“The painters to whom the term “Abstract Expressionist” was applied, in 1946, by The New Yorker art critic Robert Coates, did not represent a movement or a school. They ranged in style and attitude from Willem de Kooning, whose work was rarely altogether abstract, to Barnett Newman, who was never an expressionist. What drew them together was a common experience, an aesthetic breakthrough in middle life that led to the forging of a radical new style.”
– Calvin Tomkins
from “Off The Wall, A Portrait Of Robert Rauschenberg” (New York: Picador, 2005), pg. 32.†
Chicago Tentet, May 2009
There are some things a person just knows. When you’ve spent the majority of the last 10 years on the road, you know that if the itinerary for a tour arrives the day before you fly overseas it’s a very, very bad sign. And this proved to be true when on Tuesday, May 19th, I received the final performance plans for the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet tour in Europe, 24 hours before heading to O’Hare airport. The information had been due 2 months earlier, but never arrived. Now I found that in the 10 day travel period, 7 concerts were cut back to 6, and 2 of these concerts had been shifted to new locations/dates, one had in fact been moved to a entirely different country. Yes, a very, very bad sign. Particularly when the logistics of putting together a tour with 11 musicians (Yes, “Tentet” is now a bit of a misnomer, but who is going to argue with the return of Jeb Bishop to the band? To keep the numbers right, should Johannes Bauer have been asked to go on vacation? Perhaps I could have been fired but still no pink slip. So we stick to the fact that the Tentet can add up to 11.) is a nightmare on every front, and that plans to book concerts with European presenters usually need to take place a year in advance. So, again, receiving the final itinerary the day before stepping on a plane to start a tour like this is a very, very bad sign.
I celebrated the pending catastrophe by going to see the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago with Ellen right after I got the final information in my email in-box. As I walked into the spectacular new building I completely forgot about the peril ahead. Instead I took in all the changes and additions to the permanent collection of art now on display at the A.I.C.: use of natural light on the 3rd floor, flow of their 20th century European collection, all the Matisse; then the positioning of some of my favorite American painters on the 2nd floor, space afforded to large works by De Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, Kline; and even though the new wing was completely packed (entrance was free for the entire opening week courtesy of Target) the flow of visitors moved easily, there was always room to view specific works in near peace. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for the photography (even when I worked as a lackey at the museum in the early 1990’s, this was always one of the outstanding departments A.I.C.) or architecture, but there was a chance to look at the Cy Twombly show, “The Natural World,”- all work starting in 2000, much of which felt like a departure from the somewhat “fragile” character of his earlier work, here large swashes of color covered broad imagery.
On the morning of Wednesday, the 20th of May, it was necessary to face the cold fact that I was heading to Europe to play concerts that, in some cases, would hardly be advertised. There’s a limit to what can be done for publicity by posting gig changes on a website and myspace page… Somehow I crammed my A clarinet into my suitcase (would be the first tour I used it), along with Tentet cds, my now standardized system of clothes (everything but concert shirts and pants, black and simple to wash in a sink), and the other necessary odds and ends. Then I grabbed my tenor and book/computer bag, and was off to the airport with Jeb Bishop. Typical beautiful flight, with fantastic food and brilliant films (who can turn away from the cinematic merits of “Transporter 3” when it’s screened the size of a postcard on the back of a seat jammed 6 inches in front of your face?). This time my airline experience was further enriched by being stuck next to a passenger who felt the need to get up every 45 minutes for the entire flight. Oh, I felt fresh when we arrived in Vienna.
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