In January and February, we performed at two local bass festivals: at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on January 10, and the Chicago Bass Festival (held in Highland Park at the Ravinia Festival grounds) on February 1.
The drive to get to Whitewater, Wisconsin from Chicago is long. I got a ride there from Julian, and his tax filing for 2015 will show this gig as responsible for 200+ miles that day. And it was really, really cold! But don’t get me wrong, I love playing this festival (as I love any playing). It’s small, but Bradley Townsend is dedicated to getting young bassists in Whitewater and the surrounding areas the exposure to players and techniques.
I had originally planned to have the group play Frank Proto’s 1964 Quartet at both festivals. But a last-minute personnel change scuttled that plan. And I think that Bradley was a bit disappointed that we didn’t bring that challenging piece to his audience. Nonetheless, we were well-received. And we’ll revive that challenge for next year!
My friend Matt Erion made a recording of the performance for us, but I’ll be honest I haven’t listened to it, and probably won’t for some time until I stumble across it one day attempting to declutter my computer.
I brought some better recording equipment to the Chicago Bass Festival, and I have listened to that recording a few times now.
First, that was quite a day! It had snowed Saturday night, and was still snowing Sunday morning as I got packed up to drive to Highland Park, IL. The weather service was forecasting blizzard conditions for 2 pm, meaning the drive home (about 5 pm) would be quite an adventure! And getting there was an adventure, too. When I got to the exit for Highland Park, there were two cars stuck on the exit ramp. I slowed down, but made the decision to pass the exit: I don’t think my Mazda2 had the ground clearance to make it through the drifts collecting on the roadway. I had enough time before the festival start, and Apple Maps on my phone, so I took the chance that I would be able to find my way back from the next exit.
The festival was definitely still on, and I arrived in time. Ben Rusch, the coordinator, was manning the front desk, since his student volunteer(s) had not arrived. We knew we would have some stories to tell from #BassFestBlizzard. In the end, I believe about half of the registered attendees actually made it that day. I was relieved that by noon all six bassists and our marimba player were present!
I was happy to be there in time for David Murray’s class on dancing to the Bach ‘cello suites. If you hear he is offering this again, I encourage you to attend … it will open your eyes on the performance of these staples of the adopted bass repertoire.
As always, I was really happy to be a part of the festival.
A wise person I know reminds me to treat the recording of a live performance as something unique, and to not judge it too harshly. There are stresses and conditions when performing live that are specific to live performance, and until you as a group have a lot of experience together, you won’t sound as good as you do when rehearsing. As I said, wise words. But here is some reflection and analysis of our performance. (.pdf: Program Chicago Bass Festival.)
Dream Time – the sound is rich and full! Listening back to it, I really remember why I wanted to have Julian Romane as part of the group – he has an attack sound that is really sort of marvelously aggressive. The performance has a lot of excitement and energy and I love the piece. But our execution is bedeviled by rhythmic sloppiness, missed entrances and the occasional intonation woes. I know it could have been better. I wish I had had both the time and the discipline to record our rehearsals and really make everyone listen to them so we could have identified problem spots and ironed them out.
Quartet 1987 – as in the other pieces, there is a really good sound across the group and it’s such a emotionally rich piece to play. But there are the occasional rhythmic / ensemble problems. And my own occasional pitch inaccuracy (oh damn, that was supposed to be a dominant rather than a major seventh chord!) But still, there is a real emotional resonance across much of the performance, and I’m happy about that! I can see also that some of my colleagues suffer from the same occasional lack of concentration that I do (missed entrances). But there is also some great ensemble playing, rhythmically tight and exciting.
At this point in the program, we added two more bass players to the mix, bringing us to a total of six on stage!
Livre – the texture of four basses playing the vibraphone part works very nicely, and Josh Harrison and Doug Johnson carry their parts beautifully. And happily there is only one moment—but very very obvious—when one of the pizzicato voices (one note per measure for each of the other four bassists) miss an entrance.
Rural Sketches – a much better recording than the premiere. Doug Johnson and Andy Anderson doing great work on those highest voices. And the more I listen to this piece, the more I like it. Matthew Coley’s marimba playing seems flawless. The articulation of the basses is sometimes lost, which is probably more a function of the microphones and their placement than of our performance or the piece. Ensemble is good (Well, except for that one impossible bit) (but where would we have been if not for our conductor, Leslie B. Dunner!). Neal Rodack, playing with us for the first time, acquitted himself quite well. I am enjoying listening to our performance; I wish we could do it again with more rehearsal time. https://soundcloud.com/jacque-harper/rural-sketches (audio only) and youtu.be/mbmS23_105o (video).
Running this group is something I really love doing. And also something that I find really challenging. Why? Because it’s not working the way I’d like it to. I really want a collaborative atmosphere, with a committed group of the same people, constant across gigs. I want the group to sound really polished and exciting. And I haven’t been able to achieve that.
But it might be for lack of trying.
I have always preferred a model of rehearsals dedicated to a specific performance. Rehearsing every week with no specific goal in sight has always seemed to me to be the mark of an amateur ensemble. But I have to admit that in the earlier years of this group, that was the model we followed, and we did sound better for it. My mistake there was probably that at some point I should have been more aggressive about finding “ends,” that is to say some kind of performances. Doing so would have kept up the interest of two critical players who ended up declining to participate further (at the time).
So, as a leader I think I must renew the effort to stabilize the group’s membership, and return to a regular practice schedule with the goal of sounding good. Further ends will materialize as needed.
This is quite a long post. Have you read all the way through it? Were you at either of these performances? What did you think? Do you play in a band or an ‘ensemble’ of some sort? What is your organizational style and what are your goals? Let me know in the comments.