Sunday, June 26, 2016

wake up!

This blog is the story of a dream, and sometimes you get a wake-up call. Those were the days, you had a phone service and you could put in for a wake up call. Someone would 'pull your coat' as the saying goes and then sometimes it takes 40 plus years for reality to set in. My last record is my last record as the saying might go. And IN JERUSALEM  is most likely my last record. It is a fitting end, something I wanted to do and was given the opportunity to do. Go to Israel and make a record. I had a logic conference to go to in Corsica and an argumentation conference to go to in Amsterdam and 10 days in between. So I went to visit my friend Menachum in Jerusalem. Menachum introduced me to Steve Peskoff. Steve is an ex-pat New York guitar player and he was watching over an old Arab house in the German Colony and using it as a studio. We played a few times in this idealic setting and gave a performance for an audience of one, my very old and dear friend Lisa Levine. It was wonderful. The music flowed and I decided to come back and make a record. I got a small grant from my university to do some work with Arab and Israeli educators and asked Steve to put together a quintet. Steve's son was a great drummer and a percussionist I knew from New York, Gilad Dobrecky, was living in Israel. Add one bass player and we have a band. I asked Steve to chose some Hasidic tunes and write originals. I would contribute half of the album and Steve half. We listened to some music together and we both felt there would be no problem recording, as usual with little rehearsal and long days in the studio.

As is usual with such disconnected projects we didn't come fully loaded, Steve contributed one original and 2 nigunim (Hassidic melodies). I contributed two originals, one dedicated to my parents and a tune I called Meir's Nigun (Meir is my Hebrew name) and I picked a classic Nigun, "Mizmor L'David." that is generally sung at the Yizkor service, the service to remember the dead. We played it as a pulsating 6/8 with modern chords. When my Rabbi heard the track he asked if we couldn't put spaces between the notes to slow it down. The date was a hard one. We were underrehearsed and the tunes were complex harmonically and rhythmically. We had to develop a solution to the basic concept of the tune and how it was to be laid out. This is something I have done with most of my recordings, but the musicians I generally record with are selected to make the process of creating a recording in the studio easy. I recorded most of my albums with little more than some tunes selected. Given the musicians I record with, Pedrito Martinez and his crew on Timbassa, making an album right there, on the spot, is a long and intensely joyful effort, (16 hours straight for Timbassa), recording that way is not only possible with the guys I use but an inspiration to creating great music. The guys I hire, have years of playing together in countless performances and recordings. Romero Lubambo, Nilson Matta, Paulo Braga, Cyro Baptists. the greatest Brazilian musicians playing in New York. Going into the studio with them, letting myself luxuriate, feeling the magnificence of such players, playing freely, music that they love, and at my disposal. That is heaven. Although my recording session are sometimes stressful, mainly because I have to play at my best to be up there with these great musicians, they go like clockwork. You put in the musicians and the music comes out. My job is to give them the opportunity and motivation to play their best. The basic problem of constructing an album out of whole cloth is, as they say, no problem.

Not so in Jerusalem. The guys were great players, but everything took too long. Too long to set up the studio (the engineer used a dozen mikes on the drums and then put the acoustic bassplayer with one mike right next to the drummer). Too long to get the arrangements together. Too many pit stops for 'inspiration,' just like the good old days. You rehearse, take a break, someone smokes a joint, you come back, you forget the arrangements. Too many false takes. And so by the time each tune was credibly recorded things had gotten a bit stale.

I left Jerusalem unhappy. I moved on to another project, Latin Jazz Underground with Aruan Ortiz. That project had its problems. The concept, free jazz with an Afro-Cuban percussionist was in interesting one and Aruan had put together an exquisite group of musicians. Roman Diaz is the mentor for all of the great Cuban drummers in New York and has has a depth that should have been able to integrate with the expressive drumming of Gerald Cleaver. But despite it all I didn't feel that the album swung. We spent hours in the studio with Roman, overdubbing percussion over the tracks, searching for a way to play with the free drums, and creating conversations among the layers of percussion he developed. We had multiple tracks of percussion to play with in the mix and Aruan and I searched for the best possible combination. But although the playing on Latin Jazz Underground is superb, I felt it never got off the ground. And what's more, my choice of soloing strategy, playing long rhythms across the time let me give in to my inner Miles Davis, but didn't help the swing situation.

So here was my last two albums. I had gone to another record company Zoho records, and Jochen the owner was happy with both records and they got decent reviews. Here is a review to In Jerusalem with a track you can hear:

It also has a link to a video I made some time ago for the NFA competition. Going along with the mood  of blog entry, it is not among my best efforts.

After I recorded Latin Jazz Underground, I met my wife Dasha.

That is not where I met her, although she is Mongolian. I can tell sad stories about music, but I don't have a kick coming when it comes to my wife. She is an Angel that fell from the reaches of Outer Mongolia right into my waiting arms. But that is a digression, but a great picture and a great wife; unbelievable that at 72 years old I could be gifted with such an amazing women. But on with the story. Dasha had come to New Jersey to be with her daughter who was on a Fulbright at my college. She had to return to Mongolia to teach (she is a professor of genetics). But we had fallen in love and she decided to come back the next year and Glory Be To God, she remained in the US and married me.

The year she was gone I had to deal with In Jerusalem. I asked Jochen if he would be interested in an album recorded in Jerusalem and played him my Jewish record Shifra Tanzt to convince him that I could put a working band together even though the Israeli musicians were not available to me (Jochen's contract required a good faith effort to have a working band). So I took that tracks recorded in Jerusalem and went into the studio with Phil Ludwig, the only engineer I have recorded with for the last decade. He worked on the tracks until he got a decent rhythm section sound and I started working. I rerecorded every note I played on the date with the exception of one bass flute line on the free track that ends the album. It is a nigun that I sing with my Rabbi and his class before we begin to study Zohar.  I lay tracks on top of that to give the feeling of a group singing, so even that track isn't as it was recorded. So everything I played, the final attempt to reach my inner voice, playing the music of the religion that has increasingly occupied my life for the last 30 years, music that I got to play in Erezt Yisroel, is a studio reconstruction. But if truth be told I played as good as I have ever played. My sound was together and I had plenty of time and material to find just the right takes to present myself as a great flute player. How can I ever show my face. I am a total illusion.

After I redid my playing I had to confront the rest of the music. I cut solos, including my own, spliced sections with miraculous success given Phil's genius and the joy of working with pro-tools. The music felt right but the album still didn't sound right. We figured it out, the bass was pitchy and so the actual sound of the music was compromised. The bass player, Gilad Abro was a young player of virtuoso potential, but sadly his pitch was not reliable. Pro-tools to the rescue, we put automatic tuning on an acoustic bass and eureka the sound came alive. I have never done that before, because the bass has slides, but for whatever reason the bass sounded fine. 

I think the album is a good album, and shows all of the players in their best light. All of the musicians and I include Phil contributed to a record that turned out just fine. Chris White, a great bass player and master teacher who I knew in Brooklyn in the 1950's and later when we both taught at my university, gave me a crucial insight at a formative stage of my flute playing. He said that when you make a record it is a record. And In Jerusalem is a record of me and those guys trying to make music, with all its travails and studio reconstruction. Jerusalem was a good hang with great guys and I deeply appreciate their contributions. But like so many of my recordings my real work was done alone with Phil, Phil's home studio where I overdub, edit and mix is the place where I lived the fullest. It was the place where my music was created. The long sessions when I frolicked or fumbled with those great rhythm sections was the place where I tasted everything I missed. Hanging out with the guys and being a musician. But my music, my flute playing, was created alone with my friend Phil Ludwig. 

That isn't the way it was supposed to be, not according to me. I'm supposed to be a total master of my craft. And I have really high standards. But there it was, or better, there it is. For better or for worse. And so my last record is out and I think it is time to wake up. I'm married to a women I dearly love and have financial responsibilities that make recording a burden I can no longer afford. I'll be 76 in a few days. My first album on flute, Seasoning, came out when I was 56, so that's twenty years of chasing my dream.  I recorded a bunch of records and did everything I possibly could to make the music as good as it could be. I swallowed my pride and over-dubbed. Me and Phil created my playing mix and match. The best statement of the melody and multiple takes of my solos, always finding the best shit so that my solos were as excellent as they could be using the raw materials of a number of versions. Generally I would use a second take as the basis, but I'd usually record 4 or more takes of each tune, then sit with Phil and put together my solo, while I rested my chops. Then on to the next tune. Whatever it takes!

And so I'm left with a closet full of CD's that I can't give away. A number of years of recognition, reviews and radio play, Down Beat Rising Star, Jazz Journalists Association nomination, 'best latin jazz' for a number of my albums and hopefully a sense among musicians that I existed and that I played. Musicians,  I really haven't felt like one of them since I was a a trombone player in the 60's. The best guys would record with me, but that was that. Everyone was always glad to see me. But I wasn't really there doing the musician thing, 'doin' our thang' as it was said. At the end I realized that being a musician isn't only making good music, it is living a musician's life, with other musicians. You need a minyan to pray effectively, a prayer community. And musicians form a community and I was an outsider.

So wake up and smell the roses!

I still practice and play in my synagogue a few times a month. But I turned down performance opportunities for the first time in my life and I think I'll sit the rest of the dance out.


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