Flesh & Bone #1: Take it from the top 

On April 3, 2009 my band People, Places & Things found ourselves in the midst of a neo-Nazi rally in the Czech Republic. We had just embarked on a European tour and were changing trains in the small Czech town of Prerov on our way to Poland. The demonstrators surrounded the train station and the rally erupted into a street battle with attack dogs, tear gas, riot police and us: two white and two black American musicians running for our lives. Eight hours later, under armed security police escort, we finally were able to escape the country.

Since that life-threatening experience, I’ve wanted to produce some type of creative response: to express the feelings it generated, to revisit the encounter and all of the issues surrounding it, to reflect upon how it continues to shape our worldview.

On November 20, 2015 at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of their Extensions Out Series, we will premiere Flesh & Bone, a new work inspired by our experience.

This blog will be a place to share what happened that day, our thoughts and reflections, as well as be portal to our artistic process. Along the way, I’ll post conversations with a variety of creative people to capture their thoughts, struggles and tribulations in a world of changing contexts within the larger confines of race and politics.

Please note that this is not a tribute to anyone nor a commemoration of something monumental. It is not recreation or re-imagining of someone else’s work and it is not a dissertation on race or the idea of blackness. This is a reflection on life, in the context of an experience that actually happened to us.

So let’s take it from the top. Here’s the full account of the events of April 3, 2009 from a blog post I did a few days after.

Friday July 10 

Performances are rare these days for my quartet People, Places & Things; but we’re playing this Friday at Constellation 3111 N. Western.
8:30pm, $10


Greg Ward - alto
Tim Haldeman - tenor
Jason Roebke - bass
Mike Reed - drums


We’ll be performing music from our forthcoming record
A New Kind of Dance
Inline image 1

You can get a sample here
 
This summer we also will begin work on a long form work which reflects on our life changing experience when the band was caught in the middle of fascist race riot while on tour in the Czech Republic (You can read an account I wrote back in 2009 here). We hope to premier the work in November of this year and will be joined by our friends Jason Stein and Marquis Hill.
 

Way Out West 


People, Places & Things makes a rare trip out west to play a couple show:

Friday May 17 @ the Center for New Music In San Francisco
With the Darren Johnston Ensemble
55 Taylor Street, SF
8pm

Saturday May 18 @ The Penofin Jazz Festival 20th Anniversary
1820 West Road Potter Valley, CA
5pm

Good News...Bad News 


The Good:

This week my new record Clean on the Corner (482 Music), featuring my band People, Places & Things, was released. We play a release show this Sunday at The Hungry Brain in Chicago.

 

The Bad:

Unfortunately due to incidents beyond my control our upcoming shows in Europe had to be cancelled (insert sad face here).

Thanks for those who tried to make it happen! I hope to make it up to you in the future. UPDATE: We're making our plans to be back in Europe in the fall of 2012! Stay tuned for concert updates.

 


Myth/Science 


In the winter I was commissioned by the Experimental Sound Studio to create a performance that in some way used or was inspired by material contained in the 700 hours of the Sun Ra/El Saturn Audio Collection. This audio archive is a vast assortment of rehearsal tapes, masters, live recordings, speeches and poetry left behind by Sun Ra and manager Alton Abraham. Although an interesting proposition I was reluctant to dive into it since my working band People, Places & Things has gained much of it's success dealing with re-inventing and positioning the obscure Chicago hard bop scene circa 1954-60. With that in mind I wasn't interested in developing a reputation for re-igniting the past.

After some thinking and discussions with collaborator Jason Adasiewicz I came up with the notion of forming a large group to perform this project AND to specifically enlist his talents to accomplish the task. The first step in the process was to completely dismiss the idea of commenting or honoring Sun Ra. Neither one of us are fanatics and there's not much more anyone is going to add to the discussion of the man and the legend. The more interesting idea was of creating new music using someone's un-finished, un-wanted and abandoned material. In my mind it doesn't matter who's tapes these are, it's just source material , in this case it happens to be Sun Ra.

The aggregation of musicians was another selling point since this project, and it's debut performance at the Chicago Jazz Fest, would give me the ability and excuse to convene these members.

Greg Ward – alto sax

Taylor Ho Bynum – cornet

Ingrid Laubrock – tenor sax

Tomeka Reid – cello

Mary Halvorson – guitar

Jason Adasiewicz – vibes, arrangements

Nick Butcher – electronics

Tomas Fujiwara – drums

Mike Reed – drums, electronics

The band is basically comprised of a long time group of mine, Loose Assembly, and a collection of New York based peers that have a similar artistic and career trajectories. This was an important feature not only to further musical relationships but to showcase a stylistic and generational density that exists beyond the confines of our locales and beyond the minds of those who measure one against the other.
 

The Music:
The material is derived from one rehearsal tape marked “NY 1961” featuring Ra, John Gilmore and Ronnie Boykins. Stretching just over one hour in length the tape seems more of a stream of consciousness songwriting session with few details worked out but many ideas played through. Adasiewicz was especially adept at identifying melodic and harmonic themes. Out of this we came up with outlines of tune material and ideas for structures that gave way to a more complete interpretation of the nebulous material. Adasiewicz set his intense skill set to work coming up with orchestration parts to expand the sounds we originally heard from the trio on the tape to a tentet alignment that had yet to play together. This project might be mine in concept but is definitely his in execution and orchestration. Additionally I went back through the archive to find interesting source material which Nick Butcher will manipulate in his handmade "electronic" set up (comprised of cheap consumer goods such as tape players, radios, record players) and a computer. This further uses the archive as collage sample snippets and improvisational background material.

This project was possible with the support of the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation.

P.S.
The name is an obvious homage to early titles for the Sun Ra band...Sun Ra and His Myth Science Arkestra

 

A short list of lists 

The Village Voice Top 50 Jazz Records for 2010
Stories and Negotiations #29
Sun Rooms #39

New York Times Albums of The Year by Ben Ratliff
Sun Rooms #7

New York Times Top Songs of The Year by Ben Ratliff
Third Option #10 (from Stories and Negotiations)

Chicago Reader Top Albums of 2010 by Peter Margasak
Sun Rooms #11
Stories and Negotiations #17

NPR Music Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2010 by Patrick Jarenwattananon
Stories and Negotiations #10

The Examiner Top Jazz Albums of 2010 by Neil Tesser

Stories and Negotiations #9
Stories and Negotiations #2 (Chicago release for 2010)

Boston Phoenix Top 10 Jazz Stories of 2010 by Jon Garelick

Best of...The Hungry Brain 

In January of 2001 Josh Berman and myself began the Sunday Transmission series at the Hungry Brain. Since then we've presented different Jazz and Improvised Music every week and combined our efforts into the Umbrella Music group, which programs different concert around Chicago each week. After many late night discussions about how to celebrate the 10 year anniversary we came up with an idea to make the festivities last an entire year. Starting on January 9th, 2011 we will showcase a special “best of” night along the regular weeks of programming. We also hope to record each show and release a limited edition compilation recording along with a hand made book and possible video.

Here's a list of some confirmed shows that will be part of the anniversary program.

January 9             AGOGIC featuring Andrew D'Angelo and Coung Vu
February 20         Available Jelly
April 10                Misha Mengleberg Solo & Han Bennink Solo
May 15                The Engines with John Tchicai
July 31                 Jeff Parker Trio with Chris Lopes and Chad Taylor
September 11      Lotte Anker, Craig Taborn & Gerald Cleaver
October                Fred Lonberg Holm Valentine Trio
December            People, Places & Things

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Blue 

On November 20 my group Loose Assembly will do its' first performance in over a year. The last show was part of the 2009 Umbrella Music festival and featured special guest Roscoe Mitchell. That concert was recorded and released on 482 Music last week and this upcoming show will act as a CD release for that album Empathetic Parts. Although, most CD release concerts showcase the material from the recording I believe we'll take this opportunity to try some new stuff as well. The program has not been completely set, but the creative faucet is open and it will be unique to the event and possibly a new recording in the making. The free concert itself will be on the Pritzker stage at Millennium Park, but don't worry the show IS NOT OUTDOORS. The fantastically designed band shell allows for a large window to drop down and the entire performance and audience will be encapsulated on the stage itself.

Show at 4pm doors at 3pm. FREE!

In other news, People, Places & Things has finished the record we started working on 3 weeks ago. I'm especially happy with the tune I wrote while on the road in funky hotel rooms. The entire band contributed to the arrangement with guest Josh Berman on cornet. The new piece, entitled House of Three Smiles, is derived from the solo Jason Adasiewicz takes on his tune I Hope She is Awake. His tune was of course to his love and wife Val, but gained a second meaning when they produced a beautiful daughter – Isabella Rose. He would soon introduce the tune with this new angle as well. As an envious admirer of these close friends and adopted family I thought of how to make the tune my own and remembered the poem by W.S. Merwin – Song of Three Smiles. This recreation has its' own personal value which can be more fully understood by reading the poem. Thanks to Mike Stevens for introducing me to Merwin and to Isabella for letting me know that a good banana can make everything better. You can check out the new tune here.

New idea on the same old question 

Over the last few weeks I've done a good handful of interviews mostly due to the tour that People, Places & Things just concluded. Although it's nice to get some attention to help promote the shows it becomes tiresome answering the same questions. It makes me wonder how much homework the interviewer did in preparation. Most, if not all, of the answers to the questions are already out there in interviews and reviews of the People, Places & Things recordings released since 2008. The question that seems particularly bothersome is some version of

“what made you want to re-investigate the music of Chicago circa 1954-60?”
referencing to my band People, Places & Things and the three records that take a snapshot of Chicago Jazz, past & present."

My first thought is to just say “read the fucking liner notes!” or take a look on the web at some of the material that's already out there. Of course I'm not that crass, and do my best to explain the idea...again.

Something occurred to me after one of these interviews which seems to answer a deeper meaning to the question. If we're really doing our best as creative people we are essentially saying something about right now despite the source material. A great interpretation of a Jazz standard can only be accomplished when the artist makes the piece their own. My attempts with People, Places & Things' first three recordings are also commenting on recognition right now.

At best it is an attempt to get people, especially critics and musicians, to look at all that is happening and possible outside of the world of New York – in other communities especially their own. The cultural capital that does or could exist in other places is essential to this observation so that these moments and places don't wither. It is the building blocks for communities, artists and the infrastructures that surround them. More specifically for me it is important that another moment in Chicago is not under recognized or under represented. Of course this applies to more than Chicago and more than the Jazz and improvised music world, but all aesthetic movements. As this tour came to an end I am more convinced that the Bostons, Detroits, D.Cs of the world have lost the ability to sustain a scene because of a myopic sense of what and where the music is most valued. For those of us who venture out to these places it is important that the community of fans, artists and documentors are healthy and vibrant. If not it makes what we do more difficult and maybe even slightly pointless. This will only be possible when all of those entities recognize the value in itself and in the possibilities for other people, places & things. I was highly impressed by the scene surrounding the Clown Lounge in St. Paul, which seems to have their own valued scene and a commitment to itself. Thanks to J.T. Bates for hosting us and all of the folks up there that are a great model of what is possible.