Category Archives: update

Corby 2015 – The Rundown Cometh

Just a quick warning that I will have a few observations from my recent trip to the Festival Moo Ah in Corby, England. Yep. Another Zappa-themed festival in a European location with its fair share of beer and elsewhere. Uncle Ian is a Corby resident so I will be kind: I like Corby, but at one point I was sure that it was not reciprocal. I wish I could have seen more than the view from the taxi or on my escape from The George… My feeling about England, and this was my first trip, was that it is lovely when you have lovely company. Conversely, when things go sour they do so in a big way.

First the summary version! I expect to have a few more on music, food, and a solar eclipse. My trip was based out of the Manchester area, so I will start there:

A great party was had in the Manchester area, and it was great fun to see my Zappateer/Mancateer friends in their natural surroundings. 🙂

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A great road trip was taken to Corby! 🙂

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I had to choose a room at the Inn, and I did not choose wisely 😦

evelien_george-1photo by evelein langereis

The first night full of good friends and good music. 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmike fox and helen tate

I returned to a hotel room that was a miasma of chip-fat (fryer grease) 😦

Booked a new room at 5:00am over a prehistoric GPRS connection 😦

New hotel was 2 miles away and gave us a 7:00am check-in  🙂

I still had not really slept in three days and my diet had been poor, at best 😦

Was able to attend a commitment ceremony for friends Steve and Susan 🙂

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Was starving and ate a double burger at the UK equivalent of Applebees 😦

Reception for Susan and Steve

Second night of music was great, but I was in rough shape 🙂 😦

Actually slept some on Saturday night, took it easy with breakfast, but… damage done 🙂 😦

Ignored GERD-symptoms and had an epic drink-up with curry on Sunday night 🙂

curry cheers!

Crazy Train grinds to a serene halt on Monday morning and much lounging around ensues 🙂

Fantastic family dinner with my hosts! Hard to beat that 🙂

Out the door at 6am on Tuesday to return home 🙂 Guiness and an egg sandwich at 6:30am in Manchester airport 🙂

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All told, a really fun time at a really fun festival. I need to thank everyone including Ob, Mrs. Ob, the Oblings, Danny, Steffen, Bengt, the residents of Mancunia, Uncle Ian, Andy, Canadian John from London, YoungPumpkin, Ged, Eric, the Dutchies, the Vikings, Rupert and Kevin, some mad bloke named Rick, and a seemingly endless string of amazing people who I now count among my friends.

And in other news…

The latest musical effort here at Rancho Frio Studios is an improvisational duo with drummer Peter Riccio.  There really isn’t an official name for this project.  There have been a few performances so far and they have all used different names.  We play at the Outer Space in Hamden, CT on April 1, and that performance will be under yet another name: Journey to the Twin Planet. That is the name of a track from the Jack Dejohnette record Special Edition (1980, ECM). There was a time when ECM was putting out some of the best and most unique recordings, and those recordings largely hold up very well.  So while I can guarantee that nobody will mistake JttTP for a Jack Dejohnette project, it is a tip of the hat to a man I consider to be one of the best ever to pick up the sticks.

Peter and I go back a long way, and it is great to be playing some music together again.  A few years as bassist in his band the Sawtelles was a major turning point in my musical life.  Playing in an ensemble while being able to retain my own voice on the instrument is something I had never truly enjoyed, and playing in the Sawtelles opened a door to that process that I continue to develop today.

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NHIC @ firehouse12 – recap

Everything is running a bit late this year, so my recap of the NHIC gig is also late.  Short of it: it was a very cool night of music.

nhic:atlas (Bob Gorry pronounces “NHIC” as “NICK”… go figure) was a blast to play with, and was in the odd position of having a CD release show with 50% new lineup and 80% new material.  But hey, this isn’t a commercial thing, so no worries.  We had Mike Paolucci (Sandy knows him as “octopus boy” due to his fluid style behind the kit) on drums and he was a swingin’ rock of funky rhythm.  Gabriel Kastelle is always a joy to play with as well.  I love an in-tune violin or viola, and he has great pitch.  The Gorry-Asetta-Matlock front end from the original Atlas lineup was intact, and sounded great.  The swingin’ new rhythm section, and new blood in the violin-family chair brough a totally different feel to the group.  Where the original nhic:atlas was leaning toward a formal chamber-jass feel, the new lineup was more funky and leaning more toward a propulsive feel.  On my end, I was playing my Tacoma acoustic bass guitar in place of the original upright bass, and it filled that role like a champ.  No feedback issues, and the deep, resonant sound fit the arrangements like a glove.

NHIC Electric was the new kid in town, bringing a familiar two-guitar NHIC setup to the stage, but we had Peter Riccio on drums.  One thig is for sure, among his many talents, he has a very deep knowledge of jazz, and especially free jazz and hard bop.  I know, because most of the stuff I heard as a kid, I heard out of the record collection at his house.  That one factor gave the group a feel that I haven’t heard in the past.  Not that Peter doesn’t know world music, or prog, or polyrhythmic complexity, but he brought some strong jazz drumming to the party.  My rig was fretless Zon Sonus 5, Line6 M5, and Radial Tonebone handling the switching and fx loop for the M5.  I also ran loops off my iPhone to handle some synthy noises.  It has been a while since I have run effects at a show… and it was a weird feeling, but it was a reminder that I *can* do it if I want to deal with it.  The simplicity of playing bass-cable-amp (and often not running an amp) can be seductive.  I did enjoy blasting some delay and some phaser action in small doses.  I can’t wait to hear some rough mixes of this band.  Should be a hoot.

Thanks to NHIC, firehouse12, and the folks who came out to support the gig.  It was very cool.  I hope to be sharing soem audio and video in the coming months.

nhic:atlas is bob gorry, guitar; steve asetta, saxes; adam matlock, clarinet, accordion; gabriel kastelle, viola, erhu; michael paolucci, drum kit; pete brunelli, acoustic bass guitar

NHIC Electric is: bob gorry, guitar; jeff cedrone, guitar; paul mcguire, soprano sax; peter riccio, drum kit; pete brunelli, fretless electric bass

Occupy Blog Street

Just a few tidbits about how “Washington” and “Wall Steet” are fucking this country, and but good.

Job Creators: this is as cynical and retrograde as “Clear Skies Initiative”.  The actual problem with the economy is hidden directly behind this crystalline piece of “douche-speak”.  Actually, these captains of industry are laying people off, and avoiding hiring here in America, because they first and foremost need to keep the profit-wheel turning.  Not just normal profits.  Profits that increase every quarter.  The irrational ever-expanding economy concept at the granular level.  So when (as mentioned here in a previous post) a company that relies heavily on American military spending, like Sikorsky, needs to keep the profit margin rolling, so they can continue to “perform” and their executives can continue to reap performance-based bonuses… they lay off thousands and move them onto the American Unemployment System!  Uncle Sucker provides a backdoor “entitlement” to Sikorsky, as opposed to the “front door” they were using* back in the “aughts”.  Meanwhile, those unemployed people can no longer participate in the economy at large to the same degree, causing other businesses to slow down, layoff, and you have the makings of a true economic Domino Theory clusterfuck.  This is happening on a national basis, and thousands of businesses are complicit, but I am just using Sikorksky because they are so transparent in their efforts.  In Conclusion: Thanks, “Job Creating” Doublespeak Assholes!

When Occupy Whatnot has the time to figure out what is really going on… maybe they will connect a few dots and make some concrete points.  So far I see a lot of vague generalities about the economy, but nothing that you can really hang your hat on.  My feelings are: keep it simple, keep it direct, don’t pull punches, and don’t let yourself get co-opted by a group that is part of the problem (Move On, I’m looking at you)

* What Changed? Back in the heady days of say… George W. Bush… it was easier to just divert the money from multiple war efforts directly to the bottom line, knowing that the GAO would never have the time or resources to figure out if you actually delivered on a contract.  You had a neutered Accountability arm of the Executive Branch, and a lot of open graft, wink, nod, repeat.  We now find out, horrors, that BILLIONS of US Dollars have gone missing in our multiple “wars” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan… who knows since the USA never actually declares war any longer.  We just deploy a bunch of taxpayer funded military resources, and an equal or greater military contractor force, and then stop answering the phones over at the Penatgon.  Seems to have worked so far.  But with the US Government actually paying attention, at least in a small way, it is safer to play this shell game.  Even if it tanks the US economy… I mean, once you offshore enough of your business it really doesn’t matter what happens here, right?

Pseudo-Random

First, RIP Steve Jobs.  I go way back with Apple, maybe a little too far back.  My dad brought home an Apple II to check out, because he was going to be using it as part of his classroom work.  He taught Electronics and wanted this new “personal computing” stuff to be part of the curriculum.  The school got some Apple hardware, and My dad brought one home to work on classroom stuff… So I got my hands on a very early Apple product.  What I remember was it had a 40 column greenscreen display and no lower case.  It was still the nicest computer I had seen.  Before that it was a teletype console and acoustic coupler (to the Yale mainframe), or this trashed Hex Programming Trainer (probably Heathkit) that I forced to do four-function math (in hex).  Anyhow, Apple has been through a real rollercoaster existence, but the company that we now know is very much about Jobs.  I kept away from the Apple line until they ditched the System-7 thing, and when they switched to OS X, I jumped back in.  Great OS, better hardware, and they had the sense to ditch all that old spaghetti-code under the hood of the old Apple OS.  As well, they survived, and thrived, a CPU family switch, which looked like it could be a deal breaker.  Nope.  It was a deal maker.  It proved that you could have a killer desktop OS on an Intel CPU.  Something that M$ has yet to find a fucking way to make happen.  Thanks, Steve.  You Rocked It.

Switching gears, Zappa is the gift that keeps on giving.  I think I was about 13 when I first heard a Mothers album, and have been pretty consistent in absorbing Zappa music since.  About 34 years later I am still having regular epiphanies regarding Conceptual Continuity.  The man left a shockingly deep catalog of great music.  Even the songs I don’t like, I see where they fit in as I keep listening.  I recently checked out an unreleased album called Chalk Pie.  It kinda runs like a low-budget YCDTOSA release, but it has some killer music on it.  First off, it might be Exhibit A in “How Great Was Scott Thunes, Really?”  The answer: really freakin’ amazing.  Especially in the early 80’s before the bullshit of the ’88 Tour went down.  Scott plays some brutally hard passages with great fluidity, and you can hear that he is doing what Zappa wanted him to do.  Each player in the history of Zappa bands had a whole different set of challenges from the player preceding them.  In this case it is Scott, Chad Wackerman, Tommy Mars, Ed Mann and Steve Vai…  And they are all playing hard-ass parts and kicking ass while doing it.  I really dig that band before it got all tarted up with extra instrumentation…. But about Thunes: Even a piece like Jazz Discharge Party Hats was an eye-opener for me.  It is nothing more than a Sprechgesang vocal, doubled on bass.  Really stripped down, kinda funny, kinda runs on for a while… Not my favorite FZ piece, but damn, not only does FZ sing the part, but Scott nails the doubling part.  Sounds easy?  It Ain’t.  It is like a crystalline example of the FZ vocal-based-melody principle.  Neat.

Another gear change: One of the realizations that I am having Post-Rochefort is that I was lucky to get through that festival in once piece, and I will have to be more organized if I go back.  I may also have to be more demanding and let some of my organizational freak-flag fly.  I think I extended myself too much, too far in advance of the gig, in musical genre that I am not in practice on.  I also let a lot of decision-making slide (I was the FNG, and not there to make decisions) and it made it impossible for me to handle all the demands I was agreeing to.  So I either need to put in a lot more time branching out of my comfort zone, or be more particular about what I say “yes” to, or both.  Also, it was still a wild ride and I am still buzzing from it.

A tip of the hat to Olivier Longuet

I have been taking photographs about as long as I have been playing music, which is a long time… about back to age 8 or 9.  My father and grandfather were amateur photographers with a darkroom in the basement for black and white processing and printing.  For my grandfather it goes back to the early days of photography, and the economic realities of the day.  The day was, more specifically, the Great Depression. Photography was not inexpensive, but if you developed your own film and printed your own photos, you could do it on a budget.  Later on, in the days after WWII, my father had more of a tolerance for the cost of commercial processing, but was still a rabid economizer.  I learned film processing, use of a changing bag for loading tanks without a darkroom, and basic processing.  That is not unrelated to my interest in both chemistry and cooking!  It is all a matter of recipes and knowing what is actually going on in the process.

Music was a little different, but my dad had a few el-cheapo stringed instruments like a ukelele and a tenor guitar (Zim-Gar!!!).  The tenor was my favorite.  I was not tuning it in fifths (it was meant to be tuned like a tenor-banjo), but EADG, like a bass.  When I got my first guitar, a nylon string folk guitar, I played that the same way… picking out bass lines on the low strings, chunking through some basic open chords, and baffled by the asymmetrical B string!  One day a friend of my dad’s saw me playing and basically told him: “Paul, I hate to tell you this, but your son is a bass player.”  That was that.  By the time I was 13 I had a really awful Fender P copy (a Memphis… ugh), with a bad neck and worse electronics.   I ripped the frets out of within a year and that was all she wrote.  I have been playing bass since… over 34 years now, which is mind boggling.

Which is a long way of saying that music and photography are two constants in the way I approach the world.

As a result I always bring a camera to gigs, and if I am lucky I find a balance in time to perform music and time to capture images.  At an event like the NHIC Verge-Fest back in April of 2011 I was in charge of running sound, and had plenty of time to concentrate on photography.  At an event like Rochefort en Accords I had no balance.  It was 95% music music music… and then the time for an occasional snapshot opportunity.  The goal was purely that of capturing a few snaps as “souvenir”, in the true French meaning of “memory” or “memento”.  I am glad I did, because I would not have the great image of Charly Doll stoking the charcoal grill with a hairdryer!  …or the murky images from Charly’s bonfire, or the beer-tent party after the Friday rain-out at Rochefort, or the iPhone panorama of the school kids, or Nini Dogskin practicing the Saxhorn… and so many more.  See the Flickr set HERE.

A Rochefort I was surrounded by a bevy of fantastic musicians, and it was all I could do to keep up.  World class singers, songwriters, instrumentalists, and solo performers, all opening themselves up to what other musicians had to share.  I also met a few people who were putting all their energies into making images.  Christian Duchesnay and Olivier Longuet were the two I saw the most often.  Chris was the official photographer of the festival, and Olivier was working for himself.  Photography is different from music in many ways, but one difference that is central to this observation is that you have no idea what the photographer’s images will look like until you see them.  I can tell a few things about musicians by their gear, their mode of dress, and maybe their “entourage”, before hearing them play.  With a photographer you only see the person with a camera and think “nice camera” or “nice lenses” or something like that.

After I returned from Rochefort I saw some of the work of these photographers.  I believe that I have yet to see ChrisD’s complete work from the festival, but I have seen a good selection of what Olivier was up to.  Wow… the guy is very very good.  He has a few images featuring yours-truly, but to be honest they are not the best of his images.  I am flattered and also honored to be in the frame.  The extra added bonus from Rochefort, as if I needed one, is that in addition to the influence of the great musicians I worked with, I have this influence on the photographic side.  I will keep adding links as I find more stuff on the interwebs.  Right now there are a lot of small collections on Facebook, but I am not linking to those here.

LINKS:

Solong’s Photographies

Chris-D Website

Chris-D outtakes at Poudriere Blog

The Poudriere is a facility across the road from the Clos in Rochefort, and is the site of a really great selection of music events.

Labor Day Reflection 2011

This past year has been a rollercoaster for organized labor across the globe, and my little corner of it in Connecticut has not been spared.  I saw some disturbing, if not shocking, events unfold as the rollecoaster ride went along.  Make no mistake, this most recent ride is just a uptick, since these things happen all year, every year, but usually with less frequency.  Here is a small selection of rants regarding the most bizarre of the bizarre:

Anti-Union Union Leadership: We have seen a variety of people run for elected union office, and win, despite being openly anti-union and anti-organized labor.  They continually fail to recognize the most basic structures and ground rules, but have sown seeds of dissatisfaction among enough people to carry the day in a voting process.  The recent backlash against SEBAC is a great example because SEBAC did nothing more than what it was mandated to do by the Connecticut General Assembly, but somehow there is traction to the idea that SEBAC is supposed to be a membership organization, which it is not.  These same pathetic dopes are now trying to sell their fellow union members on a plot to be represented by a new union, with no experience in collective bargaining, no political presence in CT, and bylaws that look like Pol Pot wrote them, and all because SEBAC did what it has done for 17 years, and followed their charter…

“Race To The Bottom” – you know that you have social power when you can make people vote against their own self interests.  The Republican(t) party has done a great job convincing non-union workers, and even union-workers, that union jobs should pay less because private sector jobs (supposedly) pay less.  They are not asking for better pay and working conditions at their own jobs.  They are asking that others get less so they feel better about not keeping up with inflation.  While they are being led in this race to the bottom, the same characters are raising the standard of living of the mega rich by making sure that corporations have the freedom to send work offshore, pay less here in the US, provide less benefits here in the US, raid pensions here in the US… and so on.  The game is so brazenly transparent that it is shocking that it works, but it does work.  Nobody calls in to convicted felon John Rowland’s radio show to ask what they can do to raise their own standard of living… ever.  If they did they would be hung up on.  No.  They call to complain about how they heard that someone in a State job retired with a living pension… Not once mentioning that the radio host has two such pensions, concurrently.

And last, just for balance, Blind Pro-Union Sentiment: I have been consistent that I do not believe that organized labor is right for every sector of the workforce.  In public service it serves to protect the employed from the rapidly shifting political whims of the political arm of the State.  That is a fact.  Having a defensible contract provides stability to public services during times like the ones we are in now.  Times when political expediency would carry the day, and services and jobs would be slashed.  Instead of seeing every job as a potential organizing target, I think we would be better off focusing on the investment made by the public in the services provided with their tax dollars, and the costs involved in throwing that investment away.

So that, is just a stream of consciousness ramble through a few points of personal interest.  I wish that the people in State service that complain about  the cost of government services while drawing a government paycheck would admit that their position is not defensible.  Maybe they could help their cause and find a job in the private sector.  That would be fair.  Frustrated by the parliamentary system and the statutes of the government that employs you?  Take a real stand and find a job that doesn’t rely on those structures.  And if you are not in a union and are not making enough money, seeing regular raises, accessing affordable health care, or watching your pension drained by a heartless corporation… stop bitching about unions and do something about YOUR situation.

Rochefort Festival Wrap Up – Finale

I will be looking over the previous posts and inserting images, and cleaning up text, fixing typos and misspelled names, and maybe editing some dupe info and omissions.  Otherwise, that is the story from beautiful Rochefort, France.  Some really amazing and dedicated people run a very ambitious festival, the artists are treated very well, and the results are very enjoyable for both the audience and the artists.

What I have tried to relate is my experience, my reality, and my observations during a week where I made a point to stay open and positive at every moment.  That is probably the thing I am proudest of.  Many bass players could have done a better job with the music, would have had an easier time, and been able to contribute more.  I am what I am: a person in love with music and the bass, who has had the good fortune to be able to express that in some very interesting venues.  Whether that is the intimate “Never Open Books” of New Haven, or Cafe Nine, or an outdoor festival stage in France, I try to bring the same ethic.  I owe my friends from New Haven Improvisors Collective a huge debt of gratitude, and maybe none more than drummer Steve Zieminski.  Playing bass alongside him for the past two years has allowed me to grow as a bassist, and trust my instincts more than ever.  As I approach 50 years old, that is not an easy thing to do.

From the beginning of this trip I have focused on the concept of being open, in the way that one opens their heart to the opportunity and does not try to mold the experience to their will.  My work with NHIC, or DOOT!, or the Sawtelles, or Lys Guillorn…. and others has been a fantastic training ground for that approach.  An experience like the one I just had at Rochefort is a type of validation.  Likewise, it was dependent on encountering other with the same generosity of spirit, the same patience, and the same willingness to set out on a journey and trust that you will work as hard as they will to reach the destination.  I was fortunate to encounter those people at every step of the way, in circumstances where it would have been easy to cop an attitude or cede to some negative element.  It simply never happened.

I would be remiss to not mention, again, what a pleasure it was to work with Napoleon Murphy Brock.  The timing of this event was very opportune, as the time that has elapsed since Zappanale 20 in 2009 has allowed me to make some observations and allow my cynical voice to recede.  Napoleon is a world class performer, educator, musician and person.  He does that on his terms, and I can’t say that I would want to be tied to those terms, but in an instance like this it was his stability and patience and focus that created a safe haven when other situations were spiraling into disarray.  And hell… I held down a flimsy canopy in a driving storm on an electrified stage in hopes of him not being speared through the neck with a broken piece of aluminum!  So there is always that 🙂

With hopes for continued musical adventure,

Bon Journee’

Rochefort Festival Wrap Up – 5

The Festival

The actual performances were scheduled for Thursday August 25 through Saturday August 27.  After three days of prep and rehearsals I was now balancing rehearsal schedules with performance schedules.  On Thursday I had one gig with Innes Sibun at the Corderie Stage.  This is at the west end of the historical Corderie building, a restored rope making factory that was the center of the Rochefort naval base.  Rochefort is a true Garrison Town, built as an alternative to La Rochelle which was not suitable controlled by the French crown.  but I digress…

Innes had run the band through some song forms back at the Clos, and from the get go we had a really good feel and the audience was enjoying the show.  Innes took a trip out into the crowd for a solo, and Bruno Bertrand, Or Solomon and I made up a good rhythm section, with Or taking some sweet solos.  This was where things kinda got blurry.  Esra Mowhawk played before Innes, and then Vic Moan played, and then I left to get back to the Clos for either a rehearsal or food or both… I’m pretty sure it ended with a late rehearsal with Moris.  The demands of the highly-proscriptive arrangements in Napoleon’s, Moris’ and the Beefheart sets meant that I needed to be interlacing rehearsal time with performance time and had very little availability to either sit in or to just watch a performance.

The next day we started as usual… Shiatsu at 9:30 (Caroline, to the rescue), then working on material in the headphones until I was needed at a rehearsal.  This was where things got ugly because of conflicts between Moris, Napoleon, and Moris’ sleep schedule… I had not been so much running my own schedule as being run on other musician’s schedules.  So it was hard for me to switch gears, and that was even harder because by Friday morning I was not able to remember who asked me to rehearse when. Add in the fact that rehearsal schedules kept changing and needed to be interlaced with actual performance schedules, and it was borderline mayhem.  As a musician who has been working in the format of improvisation and experimentation, all of this rehearsal and tight arrangement demands took some adjustment.  It certainly didn’t seem to be in the true spirit of the festival.  But those are the cards that I got dealt.  Anyhow… Mother Nature had a solution:

The Friday schedule had a break of about 3-4 hours between the early performances and the evening schedule.  During this time I was scheduled for soundchecks on the main stage with Moris, then napoleon.  For some reason Moris decided not to soundcheck, so it became a combo soundcheck and last-minute tweak session with Napoleon.  As I stood on stage I was noticing some very dark clouds bowing by, but the locals didn’t seem nervous, so why should I be?  About halfway through the wind picked up, and up, and up… and I heard this sound like a tearing bedsheet behind me… It was a wall of rain, accompanied by 40-50+ knot winds and hail, blowing onto the stage from the rear at the stage-left corner.  This proceeded to blow Benoit’s marimba off the riser, sent 70kg road cases scurrying toward the lip of the stage, and put down about an inch of water and ice on an electrically live stage.  This drenched Nicolas’ effects rig, and had me wondering what the odds of being electrocuted were.  I was also having a memory of the recent stage collapse tragedies, and i didn’t want to be next.  All of this was happening while holding on to a portable metal-frame canopy by one of the legs, while two road crew held two other legs, and napoleon crouched in the middle holding his flute and music, while deflecting the rapidly disintegrating metal frame of the canopy… It was like rounding the fucking Horn on a soundstage.

Finally we persuaded Napoleon to make a run for it, and the storm began to subside.  It looked 50/50 that the show was going to be either cancelled or postponed.  About 30 minutes later, while I was getting a ride back to the Hotel Roca Fortis for a quick break before what was supposed to be my second gig with Innes at the Place Colbert, a second storm hit, trashing the canopy over the main stage mixing desk and then dumping the mixing desk itself.  That effectively ended the performance portion of Day 2. The same kind of wind and water damage impacted all the stages, and everything was going to be moved to Saturday.  There was a feeling that the whole thing might be compromised if they couldn’t get the sound gear back together.

Back at the Clos there was a simultaneous feeling of shock and relief.  Another great dinner at the hands of the Rochefort crew, and the relief turned into a party.  As it got later I started looking for a beer (don’t get me started on French beer) and that led me to the beer tent, where I did the sensible thing and had a cognac.  That twist led to the most fun I had at the festival, hanging in the little beer concession tent with the volunteers, drinking and passing around iPods and headphones.   Tomorrow will bring whatever it brings, but for now we drink, and dance, and sing, and converse.

Saturday was the “big one”… I had been waking up at about 0800 like clockwork, getting cleaned up, and having a light breakfast at the Roca Fortis.  The crew there was Eric Longsworth, his wife Pascale, Eric Drew Feldman, Laurie Hall, Rob Laufer, Moris Tepper, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Nicolas Mignot, his wife Pascale, Declan DeBarra, and Emmanuelle Parrenin… I hope I have not forgotten anyone.  The Roca Fortis makes fantastic coffee (Illy, the best! as Jean Marc told us with great conviction, and the results proved it), and fresh juice.  The Apple-Kiwi was the star, and I used the excellent orange juice on my cereal.  The long coffee was great, but when I found the double espresso… the deal was sealed.  Jean Marc was right… The Best.

It was raining at first, but by 0900 the sun was out and we had a beautiful day on our hands.  The deal now was that I had a 1000 soundcheck at the Place Colbert (outdoor stage in the town square), then a set with Innes at about 1330, then back to the Clos for a meal, and then the afternoon’s schedule which I hadn’t seen yet.  I was able to walk the weekend market after soundcheck, with Innes and Celia, and that was my first and only actual touristy activity.  The Innes gig was lightly attended but we had a ball, again.  And I was ravenous after having nothing more than juice and coffee all day.  The lunch at the Clos was awesome, as always, and I got about 30 minutes to get horizontal while listening to Karen Mantler’s set.  That featured Nico (not a bass player) and Jeff (not a bass player) on bass and guitar… and that band sounded awesome.  My work was to come at the end of the night.  The last three sets of the festival were Napoleon, Moris, and the Beefheart Hommage.

Napoleon’s set was the big challenge for me because I knew all the songs by ear, but had only played a few of them, and had to get up to speed on some that required the bass to be in specific places at specific times.  Advance Romance, Pygmy Twilight, and Inc Roads were the ones that I needed the most work on.  The routine in Advance, and Pygmy, and Torture, and Willy… is that each section may be similar, but there are small tweaks each time.  If the band isn’t coordinated it sounds awful.  Inca Roads, which is alternately easy and ball busting, involbed having a good feel in the solo sections and being accurate in the hard sections.  Watching Charly, Benoit, and Nicolas drill those parts all week was inspirational.  I may have been the weakest member on that tune, but I was not going to let them down.  Luckily Napoleon let me simplify some parts, and I was able to get through just fine.  I found myself leaning on the sense of timing and funk/soul that I have been working with since the beginning, so even if there are less notes, it will still sound like me getting funky and trying to nail that timing.  Napoleon complimented me on my work and performance, so no matter what the playback sounds like, it worked in the moment.

I only played on three songs with Moris, and I had said from the beginning that I have no ego about that kind of thing.  If he wants to work with me I am fine with that, but I won’t bitch if he wants to go in another direction.  He did, and I think the set had good energy, though there was a lot of frustration evident as some of the fine points had not been worked out.  A pro-co rat would have solved the problems with bass distortion…  I stood on the side of the stage and watched the show, and I would be lying if I didn’t think about what it could have been like.  The most surprising thing was how huge the sound was Moris was pushing for.  The recordings have this very detailed and often delicate sensibility, but the target for the live show was borderline manic.

The Beefheart Hommage was a triumph, but the actual set list was about a third of the prospective (24 tune) set list, and with songs being cut from the set right up to the opening piece, well, that was that.  I said it before: a more accurate set list would have meant higher quality and less wasted rehearsal and preparation.  I will probably have an audience recording to review to get the song list right, but IIRC:

  • Hair Pie (solo)
  • Love Lies
  • Party of Special Things to Do
  • Ice Rose
  • Orange Claw Hammer
  • Observatory Crest
  • Carrot is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond
  • Sue Egypt
  • When I see Mommy I Feel Like A Mummy
  • Floppy Boot Stomp
  • Tropical Hot Dog Night
  • Suction Prints

Whew!  Nice Set!

And with that there was a bow to the audience and a feeling that we had all thrived, as much as we survived.  The after-party was filled with photos and back slapping, but then a dance event broke out, with drumming and singing and Leo on Saxophone, and it sounded like an echo of an American field-holler washed through the European and the Nautical.  Fantastic night.  I dropped into bed at about 0600, Skyped Sandy to get the latest on Hurricane Irene and then got two hours of sleep before making revolutions to return to Paris, and then Home……..

Rochefort Festival Wrap Up – 4

Festival Preparation

Monday was travel day to get from the wilds of Picardie to the Atlantic coast and Rochefort.  The drive was uneventful, with the understanding that it was a groggy entourage operating on not much sleep.  Getting the vehicles packed was the first hurdle, then getting to Nicolas’ place for the meetup, and then hitting the road.  We had a little downtime while Charly looked for his vehicle reg and insurance.  Not hard to believe that official papers aren’t the primary concern of Charly 🙂  And with that we were off on a convoy, of sorts.  The trip involved heading back toward Paris in order to catch the main highway out to the west.  A few rest stops were in order, for coffee, a quick nap, and a snack.  Some of the rest stop concessions bear the name “Flunch”… which may be appetizing in French, but made me think of some euphemism for projectile vomiting.  “Dude, I totally flunched that pasta salad after I chugged all that Mountain Dew!”

The first four hours or so involved me riding shotgun in Charly’s Camaro, which is a noble ride.  Also, it is always sending heat to warm you up, which would be fine in October but not so much in August.  But we cranked some tunes and talked music… and the battery in Charly’s phone died… d’oh.  We switched up at a rest area so Owen could handle communications on his phone, and I rode with Nicolas and Napoleon in Nicolas’ BMW wagon.  Nicolas was truly spent, after all the trips to CDG on Saturday, and then a super long day on Sunday, so I drove for an hour or so while he zonked out in the back seat.  I love driving in Europe, so that was a nice surprise for me.  Nicolas handled the last hour or so once we left the highway.  After about 6 hours of driving, in the European manner, with plenty of rest stops, we rolled into Rochefort.

The festival site centered around “the Clos”, a large industrial space with a walled field facing the marina.  That was home base for the week, and a space that I took to calling “the dungeon” in reference to Zappa’s “The Torture never Stops”.  It was not the prettiest, or the best decor, but it was a great place to rehearse, practice, eat, and hang out.  Having that kind of central area was probably the thing that allowed whatever organization that did happen, to happen.  There I met the people I would be relying on for the week.  Philippe, the festival head-honcho and the guy with the most headaches at every moment of the week.  Elodie, the organizational maestro.  Benoit, the “fixer”.  Fanny, the “enforcer” (which is humorous, because every time she was thinking I was late for something I would appear, on time and ready to work).  Christian, the photographer.  Gilles, the head of the Capitanerie, and his first mate Christian.  Domenique, the driver, had been out to Louatre to drive people and gear back, and he was also the last person from the festival I would see before I left France.  Jean Francois, who was helping in some capacity but I know him mainly because he is learning accordion and I may have helped him with some timing concepts.

There was also a cast of other volunteers doing everything from cooking, driving, lugging equipment, and then the stage crew…. I only met Jan and Pierre, but the entire crew was professional and able.  More on that soon.

The first order of business was food, and the food at Rochefort en Accords was singularly the best event catering I have ever experienced.  Not that it was fancy or expensive, but it was like home-cooking at every meal.  Being lactose-intolerant can often mean having only a few choices in food, and often not good ones.  That was never an issue.  Every meal had fresh vegetables, salads, charcuterie, meats, and desserts.  I had to avoid some things like the lasagne with gruyere, or the quiche-like terrines studded with fresh cheese.  Oh, and no croissant!  That was the worst kind of “pain”…  As well, the cheese plates were amazing but I couldn’t take chances with my “availability”.  Did I mention the oysters (huitres)?  The local oyster has a deep rounded shell, a sweet and smallish meat, and an intense briny liquor.  They were brilliant!  No, not the same as anything here in the northeast, but fantastic and fresh.  I can only imagine how there are in the colder season when they would be tighter and crisper.

A quick list of what I remember (missing some things that I didn’t eat and didn’t pay enough attention to)  from the buffet: tomato-cuke salad with a variety of tomatoes that we would call “heirloom” but they just call tomato, celery root vinagrette like a fresh slaw, green salad with the sweetest greens I have had ever, cous cous, lentils with sausage, fromage de tete (possible pate de tete) in many forms and all delicious, hard boiled eggs to go with the terrine, other cured sausage products, andouilette (fresh pork sausage), boudin noir, a Choucroute de la Mare (which I am stealing and making here), lamb stew with mushroom, beef stew, several kinds of cooked beans with garlic and small amounts of meat, grilled sliced beef loin, oysters, steamed mussels, a paella type dish with chicken and seafood, terrines and quiche-like dishes with meat and vegetables, apple tarts, chocolate cake…. and always bread, always wine, always coffee, and also a local fortified sweet wine “pineau” which reminded me of vin santo but is made with cognac.  Oh, and two types of cognac: one younger and sweeter with a very fruit (apple and pear) nose, and one aged and more familiar to me.  The word is that the French export most of their cognac, the Japanese are the major consumers.  That said, the cognac that we had was very good, and if that is what stays and what is available locally, it could be a lot worse.

And as over the top as that sounds, it was just solid homestyle food.  Considering the workload and the stresses and ambition of the festival and the musicians, it was this kind of support that really made the work possible.  The constant support of the volunteers, the positive attitudes, the healthy food, the occasional glass of wine or spot of coffee at the moment when it was needed most….  those things made it easy to commit to large amounts of work over long hours, and get up and do it again each day.