Monday, June 20, 2016

What They're Saying About the Chamber Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists Performances in the Midwest

Chamber Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists
2016 Midwest Tour
Minneapolis MN, Madison WI, Chicago IL

Audience Feedback

Re Madison, from a friend

Hello league pals - just a quick note to say, WOW. The concert you put on in Madison completely exceeded my and my local friends’ expectations. The use of the guitars in that room, the exciting improv, the sound of the instruments approaching & leaving the space re-defined for me what a concert experience can be. Playing parts of pieces bunched together then fanning out - incredible. The 30-D soundscape you all created was unique and marvelous, and brought me to tears several times. Thank you so much for that gift - the sounds and sonics you made in that space will remain unforgettable in my music mind. Bravo, and hope the rest of the shows are awesome for you. Safe travels, and thanks again! It was great seeing you all.
Email from Westwood Lutheran Church, Minneapolis
Dev – 
Thank you for the kind note. Of all of the ensembles we have hosted recently at Westwood, none has been more thoughtful and considerate of our space than yours. We are grateful! And I am so glad to hear the concert went well. I heard amazing reviews from some of the Westwood folks who were there. 
If the recording made last night become public, please do let me know as I would enjoy listening. 
All my best,
Email, re Minneapolis
Wow, I really loved the show last night in St. Louis Park, MN! I got to wondering if it was the audience that controlled the lengths of the songs and wondered if we should not clap until the guitarists removed their hands from the necks of their guitars. Very memorable performance!
Email to Curt Golden, re Chicago
hi, Curt - I wanted to send a note of thanks for the performance last night by you and the rest of the Chamber Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists (and if you could pass it along - you’re the only one who’s email I have!)   It was incredibly powerful and a testament to artistic commitment and excellence,, joy, and a truly generous offering to all of us in the audience.  I was pretty much moved to tears during the opener and the sense of amazement didn’t cease the entire time.  I know a program like that takes time and effort and I appreciate all that went into it. 
I actually took a New Standard Tuning weekend course you taught in 2005 in Atlanta. I loved it and it made me realize the kind of dedication the guitar needs and I’d probably have to give up my other instrument to do it. So, I put more effort into harmonica, my 1st axe (we also exchanged emails a couple of years ago because I’d heard & liked your blues band featuring your harmonica work). I also wanted to mention that I showed up to that course in 2005 very dissonant and ignorant, not just about guitar but other things. I see it now that I’m studying to be a Zen Buddhist teacher. People show up to beginning courses that I assist with sometimes with that same twitchiness. They don’t know better but we’re taught to harmonize with them without judgement and you did the same for me during the course, which I didn’t realize til now but really appreciate.
Overheard at the Merch Table:
“You guys should go to the White House to play.”
Email from First Unitarian Society, Madison
Hi Dev, 
I hope you travels are going well. I just wanted to thank you for choosing FUS as your Madison venue. I was really impressed and fascinated by the organization of all your members and your ease of communication. I caught part of the concert – so refreshing, and interesting – a real audio experience. 
FUS Facility Coordinator
Email to Curt from a (skype) student (OST) in the Chicago vicinity:
re. Robert Fripp & The Chamber Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists - you were right. My mind is blown. Bravo to you and all your cohorts! 
One interesting thing - after the multi-lingual introduction/announcement and before the start of the concert the whole room became quite still. I felt like the stillness was an actual physical thing and then two guys sitting behind me started commenting on the silence and somehow broke it. I felt a disappointment at that point. 
With respect to the performance: 
Pretty amazing. I didn’t expect it to be more than music but it was movement (is that stuff choreographed?) and the space itself. It occurred to me that the only way to experience the performance was to be there, in the middle of it. No recording, even video, could do it justice. Still, I did procure a copy of the DVD on sale at the merch table (but haven’t watched it yet). 
Where does that music come from? I mean, I know where Red comes from, but all the other stuff? Is it improvised? I guess the classical piece that you played up in the balcony is written out. 
Also, I noticed that you all appear to “pass” a note from one to another with a gesture to the “recipient” but sometimes there was just the gesture and no note - what’s that about? 
All in all, a great show from my point of view. I really appreciated the opportunity to be there.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Robert Fripp and the Chamber Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists, Westwood Lutheran Church. It was a surreal combo of performance art and sonic immersion. The 30 guitarists made sounds similar to piano, harpsichord, whales and bees.
Facebook Comments

  • “Thank you for blessing us with your music this week! It was wonderful to have some behind the scenes rehearsal performances :)” – Westwood Lutheran Church, Minneapolis
  • “The performance was so full of joy -- thank you for bringing your wonderful music to Minneapolis!”
  • “Incredible web of mystery bliss” – Madison
  • “What an amazing concert this was! I am still thinking about it and can hear the incredible sounds. Thank you for coming to Madison!” – Madison
  • “My favorite shows are always the ones that might me want to go right out and play music.

    Tonight’s show was something else entirely though. Changed the way I see approaching performances, the use of the space and interplay of all the performers was just mind blowing. I think it’s going to take a few days for this one to sink in. Thanks to all the crafty guitarists tonight for a truly incredible show and feeding me a ton of inspiration.” – Chicago
  • “Thank you for the memorable show! It was amazing!!” – Minneapolis
  • “Still trying to recover from last night's experience. I experienced synesthesia for the first time and I wasn't even looking for it. Add to that the fact that Robert Fripp played his guitar on my ear. And when I mean on my ear, I mean I could rest my head on the guitar. Jaanus had to pinch me afterwards just to assure me it actually happened.

    Music coming from everywhere, communicating from one end of the venue to the other. Players upstairs and downstairs. Conversations in music triggered by non verbal language, plus a couple of classics thrown our way. Painting the room with musical colors.

    I can go on, but I think you get the point that I can't really put the experience into words.”
  • “Midway into the show, seven crafty guitarists appeared in those seven arches and stayed there for a good 10 or 15 minutes in a musical volley with the group across on the other balcony by the organ. The whole evening was visually stunning, but that was the moment I would've most like to document with a quick picture.” – Chicago

Chicago show review from Facebook
Robert Fripp and his Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists were absolutely incredible, one of the most unique and interesting performances I can recall in many years: Twenty nine acoustic guitar players, I believe, including their fearless leader, all dressed in black and completely unplugged (more shiny black Ovation acoustics with a cutaway than I've ever seen in one place, and some very nice Taylor's and otherwise, too), fully mobile, moving in circles through the chapel in groups and subgroups, suddenly appearing in balconies for extended hymnal jaunts, or six inches behind your head with a tiny chromatic lick just for you before moving on down the row. There was literally no barrier between the band and the audience, it was all one space throughout. They traded riffs across the room and ran rhythms and chords around the building in bidirectional circular waves. It sounded at times like a gigantic modular harp which could divide and subdivide itself on a whim. It was the quietest and most observant audience situation you could possibly imagine. King Crimson popped up a couple few times to great effect among extended segments of angelic twinkling, mathical headbanging, and lots of other moving musical motifs and blends for which I have no proper terms. R. Fripp himself was far from the spotlight for most of the night, entering and exiting the group quietly throughout the performance, and slowly taking more direct control as they neared the encore, which he conducted in real time after mostly observing large portions of the set from a close vantage in the shadows. The humor, humanity and openly joyful nature of the production only complemented the stupendously disciplined musicianship and perfectly executed group dynamics on display for the entire 100 or so minutes.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thu Dec 18 2014

The unbounded generosity of the people I am privileged to call friend is a constant source of wonder for me, and the reason I always have hope.

Melvin’s health remains my most pressing concern. Nights are particularly tough, and I am not getting enough sleep. Still no definitive diagnosis, and the specialist is recommending a pretty aggressive plan for a surgical biopsy, which would give us the answer. I worry about putting him through that. I’ll be meeting with his primary care vet on Saturday to review the results from the ultrasound. She is pretty practical, and knows Melvin well, so if there are reasonable alternatives she will be forthcoming.

So we’re on hold for a couple more days, but there is a decision looming.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Undercover Blues Band rehearsal this afternoon. A transitional day, as we turn the corner from workshop mode where we’re having fun reinvigorating existing material and making friends with new material, to more serious rehearsal, getting down to business on what will be in the set list for the January 2 show at Darrell's, and looking at how it might flow. I came in with a first pass at the set, and we simply went through it stopping as necessary to make observations. At the end we looked at a couple of changes, which I will incorporate, and agreed to meet again on Sunday afternoon to finalize the set. Next week we are all off in different directions for the holiday, so when we reconvene after Christmas it will be for the very focused work of rehearsing the set itself, and making sure we are hitting the mark on all of the little details of the arrangements.

I always dread this rehearsal. It’s just not a lot of fun, although with this particular collection of individuals it is the least un-fun I’ve ever experienced. But basically it is the moment when you realize that there is no way we’re going to get it together in time. The knowledge that we always do, and will do so again this time, is small comfort. All I could hear was how terrible my voice sounded, how bad my guitar playing was, and how I wasn’t really listening very well.

It’s inevitable. It will pass.

We played:

•    Don’t Go No Farther
•    Boom Boom
•    Sound the Bell
•    The Red Rooster
•    Deep Elem Blues
•    Walkin’ Blues
•    I Smell Trouble
•    Yonder Wall
•    Wang Dang Doodle
•    Built for Comfort
•    Mean Town Blues
•    Born in Chicago
•    First Train Home
•    The Same Thing
•    How Blue Can You Get?
•    Taxi Blues
•    Two Trains Running
•    Dust My Broom

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Two things I love...

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fri Dec 12 2014

Tough few weeks. Began Thanksgiving week with some tube issues with the amp. No big deal, just an inconvenience. One of the things that is pretty much part of the deal when the only amplifier that sounds like that is 50 years old; they just need a bit of pampering, and fortunately I’ve “got a guy” who is a rock star at keeping old amplifiers cooking. In this case, it was a Monday night, and I had a Tuesday noon rehearsal, so there was a certain urgency. But if that was all that was going on it wouldn’t even merit a note in the journal. It was the first in a series of things.

Melvin was really getting noticeably skinnier, so on Wednesday I called the vet to make an appointment for a weigh-in to see if my perception was accurate. They were taking the Friday after Thanksgiving off, so the earliest I could get in was Saturday at mid-afternoon. I was concerned enough to make the call, but the sense of urgency was pretty low, so that was okay. Mostly, in noticing and acknowledging that I was concerned, my worry level went up a bit. I just needed to wait a couple of days, that’s all.

Wonderful, wonderful Thanksgiving celebration with the Wilsons, who make a practice of making a place at their table for us orphans on this holiday. Stayed late. Happy.

THEN, I got home. Thought all was doing was one last email check before heading to bed. What I got when I woke it up was a whirling pinwheel that never stopped whirling. Ever. You don't quite realize how dependent on technology you are until it is suddenly gone. Won’t detail the process here, but the bottom line is I was computerless (or, put another way, computer-free) for 10 days. The possible remedies swung from buying a new one for a couple grand to replacing a connector for about $100, before it finally settled on a new logic board, hard drive, and battery, in the $300 range. A bargain.

The biggest lesson from this experience was that I could easily live without about 99% of the stuff I depend on a computer for. But the financial records are just a huge problem. I am entirely paperless. No physical bills. No physical check registers. No physical bank statements. Nothing. If my phone wasn't basically a hand-held computer I'd be SOL. I had to use it to go to websites to find my bank and credit card balances, due dates, and then keep track of everything on paper. A huge time and energy suck. In the long run I was never going to lose the original data – I back up religiously – but the day to day grind was just unbearable.

Back to Mel. Saturday came and I took him to the vet. Sure enough he had lost another pound in the 2 months since his last check up. And since the vet considered his weight at that time a serious cause for concern, this was a real problem. Straight into the back for x-rays. It took a couple of days for the radiologist to review them, but the feedback was more or less what the vet saw right away. Something going on in the intestines. We talked about options. The next step would be going to an internal medicine specialist for an ultrasound, or possibly an endoscopy. Oh boy. Made the appointment. Last Tuesday we went in, after subjecting him to a 12-hour fast in preparation for the procedure (try explaining that to a cat). The doctor looked him over and agreed that an ultrasound was the best next step. This involved tranquilizing him and shaving his belly. Rather than make him go through this any more often than necessary, we went ahead and ran a number of additional tests at the same time.

Now we’re waiting for the report from one last test. The last couple of days have been tough, as he is having trouble keeping food down so we need to keep him on anti-nausea medication. Today is the first good day for him in over 2 weeks. Much relief for that, but I suspect in terms of my own anxiety it is just a lull in the action.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As always, Undercover Blues Band rehearsals are my island of sanity. Today:

•    Warmup: slow blues in A, which developed into I Smell Trouble
•    Going Down Slow
•    Sitting On Top Of The World
•    Taxi Blues
•    Deep Elem Blues
•    Don’t Go No Farther
•    Born In Chicago
•    Mean Town Blues
•    I Smell Trouble (redux)

Beginning to transition into Get-Down-To-Business mode. I’ll miss the free-flowingness of the process so far, but we do have a gig in 3 weeks, and there are a couple of major holidays in the interim. Next week we’ll put together the working setlist. The following week I’ll be traveling. The week after that we’ll finalize the set, and at the end of that week is the gig. I’m pretty excited. This band is always stretching, and sounds really pretty awesome. I was happier with my own guitar playing today than I’ve been in months. Dead computer/sick cat… maybe you just gotta actually have the blues to play the blues.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fri Nov 21 2014

Spent a good part of my available energy this week being my own IT guy, and there is very little rewarding in that. You finally get it right, as you must, but there is nothing in way of a sense of satisfaction or having contributed anything of quality to the Universe. It’s gotta be done, so you do it. Then… nothing. Kind of a “now, where was I before I was so rudely interrupted?” feeling.

Undercover Blues Band rehearsal this afternoon. Definitely the highlight of my week. Had that great “second rehearsal” feel. Still loose and energetic, but beginning to find our legs again. We played (not necessarily in this order):

•    Warmup 12-bar blues in E
•    Don’t Go No Farther
•    Taxi Blues
•    Boom Boom
•    The Same Thing
•    Two Trains Running
•    Dust My Broom
•    First Train Home
•    Key to the Highway
•    The Red Rooster
•    Mean Town Blues

The warmup on a blues in E was pretty typical of this band. We arrive. We set up. While setting up and tuning and generally getting ready, we gab about whatever is current and relevant. Someone starts playing. Everyone falls in. Something no one planned happens. Lovely. Don’t Go No Farther was a review from last week. Tried a couple of variations, and then found our way back to where we began. The order after that is not so clear in my mind, but those are the pieces for sure.

Key to the Highway is new for us. It’s swingier arrangement than the Little Walter/Derek and the Dominoes version. More Broonzy-fied, including the Broonzy verses at the end. Felt good, and it suits my voice. The arrangement isn’t quite there, but it has potential. Igor made the suggestion that I play something more reminiscent of a horn section, in a call and response with the voice, rather than straight rhythm guitar. I’ll put a little time into this tomorrow.

I pulled out Mean Town Blues at the end of rehearsal. It has been out of the mix for some time, but I really miss it. It boogies hard, and really resonates for me. Took a few minutes to reassemble the feel and the arrangement. A couple of changes from the way we used to play it. I wanted the instrumental bash in between verses 2 and 3 rather than 3 and 4. It’s a small thing but it changes the flow. We also experimented with an idea I had the other day. The piece is very high energy right from the first note, and the solo section has always been up a notch from there, and for me that is a strain. So rather than kick it up at that moment, we worked with taking it way down. Igor and I let the tonic note/chord ring and Bill keeps the groove but takes it way down. I improvise with Bill beginning dynamically down, with lots of space, and then as it builds up Igor slides back in at the right moment and we push it up to a climax and back into the driving groove as we go back to the verses. This just made me incredibly happy.

Dynamics seem to be a theme that is emerging for this incarnation of the band. Very satisfying. The feeling as we packed up and went our separate ways was, “We’re back!”

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thu Nov 20 2014

At the beginning of their lesson yesterday morning, Mary Beth and Taylor showed me the ear training app they have on their iPhone. Very cool. And proof that at my essence I’m a blues guy. One of the tests was to identify what type of chord was played. It’s a vaguely piano-ish sound used, and quite clear and audible. The chord sounded. I immediately said, “dominant 7th.” Mary Beth looked at the display, and replied, “It says half-diminished.” I said, “Same thing.” I mean, seriously, why would I play a simple dominant 7th when a 9th chord is just sitting there waiting for me?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Had a conversation with Igor and Bill during the Undercover Blues Band rehearsal last Friday that I really wish a number of my students had been able to witness. I was introducing one of the new pieces I’ve been working on, so I needed to show them the form in a hurry.

I said, “It’s in D. At least I think it is, until I hear myself singing. We may have to change that,” and then I began playing the little rhythmic/harmonic figure that goes through the first half of the verse. They fell in. We just repeated it for a minute or two, giving the two of them an opportunity to figure out what the feel of the piece is, and to find their own way into it. Then I said (more or less) this:
“Okay, it’s the I chord for three bars. In Bar 4 we go to V for one bar, then back to I for two more bars. We stop on the downbeat of Bar 7, for 6 beats. There will be a vocal fill there. We come back in after the break, on IV for two bars, back to I for two bars, then V for a bar, stop with a IV chord on the downbeat of next bar, for 4 beats (another vocal fill), and then come back with a 2-bar I-IV-I-V turnaround. Two verses, and then a guitar solo. During the solo we just revert to a straight up 12-bar blues. Solo will be 2 or 3 choruses, and then we’re back for 1 more verse, in the original form. Out at the end of that verse.”
I showed them the intro I’ve been working on, counted it in, and we played it. Down in one take, except that I hadn’t told them about the specific rhythmic kicks on the final bar. We took a minute to work that out, I counted it in and we played it again. Bill said it was too short. Always better than the alternative. We’ll have to review it at tomorrow’s rehearsal, but basically we got it.

I am fairly certain that my students often feel my insistence that they learn at least a little something about harmony is kind of a bother. Why say “I IV I V” when “C F C G” is more specific. But it’s not. The beauty of that conversation was that I was able to communicate everything necessary to play the piece. For Bill, who is a well trained and experienced all around musician who happens to be playing drums in this group, the chord names are unhelpful. But the form is significant. I could have been specific about the chords. But if I had said that in Bar 4 we go to A7, it is only information. In a piece of music, going to the V chord has a very specific significance. In a blues tune, going to the V chord in Bar 4 is an unusual thing to do, so this is something that immediately stands out for us, and commands our attention. Bill doesn’t care that it’s an A7, and to tell the truth neither do Igor and I. But it’s a V chord where we wouldn’t ordinarily expect it, and that is something that is going to catch the ear, and we need to pay attention. Relationships are universal, names are transitory. In terms of understanding the song, this is informationally rich.

Plus, if after that first runthrough I had realized that the key of D was totally wrong for my voice and we had needed to transpose it on the fly, relationships are transferrable. In a chord name world, if we had needed to take it down to C for my voice, the conversation would have been, “Okay, instead of D7 play C7, instead of A7 play G7, and where we used to play G7s, make them F7s.” In my world the conversation would have been, “Okay, let’s try that in C and see if it suits my voice better. 1-2-3-4…”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sun Nov 16 2014

Some time in 1949, during the early days of Atlantic Records, the company's founder Ahmet Ertegun had a highly significant encounter with a seasoned executive from one of the major record companies. The fledgling record man was quizzing his more experienced colleague on various aspects of music-biz lore and practice, and Ertegun asked the veteran about artists’ royalties. “You mean you're giving these artists royalties?” the man from the major replied, aghast. “You're going to ruin the business for all of us.”

from “Boogie Man. The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century”
by Charles Shaar Murray

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fri Nov 14 2014

First rehearsal for Undercover Blues Band in way, way too long. Lots of fun. No pressure, beyond the pressure we each of us puts on ourselves. Kept it loose and jammy, while we found our feet. Called tunes from the old repertoire, except for Don’t Go No Farther which I presented for the first time. It took off immediately. This is what we played. The order is my best recollection:

•    Wang Dang Doodle
•    It Hurts Me Too
•    Don't Go No Farther
•    Walkin' Blues
•    Deep Elem Blues
•    How Blue Can You Get?
•    Built For Comfort
•    Sound the Bell

I’m a little bit hoarse this evening, but happy and hoarse. Singing is one thing that I really cannot practice at home. Even though my neighbors would probably be understanding, and I would of course wait until I knew the place was pretty empty, it is kind of hard to cut loose in full out shout in my living room. Best I can do at home is work at memorizing lyrics, and then touch on matters of voice/guitar coordination and a bit of phrasing in an attenuated voice. So my singing was the weakest part of the music today, at least for me. Sometimes I hate hearing it. But it will get back.