05/16/14: The usual “day before tour” rush, with the added work of having to review the Side A master, completing the IAC and DCASE grant work submissions, and rehearsing with Audio One. Before practicing I’d organized a photo shoot for the ensemble with Stephanie Bassos, figuring that by mid May the weather in Chicago would permit good outdoor options and light for a group photo- nah, it was still freezing cold and gray, winter refusing to let go of the city, so everyone was out in their winter coats trying to look glad to be outside… Stephanie made the photo shoot work though, and was able to get some great images of the band; not easy to do when there are 10 musicians involved…
Rather than run complete versions of each of the pieces with the group, I decided to isolate details that weren’t successful at the gig the night before, either in the parts or in the conception, and discuss and rehearse these- at some point reviewing material from top to bottom becomes numbing, it becomes necessary to believe that the aesthetic perspective of the music is going to connect with the players’ memories. Approaching the rehearsal this way allowed the time to discuss the conceptual/harmonic approach to the start of Josh Berman’s solo on “Vivre Sa Vie,” which to my ears sounded at cross purposes during the show at Elastic. This is where the balance between specific directions from the composer and creative freedom for the improvisor can become complicated- I want the pieces to succeed musically but I don’t want the player(s) to feel locked down because of a hyper-specific conception. As is often the case, the solution that provided the most freedom was the simplest: Josh’s solo would start with just bass and drums supporting him, and Jason Adasiewicz would join on the vibraphone after Josh had established the improvisational direction that he wanted to take his solo.
05/17/14: I got a cab to the airport with Tim Daisy at 6:30am and flew with the musicians from Audio One to Montreal, to then be driven another 2 hours to Victoriaville, so the band could perform at the 30th anniversary of FIMAV. My ability to sleep anywhere at anytime paid off after a night of no sleep- the double two hour stretches on the plane and in the van saved me. As I drank a cup of coffee with some lunch in the hotel lobby George Lewis arrived. He’s always unbelievably gracious and said hello briefly before heading to his room to “get to work;” which just made me feel like I should head to my room and get to work myself.
The band’s soundcheck went surprisingly well. It was the first time we used a full PA/monitor set up for a performance, which was necessary because the venue was half a hockey rink in size. The festival crew was extremely helpful and efficient- we finished well before our time limit was over and then went to dinner where one of the waitresses at the restaurant looked impossibly similar to the actress Anna Karina (a nice coincidence because the group was performing the piece, “Vivre Sa Vie,” that night, which is dedicated to her). I did a talk-through of the arrangements with the band before hitting the stage (each piece has dozens of elements to contend with, with no standard format to follow from piece to piece, every composition has its own platform of structural and improvisational requirements to remember). For the concert, Audio One performed all the current original pieces in the book, included on the album, An International Report: Encyclopedia of a Horse, Two Way Street, Atlas of Madness, Vivre Sa Vie, and The Floor. Those recordings are from the band’s performances at the Green Mill in Chicago on February 1st, and the album is about 60 minutes long. The music opened up so much at this gig that the concert was and hour and twenty minutes; this meant that, despite a standing ovation, we had to eliminate the planned encore of the Art Ensemble’s, “Theme De Yoyo,” due to time constraints. The expansiveness of the improvising was the greatest development by the group at this concert, the players were taking more chances and exploring the music with more depth, taking risks. But I definitely realized by the end of the performance that the only way to take the music as far as I’d like to is to have more rehearsals. As it is, the ensemble has barely enough time to review the parts before a show; to go further in depth means further amounts of time to work together on the material. With Jeb Bishop and Jen Paulson living outside of Chicago this is going to be difficult, and it may mean doing “workshops” with whoever is available to work on the pieces at the time to develop them. This is less than ideal of course, but it may be the only option, and with a stretch of August concerts coming up where I want to perform new compositions I’ve got to come up with a workable solution to overcoming the complexity I want to explore compositionally and improvisationally, by making it organic for the musicians.
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