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Bruce Lee Gallanter's Diary of the December 2006 DMG Festival at The Stone!
THE DOWNTOWN MUSIC GALLERY DECEMBER INTERNATIONAL/INVITATIONAL MUSIC, MAGIC & MYSTERY FESTIVAL FINALLY CONCLUDES WITH A BIG BANG!
What a long, strange and wonderful month itÕs been! After 25 nights, 50 sets of music featuring 70 plus musicians from around the world, the DMG Festival of Music, Mystery and Madness drew to a close on Saturday, December 30 with a John Zorn all-star year-end improv night at The Stone. The Stone remains NYC's finest performance spot for serious music fans with nothing to distract them, just the music itself. Completely run and mostly curated by the musicians themselves, there are very few places like The Stone in existence.
When John Zorn asked Manny Maris and myself to curate The Stone more than a year ago, little did we know what we were getting into. All we knew was to take this assignment seriously and hopefully organize a month of amazing performances from musicians we love and respect from around the world. We drew up a wish list of musicians that were/are dear to us and then contacted our heroes/friends with our plans. We knew the only way to make this dream come true was to offer many of these musicians from far off places a DMG transportation & accommodations grant to help them make their way to our fair city. We were pleased that most of the players that we invited were enthused to be a part of our month-long celebration. Throughout the month, many folks have told us that our line-up is an incredible one and I continue to smile thinking about how many extraordinary sets there were. And each & every set was captured on audio, video and in photos by a handful of our good friends. There are pictures taken by Scott Friedlander, who was also one of our two recording engineers, which will be found down below.
You can also view more pictures of our fest from Peter Gannushkin at http://www.downtownmusic.net and by John Rogers at http://www.flickr.com/photos/crayonsemble/
Our festival was dedicated to three British musicians who passed away during the past year, Derek Bailey, Elton Dean and Pip Pyle. You will notice pictures of all three of these men hanging on the wall in the center of the stage area in many of the photos of these gigs. Derek Bailey passed away a year today as I write these words and he was an inspiration to many of the musicians who played here this month as well as many of the listeners who attended the fest. Elton Dean, played saxello & alto sax with the classic quartet version of Soft Machine and was another unique voice and an inspiration to many. Few of us will forget the night that Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper & Dennis Gonzalez played at Bowery Poetry Club during the big blackout, with no electricity and just a couple of flashlights for illumination. Another DMG sponsored event, like the incredible Hatfield & the North reunion show in June of 2006 also at BPC. It was Canterbury legends HatfieldÕs first ever gig in NYC and Pip Pyle played great drums as well as being the master of ceremonies. Both his and EltonÕs death shocked many of us
Beginning our fest with the Deep Joy Trio (Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers & Tony Levin), was a blessing as they are without a doubt some of the finest avant/jazz players to emerge from the UK. They played with immense creativity, resourcefulness and power for four nights this month adding some of downtown's best players to their ranks. Paul Dunmall was given Elton Dean's saxello by Elton's wife to carry on his spirit and he certainly did so for all who showed up during the four nights that he played at The Stone. Contrabass master, Paul Rogers, the only musician here who actually played with Derek, Elton and Pip, couldn't afford to bring his custom-made 7-string bass, due to the gorillas who work security at airports, so we decided to rent him a nice bass to work with. This wasn't a problem, except for the night of the first concert, when our rental bass started to buzz due to the heavy humidity. We had to trade it back with the folks at David Gage Rentals at the last minute, which was cutting it rather close but it up just fine. Paul Rogers, even with his rental bass, proved to be one the finest acoustic bassists many of us have ever heard and seen. Another revelation is the legendary British jazz drummer, Tony Levin, who is in his sixties and had never before played in the US. His playing was inspired, diverse and phenomenal throughout. He ranks amongst the best modern jazz drummers, reminding me of two other Tony's at times, Tony Williams & Tony Oxley.
The Deep Joy Trio opened the first night by themselves and showed how and why they Keith Tippett has collaborated with them for a the past decade and why they are considered legends by those in the know. Saturday, December was MannyÕs 50th birthday, so we celebrated here at the DMG store with champagne and cake and had a very special performance by Matt Welch on bagpipes and assorted reeds and Paul Dunmall saxello & tenor sax. The store was filled for the auspicious occasional and the duo were outstanding. Later at that night at The Stone, the Deep Joy Trio was augmented by two local giants, It was another packed house at The Stone, we knew something special was about to occur. Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax and Ray Anderson on trombone. Both of these men are veteran musicians who have led many bands and collaborated with many other greats. At times Ray would inject his infectious hard swinging bluster, as well as take things out when the need arises. As Rogers and Levin moved effortlessly between freer and more swinging sections, both saxes and trombone would navigate the rapids with serious aplomb. There were a number of incredible solos as well as serious free-spirited ensemble explosions. One highlight was an massive duo with Ellery and Tony Levin that just too much! The following night Messrs Dunmall, Rogers & Levin were joined by two more local heroes: Tony Malaby on tenor sax and Kevin Norton on vibes. Once again the grand Deep joy Trio soared, glided, erupted, weaved and organically moved in waves and currents. IÕve heard Tony Malaby in a variety of different situations, but here the Trio pushed him even further out and into some intense situations. Kevin Norton has worked and tour with Dunmall and Rogers in the past and here got a good chance to weave his intricate vibes colors, shapes and shades into varied territories. It was another astonishing night and it will be difficult to choose one set over an other as each was magnificent in its own way.
I was pleased to invite Steve Beresford, one of the most charming and illuminating of all British musicians. Since DMG's mail-order madman, Mikey Jones, has been working on a book about Beresford, this was an easy choice. It was fun to speak with Steve at length about his history and views of the British scene at the store. On his old disc, 'Signals for Tea Ō(Avant), he was accompanied by Masada and he even had them singing back-up vocals. Since the Masada members were too busy to recreate this music a decade later, I put together a quartet with the same instrumentation. It couldn't have turned out better since I chose Ned Rothenberg, Steve Bernstein, Shanir Blumenkranz & Harris Eisentstadt. Sounds like a firm of Jewish lawyers or doctors. During the rehearsal, the group joked about being called "Steve & the Hebes". At the end of the first set I said, "Steve & the Hebes will return for a second set at 10pm." Anyway, it was an inside joke that even the band-members winced at. Sorry about that. It was the first time that most of this material has been done live and it was a blast. It was often hilarious lyrically and both Bernstein and Ned got a chance to take a few fine solos. Steve got to play another gig the next night with Marc Ribot, Shelley Hirsch & Aki Onda, which I heard was a pretty great. Mikey got a chance to interview Beresford at length later that week, so it certainly was a most fortuitous week for Mr. Beresford.
Sadly, Lol Coxhill had to cancel at the last minute due to his ill health. Lol is an old friend of mine, we first hung out in England in December of '75 when I did a semester there. He called me out of the blue (thanks to Beresford) nearly a decade ago and told me that he had won a free trip to NY from a contest when he bought a new refrigerator. I kid you not. He asked how many gigs I could gig him in one week & did my best. He opened for Carbon at the old Knit and played a duo with Elliott Sharp. He also played set on WFMU, which appeared on one of their compilations and did a lovely solo set at the old DMG store. Lol felt terrible about not being able to come to NY, but I told him that his health comes first. I also told him that when he is feeling better, I would help him to come NY to play. Many folks were saddened by this as well, but I am determined to get him here if I can. Lol was supposed to do a duo set with Borah Bergman that night, so I ended up giving Borah that night. Oy vey!
Although Borah Bergman is one our greatest pianists, he certainly is a most cantankerous fellow to deal with. He played solo on the first set that night which was the complete opposite of what he is most often known for and did a set inspired by Morton Feldman, the godfather of minimalism. Although the themes were taken from Cantorial chants, Borah stripped them down to the barest of essentials. There was no microphone on the piano, so we had to listen closely and turn our pulse-meters/expectations off. Borah loves to talk and of course complained about not being asked to play at The Stone since it opened in April of 2005. It is totally up to each curator to choose whomever they feel is important to be a part of their month. For the second set, the tables were turned again as Borah played in a trio with Sabir Mateen on reeds and Dee Pop on drums. It was more of a free-form battle with Sabir mostly wailing away. My mistake was not miking the piano for this set, since then the balance would have been better. Either way there was still some strong fireworks between the three and especially between Borah and Dee, who seem to have built up a special musical connection. One of our recording engineers, Robert O'Hare, did record the sets with separate mics on each instrument or amp, so we will just have to listen to his recordings for a better idea of what could've been. Borah did thank me for giving him an opportunity to play and called me a good guy. You are most welcome.
On the next night (12/7/06) we had two sets from Lucian Ban, a trio & a quartet with legendary drummer Barry Altschul and the great contrabassist Hill Greene. Masada String Trio violin wiz & new ECM leader, Mark Feldman, was added on the second set. Lucian Ban has become a friend of Manny & mine over the past few years and he another of those incredible under-recognized pianists who continue to haunt the clubes in NY & Brooklyn. Check out his three CIMP discs or his two on Jazzaway with Alex Harding on bari sax. His trio set was a fascinating one that slowly moved through sections in which the piano would play one theme and then twist it inside out and vary the dynamics as it shifts through a variety of organic sections. Barry Altschul is a true master of the drums, his career stretching back to the mid-sixties when he played with Paul Bley, Chick Corea, Anthony Braxton & Sam Rivers. He is always in control of the rhythmic flow from section to section. Both Lucian's writing and playing were in fine form throughout both sets. Mark Feldman added even more fireworks on the second set, playing Lucian's challenging music with ease and playing those solos that continue to astonish us all. That amazing second set will hopefully be one of the ones that we release.
Texas trumpet titan, Dennis Gonzalez & Yells at Eels, opened and stormed our second weekend with special guests, Ken Filiano on double-bass & Patrick Holmes on clarinet. Yells at Eels features Dennis' two young sons who are formidable players on their own, Aaron on bass and Stefan on drums. Yells at Eels never cease to amaze as Dennis consistently composes difficult music for the trio and the trio always shapes the music in their own diverse and spirited way. The personnel and sound changed on each piece, with each player shining during different solo sections. Turns out that Patrick Holmes is a customer that I recognize from the store and he played some fine clarinet. For the second set, the group was joined by a couple of other honored guests, Matt Lavelle on trumpet and Mark Taylor on mellophone. Aaron and Stefan's youthful enthusiasm and spirit always add a great deal of sparks as they draw for a variety of sources, progressive, punk and the wide world of jazz history.
For Saturday, December 9th, we were blessed with the triumphant return of the Deep Joy Trio, Dunmall/Rogers/Levin collaborating with Dennis Gonzalez. I helped engineer things so that The DJ Trio could tour during the week after they played here for three days last weekend. They played three great gigs during the week, from what I was told, in Buffalo, Philly and Baltimore. Putting them together with Dennis Gonzalez was a good choice since all four musicians were eager to work together and sounded wonderful together. Instead of the trio pushing hard and wailing throughout, they often laid back and took a more restrained yet no less creative approach. All four strong players took their time and got a chance to stretch out and play layers on inter-connected lines together. There is a good reason why the Trio is called Deep Joy, since they look as if they are truly enjoying themselves and this positive spirit is infectious. Check out some of Scott Friedlander's pix from these sets and you will see what I mean. Another idea for a future DMG/ARC release would be Deep Joy Trio + Guests box-set with 4 - 8 sets & a bonus DVD or two. Each of these sets was great in its own ways, so we will just have select what we can afford to release.
Another unexpectedly wonderful night was Sunday, December 10th with an extended version of Radio I-Ching with William Parker (acoustic bass) & Perry Robinson (clarinet) on the first set and Daniel Carter on the second set. Radio I-Ching is Andy Haas (soprano sax w/ electronics), Don Fiorino on guitar, lotar & lap steel and Dee Pop on drums. Radio I-Ching has become one of downtown's best unkept secrets over the past year. They cover an odd selection of traditional songs, marches, protest tunes and voodoo hymns. They breathe new life into songs like "Walk on Guilded Splinters", "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?", "Let My People Go" and "Song for Che". They often turn these tunes inside-out, so that it is difficult to tell what they are until the haze fades away. Nothing else sounds like Andy's ghost-like sax with electronics or Don's strange stringed things. They even got William Parker to play some great surf-grooves on his contrabass and let the unstoppable Perry Robinson probe the depths with his phenomenal clarinet. For the second set William and Perry split and were amply replaced by the ubiquitous Daniel Carter. Daniel pushed that set out even further while still retaining the Radio I-Ching magic of twisting those traditional tunes into different shapes. The loud enthusiasm of the audience added a special vibration that was hard to deny.
It made sense at this point why the Stone is closed on Mondays, as six days in a row of curated gigs is a bit too much. I was also glad that my fiance was smart enough to not come for the entire month and have to deal with all of the problems and stress of trying to make every gig work, as well as picking folks up at the airport and booking hotel rooms for a dozen or so visiting musicians. Nothing ever runs smoothly either, but in the end when we sat down to listen to each set, the magic would often appear and make it all worthwhile
Another gig that took a great deal of work was the CD release night of the Selwyn Lissack Quartet. DMG has been talking about releasing this historic reissue by Selwyn for the past couple of years and we finally got copies in a week before this show. 'Friendship - Next of Kin' was first released in 1969 by the French label, Goodie and featured a stellar cast of South African & an American musician based in London at the time: Mongezi Feza, Mike Osborne, Harry Miller & Ken Terroade. Selwyn Lissack, who is also a known for his work as a sculptor and holographic pioneer, moved to New York in 1970 and soon gave up drumming to concentrate on his artwork. He has pretty much lived in the US ever since and currently resides in Arizona. Selwyn brought along a fine tenor player named Brice Winston, formerly from New Orleans and also now staying in Tucson. I put together a quartet with Roy Campbell and William Parker and gave them copies of Selwyn's old gem and they were definitely game. Selwyn had also sent me a burned copy of another rare album by Ric Colbeck, that Sel had written for and played on from that same era. He had hoped that I could get copies to Roy & William, so they would have an idea of what sort of pieces Selwyn wanted to play. Sel also wanted me to rent him V-Drums to play, which were a pain in the ass to pickup midtown and get to the Stone and in the end, I felt that they were unnecessary. Brice & Sel did a good job of teaching the pieces to Roy & William in the short amount of time they had. I felt that the music has aged well and the quartet did a great job of playing this music with creativity and passion. The second set had some especially marvelous moments and there was an intense inner force that combined those South African, New Orleans and Downtown Free/Jazz spirits into a solid unit.
Although legendary Blue Note trombonist & composer, Grachan Moncur III, had a number of gems in the sixties & seventies (two on Blue Note & two on BYG) and can be heard on nearly two dozen other great discs, his recent set at the last Vision Fest was pretty sad. Mediocre versions of standards with an uninspired pick-up band is not what we should expect from the former great composer & player. We had asked that he do something adventurous for our fest and he was scheduled to play with James Spaulding and Michael Blake. Unfortunately both of these fine saxists canceled (allegedly at the last moment), so again we got a mediocre trio with organ and drums playing dismal standards, almost inadvertently causing Grachan to play better, for once in recent memory, in extended solos. Grachan couldn't recall the name of the organist when he gave him a feature and then went out for a cigarette break during the organist soloed. I guess a bit of comic relief was needed in the midst of the more serious nights of music making.
Beginning Thursday, December 14th, DMG's historic mini-prog/Canterbury/avant/rock fest started with a bang. Demanding music fans from around the world arrived for a long weekend of amazing sounds. Friends of ours from Ontario, Montreal, Russia, England, Scotland and all over the US, had ordered advance tickets and proved that folks will travel far & wide to see & hear music that they feel is important not to miss. That night featured a trio called Bone who recorded one disc for Cuneiform a few years back, but have never played live until now. Bone is Hugh Hopper (various versions of Soft Machine & offshoots & Isotope) on electric bass, Nick Didkovsky (from Dr. Nerve & assorted improv projects) and John Roulat on drums. Just having my old friend Hugh Hopper show up here at DMG earlier in the week was one of the month's many highlights. Since this month's December Stone Fest was dedicated to Derek Bailey, Elton Dean & Pip Pyle, I had to invite Elton's old bandmate and friend, Hugh Hopper, one of the most distinguished electric bassists and composers of all. The trio was able to rehearse for a few days that week up in Connecticut where John lives. Thus making their set(s), one of the few nights with mostly written tunes. Bone was actually a bit louder than many of the other sets this month and truly kicked butt. Since the Bone CD was recorded through the mail, it was a much different thing to hear this trio play this material, as well as a few other songs done live and in your face. The CD will give you an idea of their material, but it was more powerful and throttling live. The music is a healthy blend of progressive/fusion/metal threads done tightly and intensely. Each player got to do a handful of superb solos and everyone I spoke with was blown away by the experience. I recall an improv section in the second set, where Hugh really outdid himself and that inexplicable bit of magic happened. A single CD version of Bone live would certainly be great choice for DMG to release.
Midway through our December marathon of gigs was Friday, December 15th. John Zorn's new performance space, The Stone, has been open since April of 2005 and had never sold advance tickets for any show: just a first come, first served admission. We decided we HAD to take advance tickets for this weekend only since we anticipated the demand would be great and it certainly was as folks from all around the world flew in to be a part of this historic weekend; we allowed 50 reservations for each set of 80+ seats to be sold in advance.
Anyone who really knows me, knows that my favorite trilogy of bands of all time are/is the Mothers of Invention, Soft Machine and Henry Cow. Hence, putting together members of the Softs and Henry Cow for the first time was surely a dream come true, but I didn't really plan it very far in advance and the outcome was certainly unexpected. To say that the pressure having these gigs run smoothly was a bit much, would be putting it mildly. Thanks to our newsletter and the helpful journalists at Time Out, New York Magazine, the NY Times & All About Jazz, both sets on Friday and Saturday were completely sold out (about 100 folks apiece). When I addressed the crowd for the first set on Friday and introduced Fred Frith, Hugh Hopper and Chris Cutler, the applause and expectations were overwhelming. The set itself was more low-key than I would have imagined, yet there were many great sections. Remember that this trio had never played together and took their time to find some common ground. As I listen back to this set, I have begun to hear more underlying threads and ideas buried beneath the surface, with connections and combinations of ideas that are not so obvious until one listens closer. What was truly amazing was the encore for this set, when it all came together and something special occurred. Since this was the only set when we had to turn away some 25+ people, we asked Fred & Chris to have Hugh again join them for the encore of the second set, which he did and again, it was quite magical.
The second set on Friday night was the mighty Fred Frith and Chris Cutler duo and this was one incredible set! Perhaps the best one yet this month so far and the one that John Zorn is considering releasing as the next Stone benefit disc. Fred and Chris' musical relationship goes back to the early 70's when they formed Henry Cow with Tim Hodgkinson, Geoff Leigh and John Greaves. They also played together in The Art Bears and toured as a duo in the late seventies. They blew my mind at the Squat Theatre in 1979 and have released three superb duo discs since that time. The last time they played was in 1999, so this was indeed a special occasion. Right from the first note, we knew we were in store for something extraordinary and this set was it! Actually, it was only the beginning of what would three days of incredible improvisations. What I found most interesting is that both Fred and Chris have continued to evolve as gifted improvisers. Fred bag of tricks or devices has changed in recent years. He has found some other pedals to work with and he loops or alters sounds in different ways. He also taps on some device that extracts snippets of sounds to pepper the proceedings. It takes Chris Cutler at least two hours to set up his table of electronics and percussion and it is quite a unique set-up. Chris decided to set-up across the room, so he could watch and communicate with Fred more easily. It was like a laboratory and it was endlessly fascinating to watch the duo weave their unique sounds. I am glad that Robert O'Hare filmed all of these sets, since it will important for other folks who weren't there to see how these mysterious sounds were created. Chris Cutler works more with selective atmospheric samples, electronics and loops than heavily rhythmic sounds at times. Chris was like a scientist at work, fiddling with quirky sounds and then manipulating them and looping certain segments, often with unexpected results.
Saturday, December 16th featured two trio sets by Fred Frith, Tim Hodgkinson & Chris Cutler, three former members of Henry Cow that haven't played together in nearly 30 years. All three are still old friends, but their careers have gone in different directions and they havenÕt had a chance to play together in a long while. Although I was quick to point out that this was never meant to be a Henry Cow reunion, just an improv situation with three old friends, rumors did persist. When Fred, Tim & Chris came upstairs and took their places for the first set, they were met with a standing ovation before they even played one note. Once again, the vibes in the packed room were rather daunting, but I knew that they need not worry. Fred began with a quick line, "There is a lot of talk about the reformation of Henry Cow and this ain't it. I do want to dedicate this performance to Lindsay Cooper." Tim, who used to play mostly alto sax, clarinet and organ in Henry Cow, now plays clarinets and laptop guitar with many little objects. Tim had some feedback problems before the set began, so we were both nervous about what would happen when the set actually got underway. I didn't notice the problem during the set and I was relieved by this. The trio took off from there and soared through one of the most intense hours of focused improvisations that I can recall. What amazed me was that although these three hadn't played together in a long time, it felt as is they picked up where they left off. I have recently been listening to the Henry Cow 'Concerts' reissue that has been remastered and sounds better than ever. The third & fourth sides of this album are mostly intense improv and you can hear the seeds of what we have here within those sides. What was great was actually watching how they did what they did. Often I had no clue how they came up with such sounds, even though I was watching closely, so the mystery unfolded as we all watched. Each set that night evolved in different ways, with each member altering the course, combining forces and changing the outcome along the way. The first set was extremely intense, with a section that reminded of me of This Heat, another great UK avant/rock band that were friends with members of Henry Cow. There were sections that did not sound improvised, since the focus and flow were so connected. I felt proud to have helped put this night together and tears streamed down my face through parts of the set. There is way too much great music to describe here, so I will leave it to you to discover when our 4 CD box-set is hopefully released in the near future.
For the last night of this mini-fest (Sunday, 12/17/06), the program was supposed to be two duos with Tim Hodgkinson, one with Fred and one with Chris. The trio asked if I had any problem with them playing another night of trio sets, since they had so much fun for the past night and wanted to continue in that vein. I thought that was a great idea, so that's what they did. One problem was that the night before, we had to break down all of the equipment, since there was a workshop there the next day during the afternoon at The Stone. On Sunday, Chris and I met at The Stone very early (4:30) so that Chris had enough time to set up again more comfortably. This turned out to be a blessing since Chris used a smaller table and set up differently. Chris had asked me in advance if I could get him a tympani and thanks to our friend, Kevin Norton, a tympani was delivered just in time for the first set. Also, Tim, who had some feedback problems with his lap-guitar, decided to set up in a different place. All of these changes worked out better so that the sets were more relaxed. With a few less folks in attendance, the trio was relieved and played even better in this more relaxed environment. Again, both sets were superb, different and unfolded in ways that felt just right. We hope to release a DVD of one of these sets so you can see what actually went down. I got to have dinner later that night with Fred, Tim, Chris, Keith Macksoud & Dave Kerman (drum wiz & head of ReR US). This again was another highlight for me, just to talk and eat with some great old friends.
Monday, Dec. 18th, was another well-needed day off from the fest, however I had to go to Newark airport twice that day, once to pick up Michael Moore and once to pick up my fiance, Huguette. I was pleased to do this, since both are favorites folks of mine. ICP reeds wiz, Michael Moore, is a great alto saxist and clarinet player, a fine composer and multi-bandleader. He is also one of nicest people I know. I was pleased to give him two nights at The Stone, knowing that he would come up with something special. He chose two very different NY quartets to work with. The first night featured Rob Brown & Michael on alto saxes (& MM on clarinet), William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The first set was on the more restrained side, yet there were many great moments. These are seasoned players who worked well together, giving each other enough space and support. Michael played some superb clarinet and Rob Brown took his time to play some inspired alto. Earlier in the week, Gerald Cleaver, got a nice pick in the NY Times for doing so many different gigs that week and playing so well in different situations. They didn't mention this gig in that pick, although Gerald again played great throughout. The first set was a bit under-attended and I told Michael not too worry. The second set was nearly packed and the set was very different. It was much longer, more intense and it had quite a bit of fireworks and layers of inter-connected ideas. This was another of those great sets that should find its way onto a future DMG/ARC disc
Mr. Moore's next night featured three members of Electric Masada, Jamie Saft on piano & other stuff, Trevor Dunn on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. This was another set that looked good on paper, but didn't work out nearly as well. Trevor had just gotten into to town right before the sets from a gig in Italy, so there was no time for rehearsal or planning. This was unfortunate, since both Michael & Jamie have had great Bob Dylan tribute CD's released in the past few years. The first set was more laid back and had some fine moments when it reminded me of that Jimmy Guiffre Trio with Paul Bley, especially when Michael was playing some haunting clarinet. The second set didn't work out as well, the players only seemed to connect from time to time. Perhaps I should wait until I hear the tapes of that night, since things always seem different in retrospect than when you actually hear the results at another time.
Another great night of Downtown free/improv featured my friends Ivo Perelman on tenor sax, Rosie Hertlein on violin, Dominc Duval on contrabass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. Although Brazilian-born & NY-based saxist, Ivo Perelman, has more than two dozen discs as a leader, he so rarely plays in this town. Ivo has concentrated on painting over the past few years and has made great strides as a successful painter. Ivo and Dominic have recorded and played together for many years and you get a sense that they understand each other and play together almost telepathically. Rosie Hertlein is another gifted local improviser who rarely gets the recognition she deserves and it was great to hear her again. Ivo had a number of his friends from Brazil there, as well as a friend who was filming the gig, as well as interviewing band and audience members. The vibe was that of an old family reunion, so that too added a good vibe to the night.
Joelle Leandre is another old friend of mine and an amazing contrabassist who once played a free gig at the old DMG, just a couple of months after Peter Kowald had also played a solo bass set there. Joelle never ceases to amaze in concert and tonight, Friday, December 22nd was no different. This was also another night when the amp we borrowed for Joelle broke down right before the first set began. Thanks to Mark Helias for both that great borrowed bass and the use of his amp at the last minute. The first set was a duo with Kevin Norton on drums, percussion and vibes. Joelle and Kevin have worked in a trio situation before, but this was the first duo and it was truly grand. Both of them played at their best and seemed to inspire each other to new heights. It was a long and wonderful set that was filled with many magical moments. The second set was supposed to be duos with Marilyn Crispell, Mat Maneri and Roy Campbell, but turned out to be a superb quartet with Joelle directing. This was again a first time performance by this particular group and it was a phenomenal set. There were sections of duos and trios that Joelle helped instigate, yet you couldn't predict the many magical moments that arose from this group. John Rosenberg was hired by Joelle to do a professional recording of both sets, so we hope both will be released in the future.
Saturday, December 23rd, was another of those nights that were beset with some problems, at least the for the first set. This set featured a duo with Tisziji Munoz on electric guitar and Marilyn Crispell on piano. Both Tisziji and Marilyn are wonderful, inspired and creative players that are highly influenced by the spiritual music of John Coltrane. Marilyn has recorded two fine discs with Tisziji and his band, but this was their first ever duo gig. The set was supposed to be completely improvised but Munoz gave Marilyn some of his lovely tunes right before the set started. Tisziji had a problem with his guitar amp and had to switch to an acoustic guitar early in the set, which is unfortunate since rarely plays acoustic and never in public. There was long delay during the set while we worked on the amp, so the set was mostly Marilyn playing solo piano which Tisziji on occasional acoustic guitar. Overall it was disappointing, although Marilyn did play some lovely piano. In between sets, Tiziji's son and a few of us worked frantically at getting the amp fixed. It turned out to be a broken fan and thanks to John Rogers (for the use of his screwdriver), we were able to fix it just in the nick of time. The quartet set featured Tisziji & Marilyn with Don Pate on contrabass and Bob "Rah-Kalam" Moses on drums. The quartet played with fury and passion and were pretty f**king amazing! Tisziji always sounds great with a powerful pianist in his band and Marilyn was the perfect choice. Don Pate and Bob Moses were also in fine form and the quartet did blow some minds with their spiritually uplifting music. This was another great set for a hopeful future release.
Finally, we had a couple of days off for Christmas, which was very much needed by Huguette and myself to recharge our batteries and spend some time alone mellowing out. I really enjoy cooking especially for someone else besides myself, so we celebrated with some Kurosawa saki, way expensive and delicious cold. We had to get ready for the final week at The Stone. Originally we were supposed to have a DMG benefit gig at The Stone on December 25th, but we decided that it was a bad idea since attendance might not be too good
The final week of our festival began on Tuesday, December 26th with Raoul Bjorkenheim, William Parker and Hamid Drake, another first time meeting. Raoul is a member of the explosive Scorch Trio, one of the most exciting jazz/rock/noise power trios to emerge from Scandinavia and was once in a great quartet called Krakatau (ECM). Raoul has lived in NY for the past few years and he is good friend of ours. The Scorch Trio played their only NY gig in December of 2005 at the Bowery Poetry Club for Manny's birthday. Raoul asked that we help him put together his dream rhythm team, so he chose William and Hamid. We actually flew Hamid to town just to do this one night at The Stone. The gig was well attended and was pretty explosive throughout. Raoul also played his electric viol da gamba, as well as an electric mando/guitar. Raoul looked like a kid who won the lottery and jumped around with glee, overwhelmed to be playing with two other giants who work so well together. As William and Hamid continually whipped us a rhythm storm, Raoul took one furious solo after another. The only problem was that Raoul never let up, he never gave the rhythm team a chance to stretch out and solo on their own. This would have made for a more balanced set. There were moments when Raoul reminded me of Olly Halsall on the piece "Money Bag" from the first Patto album. It features one of the fastest and most astonishing guitar solos of all time. No small feat. Perhaps with some editing we should be able to come up with one CD's worth of material for a DMG/ARC release. Only time will tell.
Although Kazutoki Umezu is a Japanese-born alto sax legend, he has the heart, soul and quirkiness of a true downtown musician. I didn't know until William Parker mentioned it earlier that he and Umezu had a band in NY that recorded an album in 1974, one of William's first recordings. When John Zorn e-mailed early in the year and asked if I would like to give Umezu a gig during December, I was only too pleased to do so, since Umezu is an old friend of mine and one of my favorite saxists. His three discs on the Knit label with some of Downtown's best are all great, as well as his klezmer big band, Kiki Band and Pandora's Box bands. His most recent CD is a solo bass clarinet disc on Doubt and it is one of the year's best offerings. I thought it would be great to have him do a solo set as well as a set with the Pandora Quartet (which featured Marc Ribot, Brad Jones & Kenny Wollesen on their old disc). Umezu's solo set of bass clarinet and alto sax was something quite special. He played a couple of standards on bass clarinet that were touching and somewhat Dolphy-like. He mentioned that he had studied the didjeridoo in Australia, but that it was too big for him to master, so he played an alto solo with a didjeridoo sound that was stunning. He also played a Korean folk tune on which he blasted the melody to fragments. It was rather frightening for a few minutes. For the second set, I put together a new Pandora Quartet with Jon Madof on electric guitar, Shanir Blumenkranz on acoustic bass (both from Rashanim) and Dee Pop on drums. I gave/sent each of them a copy of the Pandora CD, just to give them an idea of what Umezu is about. This set was another of those unexpected delights. Although the set was pretty much free, Umezu gave some direction by repeating phrases or pointing to when one should come in. The quartet jumped into a great klez groove that Umezu set up and things even got funky on one piece with Umezu dancing and smiling big-time. Umezu invited a friend, a Korean saxist to sit in at the end of the set and the intensity level increased righteously. This was a perfect night for all the players involved and each thanked me for putting it together. A DVD version of that second set would be another fine DMG disc.
Nels Cline is another of my favorite guitarists and a good friend who has finally gotten some well-deserved recognition playing with the popular band Wilco as well as getting accolades from his awarding-winning Andrew Hill tribute disc from last year. I knew Nels had to be a part our celebration and offered to give him a couple of nights to play, a quartet set with his longtime cohort Vinny Golia. Nels chose the incredible Zeena Parkins to do duos with and this was wonderful idea, as he had them both play both play acoustic and electric instruments. Zeena is an early member of the Downtown scene and has also recently been more visible since working with superstar, Bjork. Zeena also doesn't get a chance to play her acoustic harp at local gigs so this was a special treat. Although the sets were announced as one acoustic and one electric, the duo decided to make each set a combination of both an acoustic and electric portion. Beginning slowly and quietly with Zeena manipulating her acoustic harp with assorted objects and Nels playing mysterious sounds on a borrowed National Steel guitar, they cast a somber spell that became stranger as it unfolded. The electric portion was something else again, as both players manipulated their electric instruments with a variety of noisy devices, whammy bars and other objects and pedals. Nels has a unique way of sampling and then manipulating his noises into bizarre sonic mayhem. These mesmerizing sounds allowed Zeena go even further over-the-top than usual, her devilish grin was as infectious as it was scary. The second set was quite long and was one of the most intense of the entire month. Another edited single CD would be a fine addition to the DMGArc/hives.
The final night of DMG's own choosing was yet another unexpected delight, The Vinny Golia Quartet with Nels Cline, Ken Filiano and Michael Thompson. Vinny Golia is a longtime ray of sunshine from the LA underground, which is not nearly as small as it seems. His label, Nine Winds, has over 200 discs and has documented a healthy scene in LA for about two decades with dozens of fine musicians. Vinny plays more reeds than anyone since Anthony Braxton and is a longtime collaborator with Bobby Bradford and the Cline Bros, Nels and Alex. Although Vinny is originally from the Bronx, he rarely gets a chance to perform here, so I was eager to have him close our fest. He put together a special, dynamic quartet just for this occasion, so we knew something special was going to occur. Instead of just the usual improv, Vinny brought along some charts to keep things interesting. His pieces were long suite-like works that moved through sections which developed in fascinating ways. With Vinny on soprano, sopranino, flute, clarinet and bari sax and Nels on his electric guitar, both git chances to take long, flowing solos that told grand stories as they evolved. Both Ken on contrabass and Downtown's Michael Thompson, had to be on their toes as the pieces featured various sections for both solos and some intricate ensemble passages. Each set was one long work and each was fabulous. The second featured some incredible soloing again from Vinny and Nels and ended with this transcendent, sort of folky melody that you will not soon forget once you hear it. No doubt a two CD set would be just right as the DMG/ARC label expands.
December 30th was the final night of the DMG curated fest and we left it to John Zorn to do one his monthly improv all-star benefit sets. As always it was a gas, filled with surprises and a packed house. The participants featured Zorn, Ned Rothenberg & Matt Welch on reeds, Jim Staley on trombone, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Mark Feldman on violin, John King on el. guitar, Okkyung Lee on cello, Shanir Blumenkranz on bass and joined by Mattias Kunzli on percussion for the second set. Zorn allowed this to be recorded [!], so who knows, perhaps this may wind up a benefit CD - there were a number of incredible moments that night as well.
After a year of planning and hard work, this festival turned out to be one of the best things that I've ever worked on and I still feel exhilarated thinking about. 25 nights of challenging music is almost too much to imagine, but we did it and it was well worth the work that many of us had to do. You will see what I mean when we finally get some of these sets released on our own label. I have to thank many folks for helping make and making this a success. First, there were about 70 musicians who played throughout the month of December, so thanks to all of you for the fine performances you provided. Everyone who works here at DMG was also helpful in covering for me as the month and my responsibilities increased. Thanks to Manny 'Lunch' Maris, Emperor Mike Clark, Mikey IQ Jones, John Hall, Bret, Michael Shroads.
And special thanks to these bubbies: Robert O'Hare (email@example.com) for filming and multi-track taping, Scott Friedlander (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more taping and taking great pictures, Matt Mottel (email@example.com) for picking up the musicians from the airport and Keith Macksound for loaning and dropping off equipment and helping out in many other ways. Special thanks to The Stone's doormen/managers Matt Welch, Jeremiah Cymerman and Tim Keiper, who provided great assistance throughout. Very special thanks to my fiance, Huguette Constant, who let me put off our marriage plans until this festival was over and who shared the second half of the month's gigs with me. Thanks again to my main man, John Zorn, for the opportunity to organize/curate this far-reaching festival that many of us will never forget.
- Bruce Lee Gallanter 1/11/07