3 June 2012

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Mats Gustafsson joined the music in Italy with the Ex & Brass Unbound on our 2nd concert, in Mortegliano, on June 1st at Festintenda, an outdoor music festival held under something like a circus tent. He was completely exhausted, having left Nickelsdorf, Austria very, very early to catch a morning flight from Vienna to meet us. In Nickelsdorf he was dj’ing at the “Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy: Hommage à Sun Ra” festival, where concerts of Ra material took place at sunset and sunrise, his albums played in between. Before the Ex & Brass show we had an extraordinary meal of food grown on nearby farms, the most flavorful strawberries I’ve tasted in my life- if there is an unbeatable argument against genetically engineered food it’s what you can still find in Italy (the next day the band stopped in Moderna on its way to Bologna to buy parmesan damaged in the earthquakes that rocked the region before it was thrown away; enroute we found a small dairy farm where they made their own cheese- again, incredible to taste food that wasn’t “improved” by hormones or mass produced standardization). The Festintenda concert went well. After loading out late at night we arrived at an old truck stop style “hotel” to sleep. Terrie Hessels and I shared room which, we were convinced, had been closed shut for months- the air was stale and oxygen-less. Terrie almost destroyed his bed by merely lying down in it, and the shower was positioned directly over the toilet, helpful if you wanted take a dump and wash your hair at the same time, but otherwise pretty useless and unpleasant.

The next morning, before the group left in the van and after the worst “espresso” I’ve ever tasted in Italy, I noticed a yellowed photo of a beautiful woman on the wall. I had to look twice after I realized it was the image of the woman working at the bar, from many years earlier, the look of joy and an open future on her face. Whatever life she had found instead had erased this, leaving another set of features, weary and resigned well beyond her middle age. After the afternoon of Italian cheese, the band arrived in Bologna to play in the old part of the city, at the Piazza Verdi. Mats was now awake, the horn section on top of the charts, the full ensemble in fine form, delivering the best show of the trip to thousands of people listening and cheering in the square. As we made our way to Rome for the final performance of the tour, I listened to some recordings by Frank Wright, “Last Polka In Nancy?” and “Center Of The World,” and I realized how much of a connection there is between Wright and Ab Baars’ playing on tenor. Frequently people pick up on his relationship to Von Freeman’s sound on the instrument, but now I definitely hear Wright there too and wonder why I never recognized this before. Beautiful stuff! For me, our Rome show on June 3rd was a bit of a letdown, certainly after the achievement in Bologna. The band delivered a strong performance but I felt little connection with the audience, and I missed my friends from ZU- Jacapo Battaglia, Luca Mai, Massimo Pupilo. Too much had changed since my last visit to the city.

The Ex & Brass Unbound perform in Mortegliano: