Sunday, August 31, 2008

back after 6 weeks

I have no idea whether this will go anywhere. The first and last entry was almost 6 weeks ago, so the prognosis is not good. What has happened meanwhile is a hectic summer of teaching, reading graduate course research proposals and confronting the consequences of my recent increase in recording (editing and mixing). I had intended to do this log in a logical sequence, telling the story of how I became a flute player, But with so much on my mind, I think I'm going to use the blog to help me come to terms with what is going on in my head.

As those of you who look at my webpage and myspace can see I've had a very hectic year and an especially challenging summer. My last album, recorded in March, 2007, Straight No Chaser come out in June and the other album I recorded last Spring, Lua e Sol, just landed on my doorstep. It is due out in October so have 1,000 promo copies and a few hundred to sell in boxes that I hold on to until it is time to start radio and press promotion. This Spring I recorded two and a half albums, and I have been mixing them all summer. I generally go through a lot of ups and downs when I finish an intensive period of recording and start confronting what I have done and these albums have put me in a emotional tailspin, trying to figure out whether I did the right thing in recording them (as usual each album is completely unique). But there is another issue underlying it all. My unwillingness to face something that every statistician knows (I teach research methods and so, although I am no statistician, I shouldn't be surprised). It is called 'regression to the mean.' Here is how it works. If a team or player is doing better than usual, it is a statistical certainty that as they continue their performance will move towards their average. So unless something fundamental has happened that signals an average movement upward (e.g. new players or strategies for the team or a change in training for the individual) one should reasonably expect the exceptional high to be followed by a drop. My last record, Con Alma, was 26 weeks on the charts and hit #1 in Jazzweek, and so I shouldn't have been surprised that Straight No Chaser hit the charts, but stayed pretty low, just as my previous album, O Nosso Amor did. Needless to say, it depressed me no end, since I was hoping that having a 'hit' album as far as radio play was concerned would shift me upward in the consciousness of DJ's and increase my radio play in general.

That much said, my mood is more attuned to problems then it is to achievement and I am feeling pretty stressed. So I am going back to the blog to give myself a boost, because as I look at things objectively, I have a great deal to be grateful for. An album that I recorded in Berlin with some amazing African musicians and Cuban pianist Omar Sosa should be coming out, as soon as I finalize the deal, and the albums I recorded this Spring are with some incredible musicians. If you go to myspace there are photos of all of those sessions with the musicians listed. The photo at the top of this blog entry is Omar Sosa at the console during the Berlin recording with percussionist/singers Aho Luc Nicaise and Mathais Ogbogoa (very faint kneeling in the middle of the frame) and me standing in the background. Recording the African album in Berlin was an incredible experience, and is a story worth telling. So I will!

The session was put together by guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly, a master musician and one of my all-time friends. We met in the 70's when I was playing in Washington Square Park, learning how to play bebop from a guitarist, just out of jail, whose name was Slim. Now that is a story worth telling, but that is for another time. Anyway, Jean-Paul had recorded an album with me in 2003 called Algo Mas, my first recording on Jazzheads and my first recording with master percussionist Pedrito Martinez who was one of the drummers on the record with which I began, Con Alma, and who co-produced one of the albums I have been mixing this summer. Got that all straight? Jean Paul (in 2004) was producing a concert in Berlin called the Black Atlantic, a week long festival of African based music from Europe, the US and other places. He asked me if I would play on it, but then took back the offer since somehow a white Jew from Brooklyn was not the image the concert was promoting. While we were discussing the possibilities I asked him who would be there, and he mentioned that Omar Sosa would be there and a number of African musicians including balafone virtuoso Ali Keita. Omar had recorded an album with me in 2001, Cuban Roots Revisited, and I knew Omar was originally a classically trained mallet player (vibes, marimba, tympani, the works) and so I had a brain-storm. Go to Berlin and make an album with vibes, marimba, balafone (an African marimba and the reason they play marimbas in Central and South America) African percussion and myself.

So here is the background. Picture this! A brick complex in Berlin, a number of buildings around a small park, behind the main street and isolated from the traffic. Me (a New York Jew) a Polish bass-player, Stan Michalak, tall and thin, with glasses and a beret, dressed in black (a classic image of a Polish intellectual). Three African musicians, two dressed in vividly colored African style clothes, Omar Sosa, a black Cuban, who is dedicated to Santeria and so who was wearing all white clothes and with beads and as always when he plays, incense on the piano (we played music that was based on the African religion that is the basis for Santeria), An African-American drummer, Marque Gilmore with dread-locks past his waist and Jean-Paul, 6 feet 4, of Haitian-American descent (there is picture on my space of all of guys, with their names, except for Ali Keita who missed the picture). We went into the studio with absolutely nothing, nothing planned, no music, not even a concept and recorded two days of free-jazz based on African themes. It was amazing! Now, at last, the story:

Towards the end of the first day as evening was approaching I went outside to look at the beautiful little park and to smoke a Dutch cigarillo, very addictive, don't even try them (if you need to smoke, smoke reefer). Outside was one of the engineers. I asked him, 'This is a very interesting complex, is it pre-war?' He looked at me and said, 'The complex was Goebbels' information ministry.' It was pure acid! Here I was playing free-jazz to African music, a Jew, a Pole, 3 Africans and 3 new-world people of African descent in the heart of the Nazi culture machine, its idea factory.

The next day we piled into two cabs outside the hotel we were all staying in and headed back to the studio. The entrance to the complex was a very narrow street and the lead cab driver missed it. So we stopped in the avenue and walked the few hundred feet to the complex. And there in the middle of the narrow street leading to the complex was a dead rat, big as a cat, squashed by a car. And I had an epiphany-- clear as a bell. The rat was Goebbels, the music drove him crazy and he ran out to be smushed by a car.

So with experiences like that, how dare I be bummed out about the lack of anything.

More to come.