Dr. Chadbourne's Adventures At the Guitar Festival
Release date: 2003/11
|Double CD (audio): GBP 20.00|
|( Collapse liner notes )|
It took nearly three years for me to sit down and seriously listen to the recordings made at Greetings Fellow Pickers, a guitar festival I organized at the Tonic club in New York City in the sweltering summer of 1999.
This was not the result of unpleasant memories, something that often keeps people from checking tapes out. While not everything about being the organizer of this event was pleasant, the overall feelings created by the four night event were overwhelmingly positive. Some audience members and even a few of the players compared Greetings Fellow Pickers to the original Woodstock festival. Since my festival had neither bad acid (I don't think) nor hippies rolling in the mid, nor a fist fight between Pete Townsend and Abbie Hoffman, I presumed the musical interaction was what inspired these comparisons.
Most of the players that took part were ones that resided in the New York City area, although there were a few exceptions besides myself. Since it was the typical New York City gig (barely any money, no accommodations, no travel expenses) there was a definite limitation on who could be avoided. I invited everyone I knew anyway. When I invited Fred Frith, he told me he couldn't come and made the comment "Sounds like fun, though. I think."
Yes, the idea of dozens of guitar players jamming with each other in various combinations could be overwhelming, not fun, and this is most likely what kept me from the tapes for so long. Part of the magic of the event must have been witnessing the social interaction of various players teaming up, playing pieces of music, being joined by others and so forth.
Live music taping fanatic Robert O'Haire was there for the entire event, but at the time this collection was created I was in possession only of tapes that mostly featured pieces that I participated in. This is a good start, I think, maybe I shouldn't be messing around producing other people's jams. Audiophiles may notice that these tend to be the sort of recordings they don't like to see released: there is audience noise, tape machine noise, amplifier hiss and hum and so forth. At the same time, listeners who are interested in improvisation usually find recordings like this more than just satisfactory. As far as improvising is concerned, this is the real thing. While some of the players involved had relationships working together, others were meeting for the first time. Both sides of this equation get mixed together in various ways.
Many of the performances were duos and trios, and my playing in a series of eight of these settings is presented on the first disc, entitled "Dr. Chad's Adventures at the Guitar Festival." The second disc, named after the festival, is an example of another idea we came up. Again there are various combinations, but in this case the music is continuous, players switching off during the flow of the music. I thought this made for a particularly fascinating piece of music while experiencing several playbacks. Forget about any one person molding some sort of "long form" for this extended improvisation; no one person was onstage the whole time, so how could they?
Everyone that showed up and played was a big part of the success of this even, even the so-called "stars" that did their bit and then fled before actually jamming with anyone. Maintaining energy was a challenge that was met because of the unfailing help of certain invidivuals, however, who should be mentioned. Loren Mazzacane Connors was the first one there, every night, the mesmerizing sound of his playing style a delightful thing to hear as one approached the building before the gig even started. Then there was the late night reinforcements, the Sonic Youth crowd; usually sometime around the witching hour, just as I felt a lag in energy, in would walk Thurston Moore, Lee Renaldo, Kim Gordon and Jim O'Rourke or some combination thereof and the rocket would take off again.
Listening to these performances now, and they are every bit as good as I remember them, I thought about the simple thing that all of the players featured have in combination, other than schlepping guitar cases around. All of us wanted to get in on the inspiration of playing with others with whom we share an instrumental interest, without any preordained musical directions, or philosophies, other than to be open. While I may never organize anything of this nature again, the memories of what happened in 1999 will linger like the sound of a well-stoked amplifier.
Normally when a release has two sets of liner notes they are not by the same person. However, technical problems involving the release of this set caused delays, and the subsequent possibililty of yelling a few more comments out the window at the brave listener that takes on this set.
This label's gentle leader, Leo Feigin, asked for additional comments on the second disc, as he was thwarted in his attempts to provide index cues at the exact points when various guitarists meandered onstage. Then he found that somehow the master for the first disc of duets and trios seemed to have nothing to do with the original selection I had made. It was promptly sent back to me for examination.
In the course of this examination, I slowly realized this was not the final selection but simply a disc I had made in the process of making that selection; i.e., it contained some of the tracks we were going to use, some we weren't, and everything in the wrong order. Some people would describe the state of mind I was in during this experience as total confusion, but I did have some interesting thoughts concerning the way players establish a style and sound. Some of the musicians featured here are like that, others are hard to recognize because they keep shifting the way they play and sound. In some cases I am just plain more familiar with some players then others.
These comments of course bear on the second disc as well because trying to assign indexes to this long set came down to being able to recognize the entrance of individual musicians. Can anybody do this? Mr. Feigin has discussed some kind of prize for anyone that can pull it off. Would the musicians involved be excluded? I don't think they should be, based on my experiences Frankly, the only part of this long jam where I can tell exactly what is going on and who was onstage is the section when I was playing, and watching the others.
This music was recorded live by Bob O'Haire, erstwhile documenter of live music events in New York City and elsewhere. His original recordings had some timings as to who came in when, but they don't seem to make sense. Originally I thought this was because I had decided to fade in on the jam after a few minutes, otherwise it would have been too long for a single disc. But even subtracting the opening that had been edited out did not make his timings make sense.
However, this is as much as I have figured out. The first 15 minutes approximatly are the trio of Chadbourne, Licht and O'Rourke. This section is dominated by what I have at various times thought of as an oratorio, sonata or overture from Licht - quite a fascinating bunch of stuff he plays, with us providing accompaniment. O'Rourke was replaced by Renaldo after this, I clearly remember the latter player using some kind of effects device that was bigger than most effects devices. I have no idea what it was, but it echoed. When you start hearing all these types of echoey sound effects, then Renaldo is there.
This new trio is active for, again, about 15 minutes. Then Don Fleming replaces Licht. Fleming is more of a rocker: you can recognize him by so-called blues and rock and roll scales showing up, in fact one of the first riffs he plays is close to the scale I show beginning lead guitarists as something to practice for the first two years of their life. While this might suggest simplicity invading the encounter, it actually becomes impossible to figure out what is going on after this. There is supposed to be an entrance by Nagai after about three minutes of Renaldo, Fleming and Moore - meaning a quartet is onstage, only to be reduced to a trio by the departure of Renaldo. I can't even tell when I drop out, let alone who else is doing what. This is where I really lose track of who is doing what, and to whom. For all I know Jim Hall could be onstage here. The finale of the piece, on the other hand, becomes clearer due to the entrance of Mazzacane Connors, possessing one of the most immediately recognizable guitar styles known to mankind. When I was trying to figure out what was going on with the screwed up first master, I kept thinking "Hmmm, the other guys are starting to play like Loren Mazzacane..." It does rub off.
So does the spirit and fun of improvisation. That was the whole reason for these events, in case I haven't mentioned that. I could have put on many different gigs during my month as "curator" at Tonic, but one thing that always seems important to me is the chance to jam, to let others jam. There are listeners who will enjoy this collection, and of course there will be those who hear something like the second side and comment "More fun to take part in than to listen to", one of the oldest critical cliches in the book. I always answer: Yes! It ought to be! Try it sometime!
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