Wednesday, March 03, 2010

2 Kirtan, Sumali at Crazy Wisdom, Rocketstyle, Secret Seven, Sumkali Recording Project


   February has turned out to be a very fruitful month, musically speaking. Otherwise it was full of cold and snowy days, which never seemed to end.  The first Wednesday of the month was the 'informal' kirtan gathering in the back room of the Crazy Wisdom bookstore.  It had been well attended in the past, but this month was sparse, probably due to the frigid cold outside.  The musicians were Atmaram Chaitanya, Dennis Chernin, Simon Ha, and myself.  There was a lady sitting right in front of me who was singing out fully and then a few people sitting in the back.  If it wasn't for the lady in front of me, who I found out later was a choir director, the response singing would have seemed very off balance with the music.  I have always thought that all you need to perform is just one audience member. This is a little different in kirtan since the audience members are actually singing with you and providing a response to the lead chanter, but in this case that one lady was able to carry the rest of the singers along and the whole evening turned out to be really nice.  I love being able to play tabla without a microphone and still be heard in a room. That is the way it used to be done and it just feels much more free when you don't have to worry about sending a signal through a bunch of wires.
     The next show was not until a week and a half later, but it was right back at Crazy Wisdom, this time in the front of the tearoom and this time with Sumkali.  We have been expanding our lineup of musicians so we have been having trouble fitting everyone in the small space, but the music has never sounded better.  Dave Sharp has been playing electric bass guitar with the group, which have given us a bottom end groove that we have never experienced in the past.  He also brought along a friend of his, Chris Kaercher, who is the sax player that plays in his jazz group, (they just released their debut CD, "Secret Seven", which I played tabla for a track".  He did a great job of filling in and doing some killer soloing.  The whole night went by fast, like it usually does when the music is good.  I know I have said it before, but I love playing with this group and I am so excited for what the future holds.
     The following week I had 3 shows in 2 days, which meant I had to call on my student Vinnie Russo once again to help with the logistics.  On Friday I had the monthly kirtan at Friends Meeting House in Ann Arbor from 7:30-9:30 and then a Rocketstyle show at a new place called the Keystone Underground Lounge in Ypsilanti.  The kirtan went great, lots of participants and great energy, and as soon as it was over I had to bolt out of there to get to Ypsilani in 15 minutes to play improvised space funk on the drumset with Jesse Morgan on piano, Paul Bowers on keys, Akili Jackson on freestyle vocals, and new Rocketeer Dave Sharp on bass.  Vinnie had come early to set up my kit for me, (thanks Vinnie), and all I had to do was sit down and play.  It sounds easy, but it was actually pretty difficult to switch gears so fast.
    I find that when I do kirtan lately, I really get into the idea of quieting myself and relaxing into it.  I have been closing my eyes and focusing on releasing tension. This causes me to be very mellow at the end of the 2 hour event.  Coming into a club and pounding away on the drum set just seemed to take more effort than usual. Once the first set was over I was fine, back into the groove and ready to rock, but pulling myself out of my meditative state was not easy.  I think that is a good thing.  I have been so busy lately that any chance I have to relax and be mellow is good.  Anyway, the Rocketstyle gig ended with a bang, people were up and dancing and everyone was in good spirits at the end.  It really caused me to reflect on how much I love being a musician and doing this sort of thing for a living. I truly feel blessed.
   The next night I was very excited to play with Dave Sharp again, only this time it was for his second CD release party for his CD "Secret Seven".  He had a lot of great players on the album and most of them were at this show.  We played at P.J.'s Live in downtown Ann Arbor, which has a nice stage, but it was very tight once you add a drummer, two percussionists, bass, guitar, keyboard, sax, and two singers.  Since this was our second time around we had a much better idea of how to make it all fit, and it actually looked pretty cool up on stage.   I was sitting next to a legendary musician named Muruga Booker.  He has played with Weather Report, Dave Brubeck, John Lee Hooker, Parliment Funkalelic, Jerry Garcia, and many more.  He is such a happy and high spirited guy. It was a pleasure to play along side him.
     The show was also being filmed for a local TV station, so the whole time we played there were cameras in our face. Muruga really knew how to ham it up for the cameras.  My first reaction is to try to look as stoic as possible, but Muruga, through his actions, showed me that it was OK to exaggerate yourself for the sake of the camera.  I can't wait to see how it turns out.  I know how much work it is to put together a group of musicians and Dave really did a great job bringing everyone together for this one.  It was loud, groovy as could be, and very high energy the whole way through.  Again, I was feeling lucky to be a musician.
     The following week was very special for me.  I had organized a 5 day recording session with Sumkali.  My school was on winter break, so I got permission to use a couple of the rooms and a lot of the great sound equipment.  Pulling it all together was no small task.  Just to give you an idea of what you have to put together to do a multi-track recording like this involves I can tell you it took me about 6 hours of set up time and 4 hours just to tear it down.  There were 8 microphones, 8 headphones, all the cables, adapters, extension chords, power adapters, power strips, stands, screens, a computer, a digital interface to convert the audio, a hard drive, playback speakers, baffles to isolate the sounds, all the instruments, and of coarse, all the musicians.  It all had to be set up in a room that I had never used before, so I had to design the layout to give everyone a space they could play without the sound bleeding into someone else's mic.  Fortunately, I had a lot of help from Dan Piccolo, who has had a lot of experience in studios.  Once it was all set up and working, then we had all the time we wanted to create music, and that is all we did for 5 days straight.  The musicians involved were Dan and I, along with Scott Brady, Mahesh Ganesan, Vishrut Srivastava, Atmaram Chaitanya, Meeta Banerjee, Prashanth Gururaja and Dave Sharp. Everyone did such a wonderful job.  We had to take a few hours off here and there to teach lessons and do errands, but it was really a great opportunity to record everything exactly like we wanted to do it.  We got though 8 pieces of music in the 5 days and it all sounds really really good.  I can't wait to get into the mixing and mastering.  I will keep you posted when it all turns into an actual CD. For now all I have is a couple of pictures:

That is all for February.  Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon!