The other musicians were selected through discussions with Marek. From Poland came Mikolaj Trzaska on reeds; from the Ukraine, Mark Tokar (bass) and Yuri Yaremchuk (on reeds). I really didn’t know much about these musicians beforehand, though I had heard Mikolaj perform in Krakow and was really impressed. And a couple of years ago, when the Vandermark 5 played in Lvov for the first time, Mark and Yuri performed at the concert, which worked out quite well. The brass section of the group was a killer: Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba), Magnus Broo (trumpet), and Steve Swell (trombone). Per-Åke was on obvious choice, we’d done a lot of work together in the Territory Bands and in the Tentet. Magnus has been one of my favorite trumpet players since I’d first heard him in concert with Atomic several years ago, but we’d only had a few chances to work directly- most significantly in the 4 Corners group- and I wanted to create another opportunity to play with him. Steve has always knocked me out when I’ve heard him perform, playing his heart out in every circumstance, and he had done a lot of work with Marek, all making him a clear choice for the band. So, for the first time on a project of this scale, I was working with a mix of artists that I knew well and those that I hadn’t really dealt with before. Writing for the band was therefore a new challenge- how could I create material that utilized the musicians’ creative possibilities if I didn’t fully know what they were?
The week before the other musicians arrived was pretty incredible. For the first time in my life I was able to work a full week with my focus on nothing but composing. I’d get up in the morning, have a coffee at Alchemia and grab something to eat, then head back to the apartment to work on the charts, coming up with melodies, frameworks, and “road maps;” later, head out for some lunch in the neighborhood; back to work on the scores until the writing had run its course for the day; some dinner and an evening back at Alchemia (I basically lived at the club for nearly two weeks). When I wasn’t composing and arranging the material for Resonance, I was taking in the city and writing notes about my impressions, using these to translate into musical ideas. Quite a lot of generating material took place this way during the nights at Alchemia, sitting at a table with some friends, a vodka, a beer. In the morning, after several espressos, I’d look at my notes from the night before and this would be the starting place for the work of the day.
Somehow, while all this was happening, I was able to head to Warsaw by train on November 7th to meet Laurence Wawrzyniec so we could catch Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg play a duo set as part of a music festival taking place in the city. It would mean losing a day of work on the new compositions, but I had never seen Han and Misha play as just a duo before; there was no way I was going to pass up this opportunity to hear one of the major collaborations in music pared down to its essentials. Making the trip proved to be well worth it. Though I didn’t care for the other music on the bill- “new” Improvised Music that dealt predominantly with slow and quiet textures, which merely came across as overly self-important- the short duo set was spellbinding and brilliant. It’s hard to believe that Bennink and Mengelberg have played together for 40+ years and can still find ways to challenge each other. For all the “newness” purported by the younger musicians on the bill, the music of Han and Misha was far more radical- a hybrid between theater, Satie, turbulence, frustration, and energized sound. The older artists are true improvising masters and proved it from the first moment they walked on stage. Afterwards, everything else on the program felt like artifice. When Laurence and I left the concert hall we headed to a fantastic meal at his friend Marcin’s place, staying up late listening to music. For the first time I heard some of the Vandermark 5’s “Four Sides To The Story” lp set played on a turntable. I don’t usually enjoy listening to my own music- after all the work that goes into creating an album and the repeated close listening necessary to select, mix, and master the material, I’d rather move on to something, anything, new- but I have to admit that the cut Marcin played (“Vehicle”) did sound good. Maybe it was due to his generous hospitality that evening. Aside from hearing Han and Misha, perhaps the most important event that night was when Marcin asked me to pick a copy of a limited edition album he had released of Japanese improvisers. I selected one that had the number 44 written on it.
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