Reed Trio : Last Train to the First Station



Released by Reed Trio [view band]
Record Label 1KG
Year released 2011
Release format CD
The recording history of the Reed Trio is rather unusual, even when considering the fact that every recording session is rather unusual for one reason or another.  As I remember it, the first time the group tried to make an album was during November 2008, in a Gdansk rehearsal space that looked something like a used furniture warehouse.  This was fine, I’ve recorded in all sorts of rooms and some of the best sessions happen in unconventional environments.  Miko?aj Trzaska, Wac?aw Zimpel, and I set up our instruments among the overturned chairs and tables and waited for the “engineer” to set up the microphones for the session.  When he was finally ready the trio played and recorded a bit, then went to check the basic sounds.  This turned out to be impossible- the engineer had no way to listen to playbacks.  When I asked him about the logic of this, he gestured to the computer screen and said, “Look there- you can see that a file has been made.”  He was right, there were three colored patterns moving along his computer screen.  I asked him how we were supposed to know what those patterns sounded like.  “It’s okay.  Definitely.”  I assured him that it was definitely not okay, that we needed to hear what was recording onto the hard drive.  There was an awkward silence as he glared at me.  Then a long wait as he re-organized his computer setup so that we could get some kind of playback.  His version of a useable playback was to only be able to listen to one track at a time, no chance to hear all three of us together.  It seemed that was as good as it was going to get, so Miko?aj, Wac?aw, and I went to work.  And, as I remember it, we made a very, very good album.Months later it came time to select the pieces and sequence them for a recording to be released on “Laurence” M?kinia’s label.  But it turned out that there was a problem- throughout the entire session there was a low frequency hum, as if the music was recorded inside an airplane circling over Gdansk.  Okay, I told Laurence, this can be fixed.  Bob Weston, who I work with in Chicago, has some amazing software that could eliminate this static hum and leave the positive qualities of the recording intact.  Good.  So I waited for the files to be sent.  And waited.  And then the realization set in- there was another problem I’d yet to hear about.  When I inquired, it turned out that the engineer’s hard drive had crashed, without being backed up, and the entire session was lost.

But Miko?aj, Wac?aw, and I enjoyed the music were making too much to let this blow affect the idea of us continuing to work together.  And in April of 2010 we reconvened in Gdansk to play and record a second time.  I had brought my baritone with me to Europe on this occasion.  The tour had started with my duo with Paal Nilssen-Love in Bucharest.  Paal had pushed me to bring the baritone and tenor saxes, and the Bb clarinet, for the trip.  I agreed that it was a good idea.  In addition, I was to play two concerts with the Ex & Brass Unbound in between the tour with Paal and the work with the Reed Trio, and that band needed me to play the baritone as well.  The problem was not just dealing with the costs of traveling with the instrument, but also protecting it on the planes.  I had a new case built for the horn that brought the total weight below 20 kilograms, the new standard limit for the weight of a single bag, and I packed my things and went to Romania.

At first all went well.  I had to fix a few things on the bari when I got to Bucharest, even with the new case the damn airline figured out a way to screw it up.  But the tour with Paal went great, the concerts with the Ex were a blast, and I arrived in Gdansk happy and ready to play with Miko?aj and Wac?aw for a week.  The first concert took place at Nowa Synagoga in Gdansk and it was beautiful.  One interesting phenomena of Improvised Music is that even when there are huge gaps in time  between meetings (the Reed Trio had last performed a year and a half before), if the rapport is genuine, the communication picks up almost where it last left off.  Granted, in the interim Miko?aj, Wac?aw, and I had worked together in the Resonace Ensemble during our tour in the autumn of 2009, and had seen and heard each other in different contexts while on tours between the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2010; in that year and a half our “conversation” continued in different contexts, and added to the current discourse for our trio.

The concert at Nowa Synagoga was thankfully well recorded.  It is the music contained on this cd, and it speaks for itself.  The next day the three of us went to the Gdansk radio and recorded a studio session that yielded another collection of solos, duos, and trios.  This material will hopefully be released by “Laurence” M?kinia’s label in the near future, as an lp.  Until then, the music on this album represents the final recordings I made with the baritone sax heard here.  The final twist in the process of completing the first Reed Trio album took place on April 29th, the day that the group traveled to Warsaw from Gdansk to perform at the Cafe Kulturalna- the instrument was stolen from a 1st class Polish train car.  I had made the mistake of placing the large case on its own in the compartment next to the one the band was traveling in.  We had too much luggage and too many horns for the baritone to fit with us, and thinking it was too big for someone to be foolish enough to steal, I put it nearby, as I had done before dozens and dozens of times.  On this trip my luck ran out.

A strange, disheveled man with a small dog in his arms asked us for some money at one of the stops made enroute to Warsaw.  He was promptly kicked off the train by the conductor.  But first he apparently saw my baritone trunk and decided that he needed it.  How he carried it off the train, along with his dog, without being seen I’ll never know.  About 20 minutes later Miko?aj noticed that the baritone was gone.  He and Ola Trzaska immediately began contacting friends and authorities to try and locate the thief and the instrument.  Within 24 hours the story was in the national newspaper, on national radio, and all over the internet; the response from the Polish community to try and help was astounding.  In a few days the thief was identified as a man nicknamed, “Snake” (actually true).  The baritone was last seen in its trunk in Torun, with Snake sleeping soundly on top of it, like it was a bed.

Though it’s frustrating and unfortunate that the instrument was stolen, I thankfully had insurance.  My plan had been to sell the horn when I returned to Chicago after the Reed Trio tour in order to purchase Werner Ludi’s old instrument, the most beautiful baritone I’ve ever played, from Peter Brötzmann.  The insurance money covered that cost, so in the end I ironically ended up with the instrument I had been dreaming of.  But getting it from Brötzmann and back to the United States is another entire story onto itself…

Ken Vandermark, Krakow, November 29, 2010.