Monday, February 19, 2018

Elevated Mantra-Beyond Baroque, Venice CA; 2/17/18

This trip down to Venice had been set up several months ago. After doing a duo gig with Will Alexander in SF in August, we had quickly set up a plan to perform again in Venice. I'd been chomping at the bit for it, too. I put in quite a bit of practice, playing along to recordings of Will reading his works, in order to keep his rhythms close in mind. I wanted to be prepared in any and all ways, especially after getting confirmation that trumpeter Bobby Bradford would join us.
As I hit Los Angeles, I was wishing that I'd prepared a better map: instead of taking 405 to 10, I inadvertently took 5, thereby having to cut across downtown for a few extra miles. It being Los Angeles, this added at least an hour to my drive time. Thankfully, with the aid of Google Maps and some straight up chaotic driving, I managed to find the small room that I'd rented for a few days, right off of Lincoln Blvd. in Venice.
Having spent an evening and subsequent morning walking around lovely Venice and Santa Monica, hitting the beach/boardwalk area of the former, and just loving the always active vibes of Los Angeles, I manged to get over to Beyond Baroque in the later afternoon for a set up/rehearsal with Will, Bobby, and bassist Lester McFarland. This was a fascinating and tremendous experience in and of itself. Talking ontology with Will Alexander, Bobby telling stories of Charlie Parker, Lester giving me some of his story: just great. It was instructive to watch Bobby's method of rehearsing. He kept things chill, as Will and Lester warmed up. Not a lot of pushing, more listening and getting the sense of how everyone was approaching their sounds. I can't say enough just how valuable this time felt to me.
The music started a bit after 8PM, with a nice-sized group of people filling the lovely little Beyond Baroque theater space. The place is a 50 year old institution with a really storied line of participants. They've kept their poetry workshop going for that entire span of time, a fact that I learned in the introductory portion of the set. Will began by reading excerpts of his wonderful, strong and always thought provoking work; Bobby played little comments with his horn, after which Lester and I joined in. I was able to relax and leave spaces as the words and sounds began to build up their interaction. Will concluded his reading and moved over the piano, the instrument with which he is deeply enamored with. To paraphrase, he just gets really happy when a piano is nearby. Will commenced to leading the group into an extended mantra form, playing modal chords around which Lester added his bass tones. Lester is able to move around in an improvisational manner and yet stay constantly grounded. Bobby took solos with hit trumpet, sometimes using a mute. He played so melodically and free. I definitely focused on keeping the volume level appropriate for acoustic instruments. I wanted to play with as much interaction as I could. As such, brushes and mallets were utilized a lot. It seemed as though I was able to blend with the great sounds that were emerging from all around me.
It seemed as though the quartet were able to develop a cohesive improvisational set. At times it felt to me that the flow was really strong, that all players were focused on developing a whole group dynamic. Will spoke of consciously not planning, of letting things unfold how and why they must. I certainly got lost within the music. Hopefully this does not mean that I projected not being present or responsive. Our set could have lasted ten minutes or two hours: I have no idea. I really did go to another place. Such a good time.
After the music, Bobby took the floor for a talk. He had great, colorful stories of Ornette Coleman in the early 1950's, of his aesthetic philosophy, and of his deep roots in Blues and Gospel. Mr. Bradford also gave great, frank insights into Black vernacular and its connections to Jazz and improvisation. Will also had plenty of memories and stories of Jazz in Los Angeles: I know that I have to find more recordings of Sonny Clark.
Such a wonderful evening! It's my hope that my playing was up the challenge of sharing a stage with Masters such as Bobby, Will, and Lester. These guys have been delivering the aesthetic goods for decades. Many thanks to them and to the incredible staff at Beyond Baroque. This one will be resonating with me for a while. So good, so good.

Below: Will Alexander, Lester McFarland, and Bobby Bradford in rehearsal; Elevated Mantra gear

Above: Will, Bobby, and Andrew Choate in discussion, so many great stories and insights to be had
Below: Will and Mark

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