Apr. 19 - No More Mr. Nice Girl: A Memorial/Tribute to Maggie Estep - Nuyorican Poets Cafe - Manhattan
It was a terrible terrible shock to hear of Maggie’s death from a heart attack in February. She was always vibrant in her demeanor, excited, extravagant, unpredictable. She was an intense and briliant performer seeming to totter on the edge of a deep chasm but always leaping when least expected. We had been friends since the early 90’s and collaborated on a number of projects including her performing with Carbon at CBGB’s and Brownie’s and our recording of her track “Happy” on Radio Hyper-Yahoo. At one point we were working on songs for an album of hers that never came to be. Our sessions were filled with lots of coffee drinking, terrible puns, and long digressions. Maggie had a 70’s Les Paul Junior that I repaired for her and really enjoyed playing and which inspired me to find a similar instrument, a Heritage H-137, that I brought to this memorial. There were many moving and amusing anecdotes and readings by Maggie’s friends and colleagues. She was dearly loved. Julia Murphy, bassist in Maggie’s band I Love Everybody, read from Maggie’s hilarious journals of her trip to Morocco with vivid slides projected. Tracie Morris re-wrote the old Rod Stewart song “Maggie May”, reciting it while I accompanied with quiet filigree. I then performed a 4-minute “Music for Transitioning States”, an elegy to Maggie in shfting moods. The accompanying image is a picture of Maggie made by Fly, an East Village portraitist and activist. More info on the event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1419494954975537/
Apr. 17 - Terraplane - Grand Victory - Brooklyn
We saw this gig mainly as a chance to warm up for our upcoming European tour (though “warm” was a bit of a misnomer as the club was freezing). Still, crew and staff all extremely nice so a very pleasant vibe prevailed. Up first was guitarist Aram Bajakian’s trio mixing blues, twang, and rock in a high energy and very appealing mix. Relaxed setup then we began with Subtropical from 4AM Always, our imminent new album on Enja/Yellowbird. Very loud stage and a blown monitor tweeter on my side made for some difficult playing at first. The house guitar amp was a Peavey stack that sounded quite good though I much prefer combo amps for their tighter bass response. I admit that there’s a thrill to having notes bloom forever with absolutely no effort. I had done long-overdue maintenance and alignment earlier that day on the white Strat and it felt and sounded great. We continued with a few songs from Sky Road Songs including a powerful version of Dangerous Lands sung by Tracie. I’m not so used to singing on stage especially under challenging monitor conditions so Down On The Block suffered a bit. Switching to the new tunes, we encountered some craggy obstacles resulting in a few minor train wrecks though no derailments and certainly no fatalities! Intense version of Ain’t Got No which we followed up with our old standard Please Don’t to close the set. The performance clearly displayed to us elements to be worked on in our rehearsal before the tour commences. Heading back over the bridge to Manhattan, I enjoyed confounding the “no shake” software on my camera to create some abstract textures out of traffic.
Apr. 5 - Foliage plus… - Vortex - London
Very chill day to read, write, and walk around Hackney in search of a good espresso. Quick setup (with a surprise visit from Terry Day) and a bite at Vortex’s own cafe downstairs (with cuisine that could use, shall we say, a bit of development) then a most enjoyable hang with David Barratt, relocated to London. The musicians all convene around 8:30 and I commence the concert promptly at 9 with a version of Phosphenes that is quite different from the previous evening’s realization, shorter as well. I’m nearly in a techno head and make loops of percussive thumps and hits on the guitar’s bridge with spring bow slashes, slide swoops and knocks, then layer fuzz lines over it. This morphs into some noise and harmonic waves, back to grooves, and on out. The rest of the musicians join me on stage for a conducted improvisation (minus trumpeter Percy who is playing in Evan Parker’s 70th birthday concert ensemble near King’s Cross). The interactions range from quietude to small-group jazziness to big sonic blasts, all played with keen listening and a sense of playfulness without ever descending into irony or kitsch. The full house shows their appreciation and we break for intermission. Percy has by now returned for our second set and we take the stage to perform a 38’ version of Foliage. This length feels just right and the overall arc is natural in its ebb and flow of energy and density. The ensemble is not afraid to let delicacy prevail or strangeness to take hold, and also not afraid to join in massive crescendi. We’re thrilled with this manifestation and after catching a breath, tear into a group improvisation without conduction that dwells in an angular rockish vein. Another fine post-concert hang after which I return to the hotel to pack and catch 2 hours of sleep before heading to Heathrow for my early flight back to NYC.
Apr. 4 - Foliage plus… - Vortex - London
Breakfast then a relaxed walk over to the New St. station for a train to London - overheated and cramped seating but still a big improvement over what I remembered of the British Rail system of the past. Tube to Hackney and the hotel with time to chill before a 5-minute walk to the Vortex. First up is meeting the BBC producer and the interviewer and heading to a quiet space to record. It’s a pleasure to speak with them as the discussion avoids predictable questions and inspires me to make historical and cross-disciplinary connections. After our talk, we head downstairs where I build up my rig and check the video connection which works fine. As we set up, the BBC engineers arrange microphones and bus out their lines to a nearby mobile recording truck. Our plan is to play the 50’ version of Foliage as the entire second set (the Birmingham version was 38’. I’ve made movies of Foliage in advance of various lengths and sequences). There are problems with one output channel of the Boomerang so I end up going mono, not at all a major problem. We’re going without amplification except for the bass and guitar amps as the room is not too large and has decent acoustics. The group is the same as in Birmingham minus the strings and tenor saxophone with the players being Riann Vosloo-bass, Liam Noble-piano, Andy Bain-drums, Percy Purslow-trumpet, Adam Woods-alto sax, and Jeremy Price-trombone. Once we’re all in place we begin to run down the piece. It’s necessary to stop to speak again about the score and urge the players to show restraint even to the point of silence and to try and truly render sonically what they’re seeing in the images of the score. As we proceed I find that things are already very much improved over the Birmingham Foliage so we break for dinner, heading for Mangal, a wonderful Turkish restaurant nearby. Returning to the Vortex, I open the first set with a version of Phosphenes for solo guitar, accreting textures and destroying them, playing melodic passages with slide or with fuzz and reverse delay, tapping out polyrhythmic matrixes. Next, Riann joins me for Dixchordes, a dynamically interactive duo, melodic and edgy. Finally, we add Andy to play Hard Landing as a trio - a stretched and fragmented blues that delves into a psychedelic free-jazz zone. The set clocked in at 35 minutes, a bit short. Just before we hit the stage for the second set, I tell the musicians to not think of their instruments as ‘musical instruments’ but as sound-sources: vibrating columns of air or membranes, resonating objects, oscillators. I think this helped clarify my desires and intent for the piece because the performance was quite wonderful. Fantastic sounds, dramatic buildups and interactions, exciting transitions, and even segments of beautiful reductionism. My only thought was that it was too long so for the second night we’ll return to the 38’ version. To close the evening, I begin a version of Sigil Walking dedicated to Pete Cosey but without telling the players anything about it. They quickly find their way into an angular funk zone with various melodic interactions coming to the front. We’re all quite pleased as the evening closes and part company looking forward to the Saturday show.
Apr. 3 - Composer’s Talk/Foliage - Frontiers Festival
Early call as a talk was scheduled for Carl and I with Ed moderating. The twenty or so composers and musicologists were already assembled when we arrived and Carl opened the proceedings with a discussion of how he came to be doing what he does. I followed. We both played brief examples of our works and with Ed’s prompting we discussed a number of aspects of how we consider composition, the state of contemporary music and the business of it, our experiences as students and as teachers, and many other topics. Audience questions further thickened the mix. It was a lively session and seemed to be over too soon with much left unsaid. After, headed over to the town Library, a new and dramatic structure to catch Joe Scarffe’s realizations of some conceptul scores and to view the exhibition of graphic scores that he had curated. Among the many carefully chosen examples, this show included a page of a Coptic score on parchment from Egypt of the 5th-7th century with colors representing pitches. Christian Marclay’s Shuffle was on display as was Foliage running on a video monitor. Ran back to the hotel following this for a brief rest as I knew the upcoming Foliage rehearsal and performance would be strenuous. Bassist and composer Riaan Vosloo had organized the musicians for the performance with the cooperation of the composition and jazz departments. As a result, the mix of players represented both disciplines. The group included two violins, cello, bass, piano, trombone, trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, drums, and myself - in some ways, a jazzy big band. My laptop interfaced with the projector easily and the Foliage video looked fine on the screen. We arranged in a deep semi-circle facing the screen and with sound reinforcement on the piano as well as DPA lavalier mics on the strings and the rest playing acoustically. I played through a small digital modeling amp that sounded decent. As we were approaching the commencement of rehearsal, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by saxophonist Joe Lovano, in town to perform in a group including Jack deJohnette and Esmeralda Spalding. I hadn’t seen Joe in some years and it was great to catch up a bit. Once the sound was in place, I explained the piece, stressing how the players should try to realize what they were seeing on the page and that silence and space were as important as sound. I also emphasized that textural and timbral development was closer to the essence of the piece than melodic lines of notes. There was some frustration as we began to play it with players playing too much too continuously and relying on their own habits and patterns rather than trying to manifest what they were seeing. Still, some great moments ensued and by the end of the rehearsal, I was quite optimistic for the performance. At the break, went with Joe Scarffe to catch Ashley’s Automatic Writing at the Library and then returned to the Conservatoire for some caffeine and the hit. The concert opened with a 15’ version of Shuffle played by the pianist Liam Noble and the strings with Riaan as conductor. It was witty and somehow very English in its sounds. There was only the briefest of pauses to adjust the setup and we began Foliage with the first ten minutes quite spare and beauteous. Unfortunately, I felt that things began deteriorating after that with some players showing little restraint or understanding of the concerns of the piece. Despite this, the level of playing was still very high throughout and there were some dramatic sonic scenarios unfolding with breathtaking surprises. I had to detach myself after from my disappointment in what it wasn’t and switch to an appreciation of what it was. There was much positive feedback from many in the audience and I was gratified to get an enthusiastic response and analysis from Joe Lovano who had returned for the concert. After packing, we walked in the cold rainy night to a cheery pub for libations and post-mortems.
Apr. 2 - Occam’s Razor/Four Oh Two Times Five/Frontiers Festival/Conservatoire - Birmingham UK
Grateful to have a relaxed morning, at 11 I was met by one of the members of Newtempa and brought up to the Conservatoire for soundcheck for the noon performance of Occam’s Razor, part of the Marathon Day of the festival. The concert was being recorded by BBC 3 as well so we were being attended to by two sets of engineers. The concert opened with Robert Ashley’s Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies, an electroacoustic piece composed in 1972. This would be the first realization of the piece with full correct technical configuration with seven laptops in an interactive matrix processing the Elysian Quartet. Each laptop had six operators affecting various parameters with faders. The 20’ piece did not have a narrative structure but was instead like weather that we could experience to the fullest - high praise indeed and a fitting tribute to Bob whose passing shocked all of us who knew him and his work. Ashley was supposed to have received an honorary doctorate at the festival. After a brief intermission to change the setup came a short text score by Pauline Oliveros for quartet, realized with sensitivity, warmth, and humor by the group. I quickly plugged in to join the Elysian for Four Oh Two Times Five, our improvisation. With vastly increased energy over yesterday’s rehearsal, we dug into the piece creating radically shifting textures over a huge dynamic range to great response. Finally, Newtempa set up and Occam’s Razor was performed. The acoustics of the recital hall were quite sympathetic giving a perfect balance of clarity and resonance. Every little detail of the string activity was clearly audible yet the unified sound of the group was always there, foreground and background continuously challenging each other. I was thrilled with the performance and the musicians were quite happy as well with wonderful response from the full hall as well. After the concert I met with Joe Scarffe, a composer, bassoonist, musicologist, curator. We had an enjoyably hypercharged conversation regarding graphic notation that ranged across to many other topics. Next up was an a capella concert by Via Nova with a gestural piece by Pauline and Howard Skempton’s realization of Ashley’s incredibly affecting She Was A Visitor. “He” could have been easily substituted for “she” in the work to make it another powerful requiem for the great theorist and composer. My next move was to head back to the hotel and rest a bit before the evening’s activities. I returned to sound check for Momentum Anomaly and after a caffeine break performed the work nearly ‘in the round’ with audience arrayed in a ‘U’ around me. This was to be one of the most intense performances of the piece that I’ve done. Even though I always try to put full force into my hits, I felt a more than little surprised at what emerged. There was a chance to greet a few friends and audience members after which Ed and I ran over to the Ikon where Carl Stone was doing a solo performance. Carl and I happily jumped right back into our last conversation over Korean barbecue in Los Angeles just under two weeks before. Another fantastic performance from Carl with his unique approach to remixing pre-recorded materials After the concert, a group of us headed to Syriana for excellent Lebanese food after which I had a late night in my room writing and reading.
Apr. 1 - Akheron - JACK Quartet - Stone - Manhattan —- Frontiers Festival - Birmingham UK
This piece for string quartet was composed in January and is a quiet elegy to the far-too-many friends and colleagues who have passed from this plane of late. It uses no extended techniques nor special bows or other equipment but is constructed from close and wide intervals and long durations, similar strategies as used in Light In Fog from 2002. I departed NYC for Birmingham UK and the Frontiers Festival on the evening of the 31st so was also unable to attend JACK’s rehearsal but I was anticipating a recording from their session. The weather in NYC was warm and sunny on departure and we had spectacular views of Manhattan on our ascent. The storm system that we had been experiencing was now situated over New England and the Canadian maritime provinces and we were routed directly through it (or over it) yielding three hours of turbulence with a few brief respites. Not the roller-coaster variety of turbulence but enough continuous bumping to make rest impossible. I took the opportunity to listen to the Feldman pieces String Quartet & Orchestra, Oboe & Orchestra, and Atlantis with the first being so mesmerizing that I listened to it again before switching to some Charlie Patton and then Glenn Gould performing Bach Partitas. Finally things calmed down allowing a bit of sleep before we landed. After landing and getting to my hotel, I received a soundfile from John of the quartet rehearsal. It sounded fantastic and I offered a few tweaks. (On Wednesday morning I heard from my friend Reinhold Friedl visiting in NYC that JACK did a wonderful performance). After a nap and espresso, walked over to the Conservatoire where the festival was being hosted. We passed a soprano saxophonist on New St. who is apparently there daily performing his only number over and over again with a canned background track, the theme from Titanic. Arriving at the Conservatoire, the first item on the agenda was a meeting with three students who were all guitarists as well as composers. Our 90-minute session was loosely structured with each speaking about and demonstrating their work and I talking about my approaches to current projects and the pieces to be performed at the festival. This led to many digressions of various relevancies. I had brought the Sinsonido along and performed a short improvisation to demonstrate various extended techniques. After a break, there was a rehearsal of Occam’s Razor with both the Elysian Quartet, a professional group, and Newtempa, a group of extremely talented students. There were a few elements that needed to be clarified but both groups tore into the material with enthusiasm. By the end of the long and intense session, the realization was well exceeding my expectations. One of the members of Elysian was ill and a substitute brought in for this concert precluded their performance of Meredith Monk’s quartet so I was asked to step in for an improvised quintet. Though I’m normally opposed to “rehearsing” improvisation, it seemed like a good idea to get the feel of each other. We played for about twenty minutes entering a variety of soundworlds and engagements of varying degrees of intensity, all quite pleasing. We broke for a fantastic curry around the corner and I then rendezvoused with festival organizer Ed McKeon to head over to the Ikon Gallery to hear Decibel, a local group, play early Philip Glass pieces after which I called it a night.
Mar. 28 - E# Trio - Classon Social Club - Brooklyn
This venue is the new venture of Albano and Francesco replacing their funky little osteria Aliseo. It’s a beautifully designed room, modern and elegant yet comfortable (these elements need not be mutually exclusive) with a Hammond B3 and drum kit installed on the modest stage. The trip from home took about an hour with three changes of train including a short ride on the obscure S-train connecting Franklin Avenue with the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, near the club’s location. That shuttle stop is like a quick portal into another continent. Waiting for the train, I could hear muezzin from local mosques calling and a number of waiting passengers wore African garb. When I arrived, Don McKenzie and bassist Rashaan Carter were already set up. I quickly unpacked and after a doppio ristretto plugged in the Warmoth hollow L5S, Digitech RP250, and Boomerang into Francesco’s gorgeous Goodsell amp. We were told that we needed to play quietly because of cranky neighbors and the need to differentiate the venue from a “concert” place. We’re happy to comply though it was easy to get carried away as the acoustics of the room are extremely inviting, nearly begging us to fill it with sound. We played some Miles-ian funk, some blues, and a Carnatic-influenced drone piece to great response then finished the set with a fingerpicked country blues. After a longish intermission to chat with friends and listeners, we began the second set with a rocking Bemsha Swing and continued with a quiet but hot and angular funk piece followed by Softly As A Morning Sunrise which stayed soft but got pretty wild. Francesco joined us on harmonica for a fractured shuffle blues then we finished with an Afrobeat-inspired improvisation that grooved while shifting through a number of exotic textural scenarios. Good hang after the show complete with delicious dinner from the Classon kitchen.
Mar. 19 - Sharp Stone - Building Bridges Art Foundation - Santa Monica
By adding a flight to Los Angeles but staying only a short time before returning to NYC (a “layover”), I was able to get an airfare that was substantially less than if I had flown round-trip NYC-SFO. As part of my touring strategy, I found an inexpensive hotel in Inglewood just a few minutes from LAX that provided free shuttle to and from the airport, especially useful as my flight the next morning was at 0600. Since I would only be in the hotel a few hours, I didn’t care too much about what it was like. Shortly after my flight’s arrival, I was picked up and brought to a place that, after an unassuming and slightly tacky facade on the street, turned out to be a Fellini-esque carnival complete with a full cast of characters lounging around the swimming pool to a classic rock soundtrack blasting from the snack bar: grizzled backpackers, rock-n-rollers, bikinied beach bunnies, hip-hoppers, ambiguous trannies, straitlaced tourists. All right! I found my way back to my room in a quiet secluded area and was soon asleep. Two hours later, organizer (and sound artist in his own right) Kio Griffith picked me up for the ride to the gallery with a brief detour to a Venezuelan espresso shop that made a potent and delicious brew. Carl and I quickly set up and discussed strategy for the evening. The room was essentially a concrete and glass bunker with a high peaked ceiling - very reflective. Fortunately the room was full by concert time and the acoustics were tamed. Carl opened with a solo and I followed. After a brief intermission we performed duo with Carl sometimes processing my sound. As we were both running DI into the same speakers, there were many places where the source of the sounds remained unclear, mostly a good thing. Later in the set, a rich drone appeared which we played off of. We created pulsing difference tones and ring-modulated noise. Around this time, I also noticed that my Boomerang was not reacting normally to commands. I should have connected that drone sound to my pedal but there was so much going on and the music was happening that I didn’t. At a certain point, Carl turned all of his sounds off and it became clear that the drone was really “hum” and I was the source. Okay - time to power it down. It was really end of the set anyway so all was fine. Some of my friends in the audience loved the drone the best. Great hang and happy to see Paul Diamond, Jim McCauley, and dancers Oguri and Roxanne Steinberg, among others. The hang moved to Koreatown for a killer dinner with pomegranate soju. Back to the hotel (now considerably more tranquil) for one hour of sleep and a return to LAX for a dramatic sunrise takeoff and quick flight back to NYC. There were incredible views of Bryce Canyon and the Rockies. We hit serious wind gusts as we began to descend over Pennsylvania with the last 30 minutes a buffeting white-knuckler until landing.
Mar. 18 - Lecture: Current Strategies in Composition and Performance - SF State University - SF
On hearing of my upcoming California trip, Prof. Dean Suzuki invited me to address his class in Contemporary Music. I’ve known Dean for many years through his writing but we had only met once before in passing in 1993 at KPFA radio in Berkeley. His class was engaged and attentive as I spoke about my approaches to formal composition and gave an overview of my current projects, focussing mostly on the new string quartets and the graphic scores Foliage and Sylva Sylvarum. To begin and end, I performed two short improvisations on guitar and spoke about how the solo playing was related to my composing for ensembles and other musicians. Various scores were projected and I also played excerpts of recordings of the string works Proof of Erdös, The Boreal, and Tranzience as well as excerpts of SyndaKit performed by Orchestra Carbon and Calling performed by Radiosinfonie Frankfurt. Late night hang after then an early trip via BART to SFO for my flight to Los Angeles.