Hello all! We’ve been working on our various non-Vspeed projects of late. Gelsey & Paul were in Boston for a few months (and Paul is now on tour out west). Aliza was knee deep in ceramics. Brian was knee deep in PPL. Dave was knee deep in Gold Bolus. So life goes.
But there are things afoot! Stay tuned for future info on a very exciting potential project north of the border, as well as a promising possible reprise of a familiar project in the Keystone State.
But really what we’re here to tell you is that Crash, Robert Ashley’s final opera, has been released by Lovely Music, and you can obtain your own copy here. Crash features the five of us along with Amirtha Kidambi performing, and was recorded, mixed, mastered, and music-directed by Tom Hamilton. The CD come with some beautiful photographs by Phil Makanna, and Mimi Johnson of Lovely Music has also put together a gorgeous book with Phil with more photographs and more text. The CD also has some really illuminating correspondences between Bob & Melody Sumner Carnahan. So check it out!
Apologies that it’s taken us 13 days, but here’s a recap of the wonderful success that was Perfect Lives Jersey City.
We started the day just off of Newark Ave, the main stretch of a lot of JC. Brian held down the lead of the Park wonderfully, bringing back his arrangement from Pittsburgh (this was a common theme – at least four episodes this go round were more or less identical to how they were set up in PGH, we just got more time to hone & rehearse them). One difference, from my perspective, was that I stopped being grumpy as I often can and played the clarinet parts all generally high up, where they sounded much better, as Brian had designed them. We were followed by some school kids singing songs from the Lion King, which unfortunately we missed most of.
Next us was the Bank. This was the first time we ever got to do it INSIDE an actual bank! We started a little late so they could properly close up the bank, so it was 1:40 or so by the time we started. The more we do this, the looser we are about start times. Gelsey took the lead but kept Aliza’s trombone parts from PGH, and redid the Wolf section, with some additional props. This was a very spirited performance, as per uzh, and the incomparable Jen Baker took it up a notch.
Next up was the Supermarket, at Key Food (we also used a Key Food in Perfect Lives Brooklyn). This was another PGH duplicate – last year we used a spacious & fancy market in the Strip District and had few people there to hear us. This time, we packed the house! The aisles were already pretty narrow, but man, did we stop things up! The staff was generally entertained and people seemed to really dig it. We were joined by Jen again, as well as violinists Jenny & Sean, and the great Zach Herchen on bari sax. Zach was not only our producer and our sound guy all day (which meant working in some rushed & less than optimal conditions), but Zach held it down in this episode on bari! He’s a miracle worker. You can see him in the photo on the right trying to get the wireless mic hooked up to the house PA.
Next up was Paul’s Church, v 2.0. This is another gem that was not seen by many in Pittsburgh last year, but it got a great hearing at St Paul (appropriate name), closer to Journal Square, up the hill. Paul scored out the parts to a much greater extent that anyone previously had for the Church, and we had some ace guests to sing/play it with us (Esha, Meredyth, Chris, Marcus, & Mike). As always, the responsive part of the Church was well received, and Paul really brought it home with the Dwayne section, in my opinion, asshole.
From there, we moved down the hill to the Backyard, held in a historic cemetery. There were gravestones marked Giordano & Payne, for those of you keeping score. Aliza took over the lead again after Gelsey did it the previous two times, but we kept the roving accordionist that Gelsey’s arrangements had introduced. We were reunited with Woody Leslie, who played tabla with us in Brooklyn & Manhattan (we had him flown in special from Chicago for the occasion!). The sun set in the middle of this one, which was pretty magical. The sounds of the cemetery were quite wonderful too, and though there were goats & turkeys around, I didn’t hear either during the performance.
From there, we went to historic Barrow Mansion for the Living Room. This was the same noir + strings arrangement we did in PGH (sans the bass part), and we really got it going this time! Sean, Jenny, Mike & Meaghan were a kick-ass quartet with Brian leading them from the synth, and the staging was real nice in such a special old house. I remember the laugh lines all landing really well in this one. I think the Living Room has been my favorite one to perform the last two times. Maybe it’s the time of day, the realization that you’re in the home stretch but not at the end. Something.
For the Bar at Brightside Tavern, the ladies took over the lead parts and the fellas were the back up band. This was a nice innovation. Everything was in 7/4, which made it clear & steady, and we also had some hugely uplifting guest solos from Sean on violin & Zach on alto sax. A funny thing about doing something in JC when most of the audience lives in NYC and it’s a Saturday night – people wanna catch the PATH once it gets to be late. There wasn’t an all night party like the usually is after we finish. The Catskills, for instance, was great because where were people gonna go? Everyone still there at the end was staying at or near Mt Tremper Arts. A blessing & a curse to do this piece close to home. A blessing til the party hour, anyway.
I’d like to shout out to some of the folks where spent many hours with us – Mimi, Carlota, Barbara, my folks Ginny & Brian, Aliza’s folks Loren & Josh, Esther, the folks from Arthouse Productions, Ian, Jeff, Jill, Jack, Charles and his friends, and some other folks whose names I’m coming up short on. HUGE thanks to Amanda Pinto, Zach, Sean, & Mike for technical & practical help on the day of the show. I’m sure I’m forgetting people, but my cohorts can chime in here.
Anyway, more to come!
We’ve got just a few days to go. We’ll rehearse three episodes tomorrow and then take Friday off. It’s kind of funny, it seemed like this one was right on our home turf, but I’ve realized Jersey City is close and not close at the same time (props to Paul, who crosses the Hudson & the East River all the time like it’s no big deal). Turns out, this is all very hard to do! And it seemed like we had a good jump on this, but there’s always a million things last minute. The more we do Perfect Lives, the more elaborate it gets. In Pittsburgh & the Catskills, we were all under one roof, but here, we’re spread out, and we’re all doing other work at the same time (including thingNY getting ready for another massive piece next week).
I think we’re really getting to new heights artistically though! I was at a place of very low energy today (and have been all week, trying to work on it & work through it), but hearing the strings & synth play the Living Room, along with my fellow three brilliant narrators, was really inspiring. And sitting in the middle of the cemetery that will function as a Backyard of sorts for us, surrounded by these stalwarts friends & the great Woody Leslie on tabla, under the shade of a nice tree, was heaven. There was no place I’d have rather been, no where at all, than playing Bob’s music under that tree on a clear morning in Jersey City.
I also have to use this space to call your attention to the amazingness of Zach Herchen. Zach is our rep from Con Vivo Music, who do great things in Jersey City. I first knew him as the baritone sax player in New Thread Quartet (with our thingNY pal Erin Rogers). Zach is a saxist par excellence, as well as a killer sound guy. But these past few weeks, he’s been a reassuring, patient, kind, helpful presence at rehearsals, whether he’s on his horn holding together the band in the Supermarket, manning the board, or being a huge asset in helping think through things. If you need a wonderful guy in this music scene, look no further than Zach!
We have some really lovely programs all printed up for 9/19, the centerpiece of which is a sleek map, showing you where all the action takes place. Unlike in Pittsburgh & the Catskills, everything will be nice & walkable in Jersey City. Here it is:
Okay, we can now reveal the location of the Bank! At 1:30pm on Saturday, September 19th, we’ll be performing inside the Provident Bank on the second floor of 239 Washington St in Jersey City. This is definitely the situation for us which is most clearly playing INSIDE a bank. We’ve been outside, and in lobbies, but this is the real deal. FYI – no pictures or videos allowed in the Bank, for real.
Just wanted to acknowledge that our site is down at the moment, it’s just giving you a redirect to Con Vivo’s page about PL:JC. We’re working on it and should have something back up shortly. In the mean time, here are links to the sites where we’ll be in Jersey City on September 19th –
11am – The Park – All About Downtown Stage
1:30pm – The Bank – Location TBA
3pm – The Supermarket – Key Food
5pm – The Church – St Paul Lutheran Church
7pm – The Backyard – The Historic Jersey City & Harsimus Cemetery
9pm – The Living Room – Barrow Mansion
11pm – The Bar – Brightside Tavern
And nb the Bank is gonna start a little late, more like 1:30. We’ll let you know the location when everything’s all sewn up!
When we did Perfect Lives in Pittsburgh last year, I took on the Supermarket for the first time. The Supermarket is the episode I listen to the most just to listen to – it’s not uncommon if I’ve got a long train ride and it’s late in the day for me to pop it on and zone out. For a point of comparison, I don’t think I listened to the Church or Backyard from the official recordings in years, much as I love the originals. For the Supermarket, a lot of what I love is in that recording, for instance:
– the very quiet drum part in four that goes against everything else in five
– on the second page of the libretto, where it starts “It is different being old alone…”, when all you’ve heard up to there is the off beats and you suddenly get the wash on the downbeats, that’s like “damn” for me every time
– I like the consistency of Bob’s voice in this recording, it’s not like the Church where there’s all this variation in his voice. I don’t perform the Supermarket this way, but I really like listening to it
Anyway, the point is it’s a brilliant recording. Something I did incorrectly last time was try to dig into the language at the ontological unit of the phrase. More like an actor than a musician. I was taking slices of meaning and presenting them as a series of thoughts. This works great for our arrangement of the Living Room, which is never really about synching up with anything in terms of beats.
This go round, I’ve re-approached the Supermarket at the unit of the line. It’s going much better. This change started when we were rehearsing Crash this spring. Tom Hamilton remarked that he thought that particularly in the “Crash” and “Journal” sections, we weren’t adding enough emphasis on the first word of each line. Tom was providing performance practice advice, gained from decades working with Bob & co. While such first word/syllable emphasis isn’t in the directions or score for Crash, Tom points out it’s not in the score of anything per se, but it’s part of the style. This thought really changed my reading in Crash, to my mind for the better. So coming back to Perfect Lives this summer has meant bringing this new thought in the mix.
When you read Bob’s texts this way, you get a steady amount of his characteristic unexpected emphases. Maybe “the” is the most stressed word in a sentence, or “in”. Once you start doing it, it feels natural in its own way. Another thing it’s opened up to me is that previously, I was very tied to looking at my book for the Supermarket, making sure I was going slow enough that I kept up with the band (not going too fast is always the challenge in this piece for me, it’s so much better when there’s more space!). When I begin to emphasize the first word of each line, it makes memorizing the line breaks much easier. I think all told, this one little change is going to have a huge impact on how I tackle this episode.
One net effect of this is that my reading is quiet different from the recording. After memorizing some text the other day, I put on the recording just to see what that would do to my brain. It was good, I knew the punchlines to all the set ups, but I was very aware of structural, phrasal, rhythmic, and melodic choices I’d make that are different from what Bob does. Not that I questioned his decisions, but I feel like the more we do this, the more information we arm ourselves with, the less we’re limited to direct imitation of the original (much as there are moments that I’ll always drop into a direct imitation because it’s beautiful and iconic).