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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Germany – Tour Diary #1

Yesterday, I arrived in Dortmund, Germany to do a few days of rehearsal and a couple of concerts with a group called New Generation that Georg Graewe put together. (more on the music after we start the rehearsals today)

I like getting to Europe a day before I have to do anything to try to get my body on local time, but it didn’t work too well this time. I was awake at 4 am, and ready to go. I’m sure I’ll crash this afternoon at some point.

My friend Quin Kirchner, who is the drummer in the Lucky 7s among many other bands, and I were on the same flight from the US. We had a good time exploring Dortmund’s city center on foot yesterday.

We scored some street grill food pretty early on. The lady had this very cool bratwurst slicer that made perfect bite size chunks. They do that mayo on fries thing here. Not really my bag, but I try to explore local food customs, so I gave it a shot.

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We walked around and found a cool music store, and eventually the club where we will play on Thursday and Friday.

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We were picked up from the airport by a great guy named Jörg. He told us that at one time Dortmund was second in the world (to Milwaukee) in number of breweries. They have some good local pilsners, and we tried a few. For dinner we went with a place that looked “German” to our tourist eyes. It had a moose head on the wall, and excellent schnitzel.

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That’s Quin in the foreground under the moose.

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We also saw a number of signs with (sometimes) interesting use of English words. My favorite was this McDonald’s sign near our hotel.

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Sant’Anna Arresi Day 1 (for me)

I am writing this on Monday, August 30 in Sant’Anna Arresi, Sardegna, Italy, although depending on the internet connection scene, it might not actually get posted until I get back to the States. I am here to perform with Hamid Drake’s Bindu Reggaeology band. This post is labeled Day 1 (for me), because it was my first day here, even though it was the seventh day of the festival.

I arrived in Sant’Anna Arresi yesterday afternoon, after 24 hours of travel from New Orleans to Chicago to Rome to Cagliari (all by plane) then a van ride from Cagliari to Sant’Anna Arresi. Riding through the beautiful but very hilly Sardinian countryside in a van on very little sleep and nothing but airplane food in the previous 15 hours isn’t all that pleasant, but once I got to the hotel and had a shower and a few hours sleep, I felt much better.

I got to hear the festival concert last night, which was a wonderful performance. It was Conduction® No. 192 “Possible Universe” by Butch Morris. He had an all-star cast on hand. It was essentially a double orchestra and was placed on the stage in stereo, with one of each instrument to each side. The only musician without a double was Alan Silva on synthesizer. The guitarists Jean Paul Bourelly and On ka’a Davis were on either side of Silva with Chad Taylor and Hamid Drake on percussion to the outsides of the guitarists. Silvia Bolognesi played bass on Hamid’s side, and Harrison Bankhead was near Chad. The horns on the Taylor/Bankhead side were Meg Montgomery (trumpet), Greg Ward (alto sax), David Murray (tenor sax & bass clarinet) and Tony Cattano (trombone). On the Drake/Bolognesi side, they were matched by Riccardo Pittau, Pasquale Innarella, Evan Parker and Joe Bowie.

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I had never seen a Butch Morris conduction before, and it is quite an experience. Initially it was similar to some electroacoustic concerts in that I was seeing things happen on stage but was not completely connecting the actions with specific sounds. As the music progressed, I began to be able to connect Mr. Morris’ signals with the musical behaviors that they instigated. He exacts very specific and subtle control over the musicians. When it works ideally, the ensemble becomes on instrument that Butch plays, but that instrument still contains all of the personal sounds of Evan Parker, and David Murray, and Joe Bowie, etc. It was refreshing to see so many world class soloists forego their egos and submit to being part of a beautiful and organic sound that was completely controlled by someone else. It seemed to me that this system requires large amounts of trust going each way, from Morris to the musicians, and from the musicians to Morris. I’ll save the blow by blow description of the music, and simply say that it covered a lot of ground from the quite noisy to the quite accessible, and I enjoyed it greatly.

The pre and post gig hangs were great. I made some new Italian musician friends. Trombonist Tony Cattano (col lenga?) is a great hang and a great musician. Silvia Bolognesi also plays in the Italian band of Marcello Bennetti, who also has a New Orleans based band in which I play. Tony, Silvia, Pasquale and I explored the ways that musician jokes do and don’t translate across languages. I had the requisite trombonist gear chat with Joe Bowie, who is a warm and personable cat, and got to hear David Murray lay some of his unique “zen” ideas on us. I also got to spend some time talking to Greg Ward. Greg played one gig with a Chicago version of my quartet a couple of years ago. I really enjoy his music and company. He has a new CD that is about to be released, and he laid a preview copy on me last night. I’ll be sure to post something about it, once I have given it a few listens.

It was a great evening last night, and I am looking forward to getting to play tonight.

(Added 1 Sept) Originally I thought there would be a second post in the series for this trip, but there won’t be. Too much school stuff to do. I’ll leave it with, our gig was great fun, Ernest Dawkins and crew sounded great after us, Butch Morris is a very interesting dude and a nice cat to hang with, it takes 24 hours (for real) to get from Sant’Anna Arresi to Mandeville, LA, and the caprese salad in the Rome airport isn’t bad.

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One more note: beware of the man in the hat. His name is Mack, and he runs a cool little bar, and apparently likes to get musicians loaded. Approach with care.

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Bindu Tour diary – installation 6

Today we arrived in Chiasso, Switzerland. We spent the last two days in Mira Italy, which is near Venice. Mira seems to be less internet friendly, so except for a couple of expensive iPhone email checks I was offline.

We played in a cool small theater in Mira for a concert that was put on by Veneto Jazz. They are very nice people, who treated us very well, and put on a good show.

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Sound check in Mira

We arrived in Mira the night before our show, so some of us took some time Friday morning to go to Venice. It was rainy, and the off season, so it wasn’t too crowded. Venice is a trip. It is an odd little confusing city in so many ways. It is also quite fascinating. We stopped in a wine shop as part of Jeb’s continuing search for a very specific grappa, and the shop owner was playing Frank Rosolino on the sound system. We did find S. Marco without too much trouble, and got back in time to catch our train. It was a rainy but fun time in Venice.

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Today we drove to Chiasso, and played the last show of the tour at the Chiasso Jazz Festival. It was a pretty electric show. We all had that end of tour energy happening, and it came out in a great way.

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The view from our hotel sidewalk in Chiasso

This tour has been a real treat, both musically and personally. This band is a great bunch of people, and they are each top notch, world class musicians as well. The food has been excellent almost all the way around, and Ludmilla (our manager and agent) and Matteo (our driver and man who makes things happen) have been the best.

Tomorrow is a super long travel day to get home, but hopefully my arrival in New Orleans will be accompanied by jubilant cheering Saints fans.

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linguine with frutti de mare

Bindu Tour diary – installment 4

We had a great gig in Padova last night. The crowd was quite enthusiastic, and demanded 2 encores. They have quite a concert series here, as you can see by the two previous shows.

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After the show was another great Italian meal.

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The onion gnochi was great.

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Today we travel back to Milan, with a night off tonight. Tomorrow is a photo shoot of some sort. I am curious about this.

Bindu Tour diary – installation #3

When we left Paris on Saturday, I was feeling a bit out of balance. My stomach was a little upset, I just generally felt funky (the bad kind of funky). We flew to Milan, got to the hotel, and had a big dinner with the promoter scheduled for that evening. I laid down to see if some sleep would help. I soon realized that I had some sort of 24 hour virus. I’ll spare you the gory details, and just say that I missed the great dinner and conversation on Saturday, while laying in bed sore and feverish.

Our show in Milan was at 11am on Sunday. It seemed like an odd time to me, but apparently it works here. The show was sold out, and people crowded the stage for autographs after. I think the music went well, but it was 11 am and I was still not back to 100%.

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Jeb and Napoleon towards the end of the autograph frenzy.

The promoter gave us a great lunch at the hotel after the gig. These Italians can eat, and they do it quite well. Jeb had a great line in the dressing room before the concert. He filled his cup from a somewhat generic looking coffee thermos and said, “wow, they just don’t know how to make bad coffee in Italy.” The lunch was good and huge. My body still wasn’t quite ready to eat it all, but I had tastes and it was great, especially the saffron risotto in a parmesan cheese shell.

I slept the rest of the afternoon, and was finally feeling completely like myself again by 9pm or so. Jeb and I went for a longish walk, and I finally got to see some of Milan. We ended up walking by La Scala, which was cool.

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The statue of Leonardo in the square opposite La Scala Opera.

The part of Milan that we walked in has a great cool old city vibe, although there seemed to be a few too many McDonalds.

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I wonder if Milanese folks that are visiting New Orleans or Chicago say things like, “why would we eat at McDonalds here, we can do that at home.”

Bindu Tour diary – installation 2, or name dropping

We played the first gig of the tour tonight. It went very well considering that we made the record in May, and haven’t played together since. We ran some stuff at sound check, and the great musicians in the band did what great musicians do. Every cat in this band is absolutely world class, and it is a great pleasure an honor to make music with them. I’ll try not to assume that you know who I am talking about. The band is Hamid Drake on drums, Jeff Parker on guitar, Josh Abrams on bass and guimbre, Jeb Bishop and myself on trombones, and Napoleon Maddox on all manner of vocally created musical sounds.

Tomorrow we travel to Milan, where we play Sunday morning.

I have always heard about how these European festivals can turn into big musician hangs. Tonight we split a show with Kahil el Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble with special guest Neneh Cherry. Ernest Dawkins and Corey Wilkes were in Kahil’s band, along with Matthew Kent and Franck Orall. Also hanging out were William Parker, Billy Bang, Nasheet Waits, Flip Barnes, Rob Brown, and Rasul Siddik, plus a bunch of other cats that I didn’t get to meet. We are all staying at the same hotel, and ended up at the bar across the street after the gig. Neneh told me that her father, Don Cherry (the great musician and trumpeter, not the hockey guy), used to play the the Dr. John record with the Meters as the band (“Right Place Wrong Time”) all the time. Pretty cool.

Bindu Tour diary – installment 1

The Hamid Drake and Bindu Tour is underway. The first performance is tonight in Cachan (just outside of Paris). I left the US on Wednesday, and arrived in Paris Thursday morning. I was successful in my effort to not go to sleep until Thursday night, and I feel pretty good today.

Last night we went to a lecture/symposium at University of Paris Diderot. The subject was Don Cherry, the speakers were Hamid Drake and Kahil El Zabar. It was hosted and translated by Alexandre Pierrepont. The was a good bit of insight presented on Cherry’s life and music, and music in general and drumming in particular. I’d like to hear it again, minus the jet lag.

Earlier in the day, Jeb Bishop took me to a la Biche au Bois, which is a great little restaurant that has developed quite a following amongst the Chicago improvisers. The food was great, and I fulfilled my cultural study needs by getting a full on almost two hour long déjuner.

I started with les œufs aux mayonaise.

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Next was the coq au vin, which I was told is a must have at this place, and it was fabulous.

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Next was le fromage.

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…and I couldn’t pass up le creme brulé avec armignac.

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Lunch was followed by une promenade sur la Champs-Élysée, and my touristing was complete. I have rehearsal in a few minutes, so hopefully the next installments will be more about music than food.

Tour diary #6 – conclusion

Where did we leave off? Oh yeah, the gig in Connecticut seemed like it had real high end legendary free jazz tour disaster potential. Since we booked the gig, the club went from a jazz format to a more blues and R&B thing. When we got there, the sign downstairs said “Jeff Albert Band – Blues.” It turned out to be one of the better gigs of the tour. We stayed in the grooving part of our repertoire, and faked three jazz blues tunes and “Cissy Strut,” but with the exception of those four tunes, we did stuff that was in our regular repertoire. There was a financial guarantee, and it ended up being the best paying gig on the tour, and the people at the club dug what we did.

Saturday was a long drive from Cromwell, CT to Richmond, VA. It was too long. One of the things I learned on this trip is that what looks like a reasonable drive in google maps weeks before the tour, might not be. We were really too tired and mentally drained when we got to Richmond. One bandmember had something of a musical meltdown, which was the catalyst for me to have something of a social meltdown. It was by far the weakest gig of the tour musically. On the other hand, the Richmond groups that we heard that night were great. Verbatim and R2Dtoo were both really enjoyable. Well played, creative, and fun. We ended up not hearing the No BS! Brass Band. I was melting down socially, and we had a loooong drive ahead of us the next morning, so we left before they started.

Yesterday we left Richmond at 7 am EDT, and I got back to my house at 1 AM CDT today. We all drove quite a bit. I reset the trip miles and elapsed time counters on my van before I left my house at 4 AM on June 13. When I got back last night, we had traveled 3,933 miles, and had spent 76 hours and 35 minutes in the van.

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I learned a lot about what not to do when putting together a tour, but I also learned a lot about our band, and about the stronger and weaker aspects of our music. We made some great music, and had a lot of laughs, and never came to blows, so I’ll call it a success. I was musically happy with 7 of the 8 gigs, and we laughed way more than we grumbled obscenities under our breath.

We might do it again next year, with a booking agent, bus, bus driver, and budget for better hotels…or maybe not.