Monday, August 17, 2009

August part 1: Kozora in Manchester, Kirtan at Sun Moon, Live on WCBN, Deep Blue, Ann Arbor Kirtan, Crazy Wisdom, Unity Church

So I started off the month with a blast from the not-so-distant past. I played a set with Kozora at the Riverfolk Music and Arts Festival in Manchester Michigan. If you don't remember, Kozora is a group I played with for a couple of years and we did some very experimental and cutting edge music, including some shows with Pandit Samar Saha. We had not played in a little over a year, but the leader of the group, Ken Kozora, thought we would be a good fit for the festival, which he helps organize. We were one member short, Scott Brady could not make it, so it was just Ken, Dave Gilbert and myself. It was like a breath of fresh air for me to be on the drum set with them again. A lot of the compositions Ken writes has very heavy drumming and I had forgotten how much I liked playing them, especially in a festival setting.
We were on the pavilion stage, which was nicely tucked away in a back corner of the festival grounds. As soon as we started people gathered and it ended up being a very nice show to play. I also did a little talk and demo with the tabla which was something Ken asked me to do. I appreciated the time he gave me, considering he has more than enough music to fill the hour. He is a true music lover and is always willing to showcase interesting music beyond his own. Thanks Ken!
A couple of days later I was at the Sun Moon Yoga Studio in downtown Ann Arbor. I was asked by a guitar player named Trevor to sit in on a small Kirtan. We were joined by another guitar player named Chip, and Atmaram Plummer on the harmonium. It was nice to play in Sun Moon again. The acoustics are great and it is small enough that 20 or so people really feels like a good crowd. I had done a kirtan there before with Trevor, must have been about 4 or 5 years ago, (I wonder if I might have blogged about it?....). It was when I first started doing kirtan. This time I felt like a seasoned veteran.
The event was an all day benefit for Sun Moon. I heard they had suffered a flood and needed some repair. I was more than happy to help out and do some kirtan with a different crowd. It was very low key, no P.A. system, no microphones, just singing and playing. I had a great time and it seemed to go by very fast. It was a great way to spend a summer afternoon.
The following Wednesday I was at the WCBN studio at U of M playing live on the radio with Rob Crozier on electric bass, Michael G. Nastos on percussion and electronics, and Mark Kirschenmann on electrified trumpet. All I brought was my tabla and a little shaker. This was my first time without a drum set and I felt a little stripped down. Especially when the other performers all had signal processors, mics, and amps to give their sound many faces. It turned out to be a challenge to keep up with all the different soundscapes that were created within our hour long non-stop improvisation. Playing freely and improvising may sound easy and liberating, but it can actually be surprisingly difficult and complex. It is not something that is easily explained, but when it is good you know it, and when it is bad, well...you know that too. I think an important part of the creative process is being honest with yourself about what it is you are creating. Do you like it? Is it your best work? Are you fully present? ...these are the questions that you have to ask yourself, if you really want to take it seriously and do it well. I suppose that applies to just about any creative endeavor. Anyway, it was a great experience and I look forward to doing it again soon.
The following Friday I was up in Flint, MI. at the Genesee Valley Mall to play with Deep Blue.
This time I made double sure to bring my snare drum! (I had forgotten it last month). I can't
tell you how much better it went with that nice snare sound ringing out! I was happy. I guess it
can be the little things, like forgetting a drum, that really make you appreciate what you have
and what you do.
Exactly one week later was the monthly Ann Arbor Kirtan at the Friends Center. We had just
come off a really great rehearsal and I was looking forward to how the group responded. In the
rehearsal everything seemed to click for one of the chants. It was a moment where we started a
chant, then Atmaram, who was the leader for this particular chant, had to suddenly leave the
room. The group did not stop playing and we just vamped until he got back. Everyone just
settled in on the nice groove and when he finally did come back, it was sounding so nice that his
entrance into the verse just lifted the song to a level that I have never felt with the group. It
was like the group stepped into a new realm of music making. Sure, it was just a rehearsal, but
it never matters when you are making music. The more you can make it good, the more good
you can make it. (Does that make sense?) I was curious to see if that feeling translated into the
performance. I suppose it did, however it was sort of a unique night. Dennis Chernin, who is
one of the chant leaders, had just gotten back from a kirtan camp week and he was VERY tired.
I even had to nudge him awake on a few of the chants so he would keep his mouth in front of
the mic. The night went well, though it did not have the magic of the prior rehearsal. I guess
you can't expect your team to triumph when your quarterback is using the ball as a pillow ;)
The following night was the monthly Indian music night at Crazy Wisdom Tearoom in downtown
Ann Arbor. It was a unique night due to the fact that the usual musicians could not make it. Of
the original crew, only Scott Brady, Atmaram Plummer and myself could make the show, so I
called on the ICMD, (Indian Classical Music and Dance) group for some help, and boy did they
pull through. It turned out to be a great night in a few ways. First of all, Scott got to do some
solo playing, which he hardly ever gets to do, and I got to play a nice little piece with a great
singer/harmonium player named Vish. The real treat of the night though was a rag sung by a
girl named Kamia, (sp?) I have never seen the tearoom so riveted by a performance. Even the
baristas stopped what they were doing to listen to her sing. When she was done everyone
clapped and a few people even stood up. It was a great moment that I will not soon forget.
After the show we all went to Mongolian BBQ and talked about doing it again sometime. I
hope it is sooner than later.
The next morning I was still reeling from the night before as I pulled up to the Interfaith center
for a little musical offering at a church service with Craig Brann. We were supposed to play for
two services, one at 9 and one at 11. I showed up at 8:30 and no one was there! I waited until
8:55 and then made a phone call. As it turned out I went to the wrong place! So after a 10 minute
drive to the Unity Church, (which I made in 5 :), I rushed in and got set up just in time for the
ceremony to start. It went well in spite of my mix-up.

That is all for this installment, I will write again about the exciting end of the month very soon!
thanks for reading.

John

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