Tag Archives: Rochefort

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.

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The French Are Different…

from Americans, in many ways.  Up front there is the fact that a small community like Rochefort, France puts on a well supported festival at all.  We have cities here in the US that don’t do half as much despite much larger populations and more financial resources.  The way the arts are integral to daily life in much of Europe is still a shock to me after many festivals and experiences.  Artists we modestly paid, well fed, and the festival was well organized.  Not rocket science.  But the people volunteering were residents, people who lived and worked in Rochefort and were going beyond the typical “taxpayer support” we get here, and putting their shoulder to the wheel to make the festival happen.

There was also the question of how artists were treated, and received.  I am a guy with a bass who had this gig land in my lap.  Still, I was not given any less due than anyone else, and there were some MONSTER players at this festival.  Working my ass off was the *least* I could do in return for the honor of playing here.  As well, we had small audiences of volunteers and passersby during some rehearsals, and they even dug that.  If you don’t know, real rehearsals are kinda painful events filled with a lot of repetition (the French word for rehearsal is “repetition”) and to anyone on the outside it usually loses its charm after about two minutes.  In one case it was Napoleon Murphy Brock running us through critical cues and timing, which took a lot of work over the course of at least an hour straight, and the crowd wasn’t spacing out.  When we nailed it, finally, they applauded.  They got it.  I’ve never been around anything like that before.  The same thing repeated itself with rehearsals of Beefheart material, and even running through blues shuffles with Innes Sibun!

The approach to a daily routine was different as well.  When we work, we work hard,  Time to take a break, that is the TIME to take a BREAK.  Yes, it could be frustrating for an American who measures things by punctuality and productivity (which I am not really one of), but the work got done, and since many of my days ended at 1:00am with my ears ringing, it was nice to have that spot of downtime at lunch or dinner time, and maybe a short break and a glass of wine at about 10:00pm, before tackling the “home stretch”.  Much as the way the Germans would riot if the beer concessions was bad, I have a feeling that the whole operation would have failed if not for good wine and good food.

Then there was the case of the children.  I encountered a lot of polite and attentive kids at Rochefort.  Some were outright amazing, like Leo, the kid who played all kinds of instruments and played some very well.  Some were intent on saturating me with questions, or making me a crayon sketch, or just trying out a phrase in English and slapping me five.  You don’t want to set anything other than a good example for kids like these.  Even if they are still running around at 1:00am, they are not out of control or whining or looking for someone to entertain them.

OK, there has to be a “downside” and that was the shock that everyone, it seems, smokes!  I don’t think it was as much of a shock going in as it was when I got home.  I arrived in Charlotte for my connection and was expecting to see smoking teenagers drinking wine in the airport!  What?  No public smoking?  It was a bit of a shock.  Still, it was not as hard to take as smoking here in the states… not sure why.  I have no idea what their public health stats are like, but as in much of Europe, smokes are everywhere.

All told, for my first time in France, I could not have asked for a better experience.  I could get used to that routine… really.

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.

Rochefort Festival Wrap Up – 3

People (photos to come later)

The largest unknown about this experience was the people.  I had only met Napoleon as a fan/musician and never as part of one of his bands.  Beyond that I knew absolutely nobody at this festival.  As well, I was going to be playing with musicians that I had no common ground with.  I looked up the band Peach Noise on YouTube and I noticed two things: very good musicians, and their bass player plays very differently from me.  Coincidentally his name is Philby Brunelli!  At least we have that in common.

I landed at CDG at about 0700 local, and then went to the baggage claim and grabbed my bag.  With perfect timing, drummer Charly Doll pulled up in front just as I walked out of the terminal.  As we walked back to the car he passed around the back of a huge Mercedes 500-series, and I thought “if he gets in that ride it will be a huge disappointment…” because Charly does not look like the luxury sedan type.  Parked in front of the merc was a 1978 Camaro… more like it.  Charly *is* that car.  We had a great drive to his home out in the south of Picardie, in the village of Louatre.  I was sitting in the yard by 0830 and listening to the chirping of birds and breathing the clean air.  This, I thought, is more like it.  I barely left the “Doll House” until we left for Rochefort on Monday morning.  Why would I?

First I met Veronique, a friend who had signed on to handle the food preparation for the weekend.  That was no small task as there was a crowd of musicians, family, and friends at the house from lunch through the end of the day.  Veronique is a marionette master and works on that French TV show with the marionette round table (Les Guignols de L’Info).  It was quite an honor to have someone of her talents preparing the cuisine.  Helping Veronique was Sandy, who performed all kinds of tasks including being the master Sommelier!  He is an artist and I need to find a way to get a better look at his work.  He had a few images on his phone, and what I saw was fantastic.  Also, Brigitte, who was pitching in and getting into all kinds of trouble.  We all had a few truly great conversations out in the garden and around the table.

And Then… who should roll out of bed but mallet-percussion maestro Benoit Moerlen.  I will admit that his work with Gong is not part of my musical background, and I think we got on great because of that.  He doesn’t relate to that period of his past, and since I don’t either it was a great match.  He fills out the other end of the energy spectrum from Charly.  Where Charly is the force of nature that Napoleon and I nicknamed “Hurricane Charly”, Benoit is like a sleepy cloud drifting by, but that does not mean that he can’t turn into a storm when the time comes.  His playing is just top shelf.  When Steve Chillemi and I saw him play on YouTube we just looked and nodded…  “The band is good, but that marimba player is a motherfucker…”  That is the truth.

Nicolas Mignot lives about 15 minutes away and was hosting some of the other musicians at his home, so when I saw him it was usually when the whole entourage of him, his wife Pascale, her son Owen, and others arrived with Moris, Napoleon, and others.  Pascale is amazing, with California-girl looks and an amazing soul.  Owen is the same age as my Nephew Nick, and also a drummer.  Nicolas is the middle man in the Peach Noise energy spectrum, never too high or low, but daummmmm can he play guitar.

We also met Charly’s mom, Bette, who is about 94 and sharp as a tack.  Charly built her an apartment with an attached hallway that is a beautiful and touching way for her to live the highest quality of life with family and friends.  She doesn’t get around so well, but her mind is clear as a bell.  We had a conversation about the tragedy of families not eating dinner at the table together, and she told me, in English(!!) “The children do not learn from the parents”.  I almost cried.  What a beautiful person.

I can’t remember everyone I met at the house that weekend.  There was Saul and Claire, William, Alex and his brothers, … as bad as I am with names I remember how great everyone was, how open, how friendly, and how generous.

Sunday involved about 7 hours of rehearsals and run-throughs, just to get some music going and feel like we were making some progress.  Also it was a chance to see how we would work together.  We worked on Willie the Pimp, and a few other things with Napoleon, confirming that this would be a precision effort.  We also worked on a few things with Moris, confirming that he was looking for something very specific, and not just “the feel”.  We were also joined by Eric Drew Feldman and Laurie Hall, who were sleeping at the house across the street from Charly and got in some rehearsal on the piano there.  Additionally, Rob Laufer was there, I think he was staying with Nicolas, and I had no idea what to expect.  What I found very quickly was that he is a monster player and musical mind and IMO should have been the Musical Director for both Moris and the Beefheart tribute.  The guy can play so well in so many styles, and process so much music so quickly that it was hard for me to absorb it.

Of course, the party situation was what the trip was all about.  I was quickly introduced to the “truth about French wine”… and here it is: Wine is a birthright, good inexpensive wine is the cornerstone of that birthright, and the French have many rationalizations for their failure to export these great, affordable wines to the world at large.  The wine does not like to be shipped.  They don’t want to use preservatives.  The production is very small.  and so on…  The reality is: they NEED the wine, you don’t.  Therefore, No Wine For You.  We get a lot of Vin Industrial here in America, or very expensive wines that are essentially made for export and not for the French.  In France, 4 Euro gets you a wine that is a monument to balance and terroir, and 15 Euro gets you a monster of a wine.  The “big boy” 30 Euro and upward wines are better than what we get here in the USA.  So, deal with it, American pig-dogs. They have the wine you want, but you have to come here if you want it.  And if you don’t like it?  Pitche Le Vache!

Rochefort Festival Wrap Up – 2

Music

The invitation to this festival came almost exactly two years after my last festival experience, Zappanale 20.  I came back from Zappanale 20 drained, disgusted, disillusioned, and thinking that I was done playing covers of Zappa.  When I returned from Zappanale I received the invitation to play bass in Mayhem Circus Electric, and that has defined my playing for the past two years.  These past two years were among the most fulfilling, if not the most productive, I have had as a musician.  Working with MCE and the other New Haven Improvisors Collective events gives me the opportunity to play the way I like to play (instinctively), with people I like to play with.  It is also notable that the last time I played any of the music of Captain Beefheart was the last gig I played with Doctor Dark… at Zappanale 16 in 2005!  In that context the invite to play Rochefort, which came via Zappa frontman Napoleon Murphy Brock, and was pitched as me playing Beefheart music, was in one way a large step backward.  But I also know that I value the connections I made through Zappanale, and still deeply love the music of both Zappa and Van Vliet.

So that is the framework of the “grand bargain” that keeps cropping up with me and festival performances.  My hope is that gigs like Rochefort lead me toward opportunities to play experimental, improvisational, and world-style music.  Meanwhile, when I get an opportunity that involves playing “inside the lines” in the way that this one did, I just put my nose to the grindstone and do my best.  I *can* play this way, it is just that I don’t play this way naturally.  And no mistake, the gigs I was asked to participate in at Rochefort were very inside the lines affairs.  I thought I was doing one set of Beefheart music, with a few tunes involving Napoleon… uh, no.  The Rochefort gig turned out to be a complete set with Napoleon, and no hacking the corners off the music there.  Play the piece correctly, and play it well as an ensemble.  Then came participating in a Beefheart tribute with ex-Magic Band members.  Beefheart music is hard to play correctly.  Even though it sounds improvised it is not, and the parts are very specific.  I think that I have some very good bass parts for Beefheart music, but they are not exact to the reference recordings.  Next, Moris Tepper wanted his bass parts played very tightly, and that would have involved me reading chord charts, which he didn’t want me to (but happened anyway, just not by me).  Oddly, the closest thing to carte blanche was given to me by blues guitarist Innes Sibun.  I had never heard of him before, but now I have and am thankful for that opportunity.  In a way it was just slinging blues shuffles and Hendrix tunes.  But I was also able to work with timing and dynamics and feel and all the things that I can do when not replicating someone else’s bass parts. The blues shall set you free!

Napoleon was a real pleasure to work with.

Napoleon, holding court at Louatre

He and I are very different, and in the past I have not been able to square-up that difference.  I met him for the first time at a Paul Green School/Doctor Dark gig at the Knitting Factory NYC back in 2004.  After that I met him when we were at Zappanale, or he was on the road with project/object.  The main difference I feel is that Napoleon takes himself very seriously, and has no self deprecation at all.  That is rare, and maybe so rare that I did not know how to interface with it.  I have had some time to reflect on what he does, who he is, and how he works.  He is a professional and a showman.  There is no shoegazing, ennui, or artifice.  What you see is who he is.  Very serious, very consistent, very funny, very giving, and in a way very patient.  Being able to work directly with him, as part of the challenge of bonding with new bandmates, and playing some music I have never played before, was just amazing.  The core of the band was Charly Doll, Nicolas Mignot, and Benoit Moerlen from the band Peach Noise (among other credits).  Suffice it to say that they are all top-shelf players, hard working to the brink of mania, and I can now count them as my friends.  Working with that unit was pure pleasure.

The Beefheart tribute was a different story, but not a bad one.

Eric Drew Feldman chats with Charly Doll, Rochefort, France

Eric Drew Feldman ended up playing a lot of the bass parts on keyboard, and in the end the Magic Band alums did a lot of the heavy lifting.  I played bass on a few things and was more than happy to let Eric take the bass chair.  In the end the huge setlist of over 24 songs never materialized, and the setlist was being cut down on the side stage before the hommage/finale. I got to watch Eric play the bass solo “Hair Pie” to open the hommage set, and damn did it send shivers down my spine.  It was a real honor to watch him work.  Same with Moris.  I believe that the Beefheart tribute was a triumph, and the credit goes foremost to Eric and Moris for making sure the pieces were done in the form and spirit that was intended.

Innes Sibun was one of the nicest people I have played with, maybe ever.

Innes, Jamming at the Clos, Rochefort, France

He is also a real-deal guitar strangler and Rory Gallagher freak!  I think back to that Rory album I got out of the cut-out bin back in the late 70’s and this encounter takes on a deeper significance.  I love the blues, and love playing it and immersing myself in it.  At Rochefort we made a 4-piece with Bruno Bertrand on drums and Or Solomon on keys. That was a pretty rockin combo, and it seemed that Innes was pleasantly surprised that his mutant “pickup band” worked so well together.  Bruno and I got on great, and the same with Or.  At our first gig at the Corderie park Innes created a “secret word” moment by blurting out “Giggity”, in reference to Glenn Quagmire from the show Family Guy.  That led to a running joke and a lot of unintentional hilarity.  WOOT!

Moris Tepper was the wild card for me.

Moris at Louatre, France

He had contacted me early and asked me to play bass with him.  He sent me MP3’s and my impression from our conversations was “get the feel right, don’t worry so much about the notes”, but the more I listened and played along to his songs the more I knew that this wasn’t a person who was going to let anyone freelance on his material.  So I worked my ass off, but what I should have done is asked for charts.  I believe that on Moris’ side of the table he wishes he had just delivered charts along with the MP3’s.  On a personal level we got along fine, and shared some really fine moments together.  Musically what he wanted was so far outside of my comfort zone that I had to scramble, the stress got a bit much, and a compromise was reached.  French bass/guitar player Jeff (name soon) played on most of the set.  I played three songs that has 2-bass-2-drum arrangements.

Moris’ set was, I believe, one of the most ambitious at Rochefort.  He had Rob Laufer with him, writing horn arrangements, playing drums, directing sidemen, and even writing out a few chord charts for me.  That ambition, combined with the lack of rigid rehearsal scheduling, shifting priorities, and some tricky set changes, made it a very gripping experience.  My feeling is: I could have played his set and done it well, but there would have been compromises on my need for charts, and to a lesser degree on intonation.  Fretless bass is cruel mistress, and if you need super strong fundamental pitches and are used to keyboards and fretted Fender bass, then fretless will always come up short.  And not being the best (I have good pitch, not perfect) I was never going to nail it the way he wanted it.  Moris wasn’t willing to make those compromises in rehearsal, but IMO ended up with a compromised live performance.  Still, the audience dug what he did, and I got to be part of a really cool set by an artist I now have a deep respect for.

Moris, on the Main Stage, Rochefort en Accords festival

For the festival program in general: In hindsight it would have been better if I knew what pieces I was playing, and could practice them without working on a load of extra pieces that I never got to play live.  As it was I busted my ass learning a lot of material that I never got to play and as a result I was spread a bit thin.  I also never got to see a few of the sights around the town of Rochefort that I wanted to see.  That is in hindsight.  In the moment I was having a ton of fun and would not have changed anything.