“[There was a] shift from aesthetics to ethics; the picture was no longer supposed to be Beautiful, but True- an accurate representation or equivalence of the artist’s interior sensation and experience. If this meant that a painting had to look vulgar, battered, and clumsy- so much the better.”
– Thomas B. Hess
Willem de Kooning, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1968.†
First things first- apologies to the organizers in Mainz for not acknowledging all their help and support (over the years) while describing a run in with a venue manager over a pair of scissors during their festival last fall. FME also had a great time in Mainz, playing and hanging out, and I should have relayed that information too. When I saw them in Russelsheim on April 28th for the Powerhouse Sound performance at the Jazz In Progress festival I was reminded of this. So a very belated thanks sent their way.
START AND STOP
I arrived in Russelsheim with John Herndon, Nate McBride, and Jeff Parker on April 27th to begin a three week tour of Europe with Powerhouse Sound. The first show, which took place on the following night, was difficult- tricky sound on stage, jet lag, general disorientation, complex tunes… Sometimes the start is the hardest part, and in retrospect this proved to be true for our tour. The performance was recorded by the German radio, so the listeners there will be presented with some pretty raw music when it’s broadcast. One positive experience at the gig came from a writer who had really enjoyed the music and pointed out something that, in my memory anyway, had not been mentioned before- the importance of the individual drummers to each one of my bands. He had seen The Vandermark 5 with Tim Daisy and heard how he was perfect for that unit, and now with Powerhouse he saw how essential John was for the creative success of this particular group. He is right, and perhaps more than with any other instrumentalist, the drummer can define a band.
Directly after Russelsheim we travelled to Vienna for some time off before the tour actually kicked into high gear, so much for getting a rhythm going from the outset. Time was spent walking through the city (except for Nate, who also rented a bicycle and bought a sore ass in the process), hitting some museums with Jeff and John, trying to eat without spending too much money, and working on various projects that are seemingly never finished. We went to hear some of the gig with Dave Leibman and Ellery Eskelin’s quartet at Porgy & Bess, and said a quick hello to them and Jim Black after the concert. On May 2nd we were back in the club, this time to perform, and this proved to be a much stronger concert than our first. There was a good and listening crowd, most of whom seemed to really enjoy the music. Powerhouse is the loudest group I’ve ever worked with, and even though I wrote the music it is still sometimes a shock when the band’s energy is released. If we control the volume and direct the motion of the music forward, the strength of the ensemble’s design really comes into play. In Vienna we handled this better than at the gig in Germany. Many friends were around for the show which always makes walking off stage feel a little less isolated. Of course after the gig we found the best bar during our stay, always good to remember to get advice about what to do and where to go from people who actually live there! During the day on the 3rd of May, before heading to Bielefeld on an overnight train, Nate and I visited our friend Guenter who had been in a bad motorcycle accident. Luckily, he escaped with “only” broken legs. He told us that in the moment of the accident he knew that it was going to be very, very bad, and the his last thought before impact was, “If I survive this, I’m definitely going to quit smoking.” He did, and did, and looked surprisingly good despite the bleak hospital conditions.
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