4/26/14: Made To Break’s next stop was in West Columbia, SC, and we rolled into town early enough for a cookout of soft shell crab at Ross Taylor’s place- he’s an incredible chef! Then the band drove over to get the equipment ready for our show at Conundrum. It took a bit of time to get the PA worked out, initially there was a pretty serious hum coming out of one of the speakers, but once we sorted that out we were good to go. For the first time since MTB’s show in Toronto, the group had concert of two sets. This performance was one of the highlights of the tour, and having more than one set gave the group room to really stretch out as a band. In addition, I wove an unaccompanied solo into the program for each member of the ensemble. The room was packed with listeners who gave the band a ton of energy back as we played for them. Because of Ross and Tom Law, who runs Conundrum, this concert opportunity has become a rare case when a door gig can really work on a tour. Both of them work hard to get the word out and to provide circumstances that inspire the players, rather than hinder them with disorganization and indifference. The evening ended for me with The Fall on Ross’ stereo, the unbelievably great album, Hip Priest and Kamerads, before I walked to the motel with Christof, enjoying the warm late evening air before hitting the hay.
4/27/14: There was only a short drive to the next concert location, Asheville NC, so everyone spent the morning and afternoon in West Columbia, having a breakfast of great tacos from a food truck parked by a garage followed by a visit to a record fair taking place in the town’s museum. I got out of there with only one purchase, Lee Perry’s Super Ape, and then we were off to Asheville. Jasper was keeping track of strange sayings and signs during the tour, and I spotted a great one for him to add to his list while driving around West Columbia: “Specialties & Etc.” which promptly went down in his notepad. The group arrived at the venue and quickly took care of setting up and sound-checking (MTB had this process down to a science after a few shows, only using the PA for Christof’s electronics and processing simplified the procedure of getting ready to play; the only time that the other instruments were also in the PA was in New York). Then we grabbed dinner and got down to playing. The turnout was a bit light for the first set, we were dealing with the repercussions of the Moogfest, and it was a Sunday night. The organizer at the Mothlight, Jon Hency, told me he never books groups on the weekend of the Moogfest but he wanted to present Made To Break badly enough to take the gamble to give us a show. Before we started the second set a bunch more people came in, from a more traditional jazz night up the street that had ended. Despite eleven concerts in a row without a day off the quartet sounded completely energized on stage, no evidence of tour wear and tear or sleep deprivation. The band was so on top of the material I felt I could organize any combination of the Cherchez and Barnes material I wanted to experiment with, the group and its music has become completely free, which is what I’ve been seeking since first putting this ensemble together nearly three years ago.
4/28/14: The final concert of the tour took place in Lexington KY, organized by Ross Compton, who has been bringing me to this city for about 15 years, starting with the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet. One of the psychological challenges on a tour is finishing strong, playing with focus and intensity right to the end of the last set, which can be especially hard after an itinerary that includes 4000 miles of driving.
Every trip seems to have its “themes,” and one of recurring topics on this tour was finding carrot cake for Christof Kurzmann, who loves it and can’t get the kind he likes in Europe, “They make it too healthy there. The whole point of carrot cake is that it’s supposed to be unhealthy!” Before leaving Asheville the band got into the van to search for what was declared as, “The World’s Greatest Carrot Cake,” according to a link online that Christof found. Everyone knew that following up this lead was going to be a lose/lose proposition. If we didn’t go, there would always be the question in the back of Christof’s mind, “Did I miss the chance to taste the world’s greatest carrot cake?” And if we did go, there was no question that the carrot cake would not be the best in the world once it was tasted. The GPS dragged us all over Asheville and West Asheville in search of the supposed address for the bakery, finally delivering us to some kind of semi-gated community on the top of a hill, which we circled around and around as we tried to locate the damn cake purveyor. Finally I told Steve Marquette to pull the van over, and I went into a shop to ask about the mysterious High Cliff Bakery. At first the woman at the counter didn’t know what I was talking about, and then she said, “The carrot cake lady? Oh, she’s across the street.” Fantastic, let’s get the cake and get on the road to Lexington! Everyone walked up to bakery, for the first time we all agreed to partake in Christof’s daily ritual of clapping his hands at a seemingly random time in the van and decreeing, “It’s time for carrot cake!” (He’d purchase a piece of carrot cake each morning and keep it in the car until an appropriate time, saying, if the piece was particularly good, “This is a two session slice of carrot cake, it’s perfect which means it’s too much to possibly eat at one time”). After all the build up and search there should have been no surprise- the shop was closed.
The group arrived a bit late to soundcheck, but I decided not to explain why when I phoned Ross that we were behind schedule. The venue was called The Bazaar and this would be the first concert Ross programmed there, with help from the university radio station, who subsidized the concert. It was great to see him again, the last time was a few years back, when Tim Daisy organized a duo tour with me. I wondered how the turnout would be on a Monday night, and during a massive thunderstorm that had hit, but more and more people showed up for the show and by the time Made To Break hit the stage the room was packed. Everyone in the band was there to play, and the group delivered one of its best shows of the tour on the final night. There were again two sets, filled with extremes, from dense walls of free sound to quiet static, from dub grooves to new music, each step coordinated but unpredictable, both for the audience and for the ensemble. The crowd absolutely loved the music, which is always great to feel. It was so gratifying for me to present Made To Break to North American audiences for almost two weeks of concerts, illustrating through strong performances with a great band what I’m driving toward in my music, playing with people who I want to collaborate with and who bring so much of their own music to explore together. The night ended with Steve Marquette showing Jasper and I James Brown’s performance on the Tami show. I told them that the way I think about cue systems came from seeing James Brown in concert and on video (particularly the footage of a concert in Paris that was released as the album, Love Power Peace). I was lucky enough to see him perform twice. Though both occasions were at low points in his career- before his hit single in the early 1980s from Rocky IV, and at the height of his drug phase later that decade- the discipline of his band was extraordinary, and the way Brown picked points to shift the direction of the music, its energy and tempo, was mind-blowing. When I saw him the second time, at the Regal Theater in Boston, he no longer had the dancing intensity he had had earlier in his artistic career- the substance abuse had surely taken its toll- but there was a moment in the show I’ll never forget. The group had performed “It’s A Man’s World” earlier in the set and later they jumped into “Sex Machine” from out of nowhere. Someone in the crowd screamed so loudly that they could be heard above the volume of the band, “JAMES BROWN!!!!” Brown threw up his hand and the ensemble stopped on a dime. “No, no, tonight, please call me, James… Joseph… Brown.” Then he dropped to the ground, and when his knees hit the stage THE ENTIRE BAND hit “It’s A Man’s World” from the middle of the tune.
Conundrum, West Columbia, SC, April 26, 2014, set 1:
Conundrum, West Columbia, SC, April 26, 2014, set 2:
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