Friday, September 11, 2009

a great story

I told the story below August of 2008 as the second blog entry. It is a great story. And with Ota records starting the promotion for Tales From the Earth starting I thought many of the blog readers might have missed it. 

The photo is of the musicians on the date (minus the balafone player Aly Keita). The musicians are, front row, left to right Omar Sosa, Jean Paul Bourelly (my co-producers), Ahu Luc Nicaise (lead singer and percussionist), back row, percussionist Mathais Agbonou, me, bassist Stan Michalak and drummer Marque Gilmore

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. Anyway, Jean-Paul 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 Con Alma (2006) and who co-produced Timbasa the album that will be coming out on Jazzheads early in 2010. 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, 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. 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. 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.

If you want the more details about how the music was recorded, scroll down 2 blog entries. 

Today is September 11th, cold and rainy, a dreary early Fall day and a perfect contrast to the bright warm September in 2001 when the Twin Towers were hit. I lived on the lower East Side when the Towers were being built and was very much into biking in the city. I was the cause of amusement to some construction workers one day when I biked down to the construction site and so taken by the structure fell sideways off my bike as I side-swiped the curb. My ex-wife was stuck on the NJ Turnpike on her way to work and saw the towers fall. I was getting a pepper and egg hero at the local Italian bakery when I heard that a plane had hit the towers. I rushed home just in time to see the second tower hit. I didn't believe my eyes. I live in Glen Ridge, an upper middle class community 12 miles west of Manhattan and many of my neighbors suffered losses of family and friends as did a number of my students. The resulting horror of loss of life, pain and finally foreign misadventures that caused even more loss and pain remind me of the sacrifice of the many ordinary people who have suffered as a result of war. Playing in the studio in Berlin gave me hope that even the worst human tragedies can be over-come by the human spirit. Today, remembering 9-11-2001 I can only hope and pray that the current nightmare of Iraq and Afghanistan might some day be no more than a memory and that peace might reign again someday between the various children of Abraham-- Muslim, Christian and Jew.