And now the obligatory food pic:

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Stoofvlees and Westmalle

Tampere, travel, and the road hang

I am writing this from Milan, Italy. I am near the beginning of a tour with Hamid Drake and Bindu Reggaeology, that will take us to Austria, Spain, Belgium, and England.

Our first concert was last night in Tampere, Finland, as part of the Tampere Jazz Happening. They put on a great festival there. They treat the musicians really well, and program great music. I had the chance to hear sets or parts of sets by Donkey Monkey, Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Jazz Mob, Marc Ribot’s Sun Ship, the Dave Holland Quintet, and a couple of others whose names I am spacing at the moment. I love when our travel schedule around a festival allows us to hear some other musicians.

We played a long set as the club closer after the stage shows. It was a fun night, with people dancing and having fun. Jeff Parker is not with us for the beginning of this tour, and we miss him, but Hamid brought in Hervé Samb to play guitar, and Hervé is great. A very different player from Parker. There is already a move afoot amongst band members, that we’d like to hear them together. I don’t know that that will happen, but it sure would be fun to hear.

Today was a long travel day starting with an 8:30 am van ride for two hours to the Helsinki airport, followed by a short flight to Stockholm, and two hour layover, a longish flight to Milan, and finally to our hotel. It is probably good that tonight was a night off, because it was a long day of travel after a short night of sleep.

Once we got settled into our hotel, Napoleon Maddox, Joshua Abrams, and I had a nice long Italian dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. One of he joys of traveling with a great band is the time spent talking about music and life, and broadening one’s own perspective through the wisdom of one’s friends.

Tomorrow, we are off to Bolzano, Italy, then Vienna, Seville, Genk (Belgium) and London. Full details about the gigs are here: http://jeffalbert.com/?page_id=253 If you are in the area, please come say hello.

Germany – Tour Diary #3

I’m finally getting around to writing the last installment of the TD from my trip to Germany, now that I have been back home for almost a week.

Before the first concert on Thursday, there was a press conference. I have never participated in a press conference that was held largely in a language that I don’t speak (“Ich möchte ein Bier bitte” doesn’t count as speaking a language). It was fun. There were enough Americans there that they were kind and spoke English to us.

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The concerts on Thursday and Friday were great. We did different music on each of the 4 sets. Most of it was some form of organized improvisation. A few pieces had more or less standard notation for some sections, several had purely verbal instructions, and one had newspaper clippings. Liz Allbee put together a piece based on the morning paper. It included a chess game and the family tree of the N. Korean rulers. It was amazing to me how those factors affected the music. She could have given us simple verbal instructions that were free from extra-musical implication, and gotten very similar musical textures, but her inclusion of these other ideas profoundly affected the content of what we played. It was a lesson learned for me. Maybe I just liked the piece because I got to be “The Great Leader.”

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We rehearsed each day, and people were writing new material throughout the process.

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L to R: Almut, Sanne, Toby, Claudia, Katrin, & Helen

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After rehearsal on Friday, Jim took Quin and I to his favorite döner place in Dortmund. It is nice to have some local knowledge. Since musicians often live in (or near) the hood, they also often know where to find the best ethnic food. Jim Campbell is a great musician and a fun hang, I am glad he was on the gig. The food tour guiding was just an added bonus.

On Saturday, Quin, Helen, and I played with Georg at The Loft in Köln. It is a great space with some history, and the music was a lot of fun that night. Hopefully there may be some recorded evidence of that night.

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I was told that when in Köln, one must drink Kölsch, so I did.

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Of course the tour diary must end with a food pic. This was the pork shoulder from our great dinner at Aubergine in Bochum, late night after the gig in Köln.

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Germany – Tour Diary #2

We had our first rehearsal yesterday evening. The group is twelve musicians, and I think most of us only knew a small number of the others before yesterday. Georg Graewe, the German pianist, organized the concerts, but he is not playing with us. Saxophonist and clarinetist Tobias Delius is the musical director. Roman Sieweke (from Essen, Germany) is playing alto saxophone. The two trumpet players are Sanne van Hek from Amsterdam, and Liz Allbee, who is from Oakland, but is now living in Berlin. The strings are Claudia Kienzler from Luzern on violin, Katrin Mickiewicz from Berlin on viola, and Helen Gillet from New Orleans on cello. Others are vocalist Almut Kuehne from Berlin, vibraphonist Els Vanderweyer who is from Belgium but living in Berlin, Quin Kirchner (Chicago) on drums, and Jim Campbell, who lives here in Dortmund, is playing this great cassette tape set up.

We rehearsed a number of pieces last night and this morning. Some are for the entire group, and others use subsets of the ensemble. The shows tonight and tomorrow promise to be quite varied, and very musically interesting.

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Seen here are Katrin, Helen, Jim, Els, and the back of Liz’s head at rehearsal last night.

After rehearsal we had a nice dinner at a tapas restaurant near the venue. I love the way a rehearsal and good dinner can make good friends out of musicians who only met hours before.

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Right to left are: Quin, Claudia, Roman, Sebastian & Nadin who are the behind the scenes folks who are making this happen, and Sanne.

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Right to left: Sanne, Katrin, Almut, Georg, Liz, and Els’ hand. Jim, Helen and Toby were on my end of the table thus avoiding an appearance in the dinner shots.

I am very much looking forward to the concert tonight.

Yesterday afternoon before rehearsal, I heard a bit of a street band near the market. They were playing Autumn Leave when I took this picture.

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