I’m relearning Brahms’ F Major Cello Sonata for a Sept. 30 concert at Chatter. (Tickets tickets tickets.) The other day practicing it, I found myself thinking about Moby-Dick. I find the Brahms insurmountable and personally stymieing, like the white whale, but I also find it huge, labyrinthine, elusive, and puzzling, like Melville’s novel itself—which is, actually, thirty-five years older than the Brahms Sonata (1851 vs. 1886). You find yourself awash in strange beauty. And sometimes you look up and think… wait, why has he spent the last twenty pages talking about knots? In both cases the thing finishes and I feel that I’ve experienced something monumental. A monument to what, that’s a difficult question to answer.
Also in F Major but different in every other respect and written a hundred years later (1982) is “Dance PM,” from Hiroshi Yoshimura’s ambient electronic album Music for Nine Postcards. We’ll play my arrangement for cello and piano. This is one of those records that I heard for the first time and couldn’t stop listening to for about two weeks. Its pleasures are subtle and inexplicable; you just kind of have to hear it. Maybe it’s not so different than Brahms and Melville after all.
Speaking of bodies of water, wait, you heard The Battenkill, right???
It’s a river, in southern Vermont, running from near Dorset westward to the Hudson River. Last summer I made an album there with Chris, Ben, and Ross. It was an awfully intense five days of writing, arranging, practicing, and recording. When we needed a break we’d head down to the Battenkill and have ourselves a river-jump. There are songs and there are improvisations; there are group numbers and there are singer-songwriter joints; there is one folk standard. Altogether, like the teaser video says, it's an album about "changing and staying the same, testing the waters, submerging, emerging, and getting swept away." It’s an album about gathering by the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of god. And more. Or maybe not. Maybe that about sums it up.
The river was running higher this year when we returned to Vermont to play some shows and promote the album—thanks to a multi-day rain squall that canceled one of said shows. I'm surprised I didn't think of it earlier, because it's one of my favorite melodies of all the old folk songs: "The water is wide, I cannot cross over, and neither have I wings to fly. Give me a boat that can carry two, and both shall row, my love and I."
There are a lot of good songs about water. No boats on this album, though, just leaps. We’re really proud of this one, and are so happy to share it.
Ben made chiles rellenos and Julia read our natal charts. Ben’s a Leo, but his moon is in Scorpio, so there you go. Chris is an Aquarius, which makes sense too, I guess. As for me, I have a difficult relationship with my sun sign, Taurus. I don’t think of myself as stubborn, or as a homebody, or as particularly focused on material pleasures. I want to think of myself as an artistic, adventurous free spirit. I used to go around claiming I was on the Aries-Taurus cusp, trying to claim a bit of that fire energy, but it isn’t really true. I’m pretty much a Taurus.
My moon is in Gemini, which does balance the slowness of Taurus with some speed and impulsiveness; Gemini is also verbal and intellectual. “This is the most restless and fickle of the Taurus combinations,” quoth some website. So there’s that. And Cancer is ascendant: apparently people with this combination “love nature, draw strength from it, and get a lot from sleep.”
This is interesting reading for a summer spent continuously on the move. The amount of energy one spends on tour just doing basic maintenance: (1) keep all my shit in the same place, don’t lose anything; (2) sleep; (3) drink water; (4) eat decently; (5) exercise?; is enormous. Higher-level thinking was very difficult to achieve amidst all this.
It turns out, besides the familiar sun, moon, and planets, there are also these difficultly explained North and South Nodes, which represent one’s karmic past-life background and current lifetime’s direction. Guess what? More Taurus. Supposedly I come out of Scorpio — weird shit, black magic — and my whole goal in this lifetime is pointing toward the great bull, just to keep a nice house, water the plants, eat good food, have a nice glass of wine. I was so confused by this that I called my mom to make sure I wasn’t wrong about my birth time.
But maybe the confusion is about my sense of comfort versus my sense of aspiration. When the river is wide enough, it can be challenging to remember which way is source and which is mouth.
Bath Dance Works is a beautiful old room with a dark old wood floor on the upper level of a beautiful old building in old downtown Bath, Maine. We didn’t want to damage the floor, so we lifted the heavy old piano onto an old rug and slid it across the room to set up the performance space.
People in Maine do not have air conditioning. Not yet, anyway.
We were double booked with a zen meditation group. During sound check they began wandering into the space, looking quite confused to discover that their regular weekly meetup had been replaced. But being zen meditators and all, they were awfully gracious about the whole thing, and a few of them even stayed for the show. One of them claimed to enjoy our songs, especially the ones in 4/4. He likes Oscar Peterson. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the jazz-influenced number he was referring to toward the end of the set was actually in 12/8. He also made mention of some of our more experimental material, accusing us of playing in 9/14, which we good-naturedly took as a challenge.
It’s a lovely thing to cast yourself out in the world and place your reliance on the kindness not solely of strangers, but of old friends not recently seen, relatives not well enough kept up with, acquaintances who you’re not quite comfortable asking to crash at their place but do it anyway. You learn that people are cool, have interesting books on their shelves, know where to point you for a morning trail run, have decent bagel places around the corner, and really want to come hear you play, you know, if it works in and among the present wildness of their lives. All the new meetings and overdue reunions were a powerful reward from the effort of touring.
It’s absolutely exhausting and absolutely worth it. Time to get my Taurus on: time to make some meals, read some books, get some sleep. Finishing the summer this week with a visit to see some old friends on the Oregon coast. These friends are coffee-brewing and bread-baking experts who also surf every day. Enjoying losing myself in the mist for a few days before it all starts up again.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues