It’s been a while! Europe in May

Okay, it’s been waaaay too long since I last posted. Seeing as it’s July and the last post was in mid-April, that means somehow 3 months have passed without a post. This includes trips to France, Poland, Serbia, Chicago and Los Angeles and about 20 shows. So, I’ve alot to catch up for….

I’ll start with the Ton Trio dates in Europe. This happened at the very end of April and the first week of May. Kurt Kotheimer and I flew over to Paris to meet up with Sam Ospovat, who’s been living there since last October. He’s been enrolled in school, teaching English, and getting acquainted with some players on the Parisian scene and having a good time of it. It was hard for us to book dates in Paris, and though we were there for 5 days, we were only able to arrange 1 concert. This with many months of lead time. However, this gave us some days to get back into the music from The Way, and to work on some new pieces that I brought for this trip. We had some rehearsals in a space that was somewhat of a catacomb – borrowed a bass from one of Sam’s friends that lives up on the 6th floor (with no elevator) – and prepared for our concert at a space called Nouveau Cosmos. A bar and cafe, we had a decent crowd and made a good night of it. We also had Quentin Sirjac join us for a few songs on piano. It was my first time in Paris, and after being there and talking to musicians about the difficulties of doing concerts there, I felt better about only having one date there. Apparently it’s pretty tough to get shows there, especially creative music.

So, Ton Trio headed over to Poland for concerts with stops in Krakow, Warsaw and Poznan. The concerts were good, and I felt like we played together better than we ever had. And as in my previous visits, the folks having the concerts for us were very helpful. But, the attendance at the shows was less than I had expected, which was kind of a downer. Our last show was in Poznan, and in talking to the promoter, it seems there is somewhat of an audience crisis happening there – somewhat due to the worldwide economic thing – a tough time to be trying to get your foot in the door of European festival promoters and audiences in general. Not that playing this music is ever easy, in terms of getting the music out there be it through recordings or live shows. But, we were made very welcome by our hosts; after staying in Poznan an extra day and recording the new material, we had a few extra days before Kurt & Sam needed to return to Paris, so we went down to Krakow, and had a good time at Alchemia one night – and got to go to a great spot up on a hill overlooking the southern parts of the city. A good visit.

Sam & Kurt went back to Paris and I went back to Warsaw, where I stayed for a few days before the next part of my trip. I stayed with my friend Wojciech Traczyk, the bassist from the Light, one day we recorded some music, the last night I was in Poland I went with him to a concert he was playing at the Hard Rock Cafe Warsaw – funny place. Ran into Waclaw Zimpel a few times – he was busy at the time playing in several groups. It felt good to see some more of the ongoings of the scene in Warsaw – the musicians I know there are staying real busy, with a big variety of projects. Inspiring.

So my next stop on the trip was a rendezvous with the Fast Citizens in Belgrade. Several Chicago groups were asked to be part of the annual Ring Ring Festival. There programming tends to be slanted towards more improvised and electroacoustic music. So, I’m not sure if they thought that our music would fit in. We got in a day early and had a full rehearsal the day of the concert in the space, which was quite boomy – it took us a long time to decide where to actually play, on the floor or on the stage. For playing it sounded better on the stage, as a listener it was better on the floor. We finally decided on the floor. Pretty much right on time (20:00) the audience showed up, and the concert went very well. The Necks played the first set that night, they really pulled in the audience with their minimalist aesthetic – Tony Buck sounded great on drums. As we took over for the second set, the crowd of a few hundred rearranged, with a chunk of people sitting on the stage behind us – this created a great feeling with people all around, and I think it worked well to tame the acoustics in the room. The response to the music was very positive, which was extra rewarding after the smaller events in Poland and France.

The organizers were completely helpful, arranging for our accommodations for several days and being ready and willing to talk about the festival, and Belgrade itself, a very interesting city that has seen it’s share of troubles. The city is a real mix between old and new, with a sprawling ancient citadel close by the club where the festival took place – Rex. Lots of capitalist style commercialism in the fashion stores and sidewalk cafes with stray dogs taking naps at bus stops and homeless children (young) close by. (Why is it that the homeless know better English than store owners? Pure finances) Boyan was a great help to all of us, it was great to talk to him about the history of Serbia including Yugoslavia.

So, my next stop was Berlin. I’ve never been and have heard so many great things about Berlin that I decided when booking this trip that I had to make a side trip. I arranged a solo concert at the Electronic Church, which I happened to share with Liz Allbee and George Cremaschi, both of whom are now ex-Oaklanders. George moved to the Czech Republic full time a bit over a year ago, and Liz has decided to move to Berlin. Why is it that I know more musicians who move to Europe from the Bay Area than from Chicago? Is it because it is farther away and you may as well just move there if you want to have a presence on the continent? Is it because in Chicago there are more established series and contacts? Perhaps a combination? I was glad to share the bill with Liz & George and talk to them about their plans. It’s inspiring to see people taking a chance by moving to new countries – I hope the best for them.

The Electronic Church is a smaller space, the show was on a Sunday and there were something like 5 other creative music shows that night including one with Tony Buck, one with Axl Dorner & Fred Lonberg-Holm, etc… but, we still had a nice little crowd and I was glad to meet a few people – thanks Shintaro for arranging it! I didn’t have alot of time in Berlin – 2 nights – so spent one day wandering – mainly in the former East Berlin. Went by the Reichstag, and the Brandenburg Gate – touristy. Good to see though. I was really into the feel of Berlin as a city – the transit is great – goes everywhere, is affordable – I had the best falafel I think I’ve had in a looong time at Babel, enjoyed the streets and neighborhoods – kind of like Chicago with more trees – kind of like Portland with more city. Lots of cyclists – relaxed though, not speeding around like here in the states. Also, don’t think I saw a single bike helmet. Really glad I went, and want to get back there sometime soon!

My trip was almost over and I had to fly out of Paris, and had to get back there. I had been in touch with Audrey Chen and she had a concert happening at Atelier Tampon that she invited me to take part in the night before my flight back to the states. Perfect. So, I flew from Berlin on Monday morning, had a 2 hour layover, got into Paris around 5, met Sam at his apartment on Q’uai d’Orsay around 6, dropped off my things and then took the Metro to the space. Thankfully I’d been in Paris the week before and knew how to get around, otherwise it wouldn’t have worked out so well! The space is one of the few places in Paris that has creative music concerts and has hosted all sorts of people including Henry Grimes in it’s small confines. There was an opening at the same time with lots of delicious organic wine – the red was almost effervescent! Very good. First Audrey played a duo with Id M Theftable, a fellow from Maine who does electronics and voice improv, then I joined them for some playing. A good concert, with food afterwards in the upstairs apartment. A great last night of music on the continent. We stayed late and eventually took a taxi all together, even though I was staying in a totally different part of town. I didn’t get much sleep, but this was for the best, as I caught up for it on the plane headed back to California, getting a leg up on the jet lag.