|Released by Resonance Ensemble [view band]
Record Label Not Two
Year released 2012
Release format CD
|In mid December of 2004, for some completely unknown reason, a complimentary issue of Time Magazine showed up in my mailbox. I hate the periodical, never read it except when I’m at the dentist, so I have no idea why it arrived. On the front cover was George W. Bush’s face, he had been selected as “Person of the Year” by the magazine’s editors after his reelection as president. Just one more reason to hate the publication. As I flipped through the pages with masochistic curiosity while drinking my morning coffee, I came across the following, an excerpt from “Late Ripeness,” written by Czeslaw Milosz, a poet I had never heard of:
“Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
One after another my former lives were departing,
And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
His words have stuck with me. I read them at a time when I was starting to rethink the aesthetics of my music and here were phrases that gave me some hope that, even if it took until I was ninety, I might find my way. I cut out the excerpt and taped it to my refrigerator, where it stayed for years. The rest of the copy of Time was immediately tossed into the trash.
Shortly after I discovered this poem, I was playing a concert in Krakow at a club called Alchemia. A young man came up to me, said hello, quietly thanked me for the music, and handed me a book- it was a collection of poetry by Czeslaw Milosz. This was Laurence Mąkinia, and he became one of the key figures in Poland for me, as an organizer and label owner. The synchronicity of his gift on our first meeting is consistent with many other experiences I’ve had in that country, since Marek Winiarski first invited the Vandermark 5 to perform a five day residency at Alchemia in 2004. Random encounters, chance situations, concerts, recordings… In Poland it seems like one incident leads to another, weaving together to create a fabric of experience that is unlike any other I’ve found in the world.
What Country Is This?, like the Resonance Ensemble albums before it, makes an attempt to somehow translate my time in Poland into a set of compositions, to be performed and interpreted by a collection of great improvisers who have been working together since 2007. This was the first recording by the group made in the United States (the other documents for the Not Two label were made in Poland and the Ukraine), and it was end result of a music festival held in Chicago and Milwaukee during March of 2011 to celebrate the creative intersections between Poland and these two cities. That week was intense with work, everyone in the band rehearsing each day, playing a concert each night. Bassist Devin Hoff joined the ensemble for the first time- the United States government refused to give original member, Mark Tokar, a visa to enter the country from the Ukraine, despite the fact that a Polish arts foundation was paying all the travel costs and fees for him, Mikolaj Trzaska, and Waclaw Zimpel. None of them were being paid with U.S. funds.
The efforts of the musicians paid off. So many people turned up for the final concert of the festival, a performance by the Resonance Ensemble at the Chicago Cultural Center on March 6th, it was necessary to open every door of the Claudia Cassidy Theater because the hallways leading up to it were packed with hundreds of people who wanted to hear the music. The next day the three selections on this cd were all captured in first takes; it was one of the most focused recordings sessions I’ve ever been involved with. The opening piece, “Fabric Monument,” is for Czeslaw Milosz. “Acoustic Fence” is dedicated to the first Polish artist who had a profound impact on me, and who still does, composer Witold Lutosławski. The last composition was written in memory of Fred Anderson, a musician who truly mastered the lucidity Milosz describes in the poem I read seven years ago.
Between mid August and mid December of 2011, I was home for one week. Otherwise I was on tour in Europe, playing mostly one nighters with a large variety of projects. The title of this album refers in part to the experience of waking up each day in another part of the world far away from home. But it also refers to the experience faced by Mark Tokar and the Resonance Ensemble when the U.S. government refused to allow him to cross the border to play music for citizens of this country. During the stretch of time that I was on the road throughout the summer, fall, and winter, I read a collection of writing and lectures by the painter Philip Guston. In it was a passage of Guston’s that exactly expressed my feeling of living in the United States since the election of George W. Bush:
“… I was reading an article last night by Paul Goodman and it was about the war, his opposition to the war, and one phrase of his stuck in my mind. He said that he sometimes felt as if he was living in his country but his country had been occupied by a foreign power. I don’t know why that stuck in my mind, but I feel that way politically speaking.”(2)
Guston said that in 1974, but the words hit with me with the same power of recognition as the poem by Czeslaw Milosz. The artists that I know- whether they’re musicians, writers, filmmakers, photographers, dancers, actors, or painters- they’re all in a search to express something specific about our time with their work. They struggle to find a clear way to communicate their ideas to a world that seems to make less and less sense politically, whatever country they’re from. And they constantly remind me to keep pressing ahead, setting an example with their positive creativity during an era that is so often negative.
-Ken Vandermark, Chicago, January 19, 2012.