Friday, October 19, 2012

Tender Moments with G. Calvin Weston, Part 1: "In my office! NOW!"

Having started his 30+ year career as a musician with harmolodic saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman at the tender age of 17, it's safe to say that G. Calvin Weston is a drummer of epic proportions.  It's his innate musicality, however -- a seemingly indefatigable desire to emote vocally, as a countertenor would, augmented by a verve towards sound and vision -- that makes him four dimensional as an artist.  One would think he was from the deep South.  Calvin is grounded and yet he is ethereal, a heady mix of what can only be described as a sophisticated hick that is refined and aware, set adrift upon the performance stages of the world.

We just came off a European tour with James "Blood" Ulmer, hopscotching all over creation and then some.  I would say that Calvin and I became what most people would describe as fast friends but that isn't exactly true. The truth is, Calvin and I met and realized that somehow, we already knew each other. At least, that's the way it felt on my end.

How does he describe it?

It was after the gig, when we were at the bar at Kunst & Kulturhaus in Oblarn, Austria that Calvin turned to me and said, with a great deal of astonishment, "Do you realize we only met four days ago?" Then without warning, before I could fully express my mutual wonder and admiration, he smiled broadly, threw his hands up triumphantly as though he'd just made the touchdown of a lifetime and yelled at the top of his lungs, "It's like you fell out my balls!"

If I wasn't mortified the first time he said it, the third time probably sealed it for me.

Of course, the back end of the bar roared its approval and applauded raucously. I opened my mouth to scream but nothing came out. All I could do was cover my face with my hands. Later, I remember thinking, well that was a compliment, really -- as only Calvin could give.

And that's pretty much G. Calvin Weston -- in a nutshell, so to speak.

Once they were up and positioned and tuned, Calvin had the habit of calling his drumset his office. There were too many moments when he would insist that I photograph him there.  It is with this in mind that I give you a pastiche of images from any given soundcheck from our happy jaunt through the Rhineland and beyond -- Calvin, hard at work, in his office.

Looking over Calvin's shoulder...

Rehearsal, Music Hall Worpswede -- this is our sound engineer Joerg Mohr's home base.

G. Calvin Weston, soundcheck - Porgy & Bess 10/1/12

G. Calvin Weston, in his office

Porgy & Bess, Vienna Austria


That's a glimpse of Joerg, moving and repositioning that drumset for the 5th time.

Soundcheck, Cinema Paradiso - St. Polten, Germany

Cinema Paradiso St. Polten, Austria

Calvin, in his office

Calvin, posing. Again!

Altes Kino, Landeck Austria

Calvin, tuning up in his office

BIX Stuttgart Germany

Soundcheck, A-Trane

A-Trane, Berlin Germany -- with Joerg checking Blood's monitors.

The view from backstage

The view as I tilt open the backstage door.

Soundcheck, Altes Plandhaus

At Altes Plandhaus in the round, Cologne Germany

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

We had big fun in Oblarn!

As we drove through the Swiss Alps into Oblarn, I remember thinking that it looked like something out of a German fairy tale: it was a simple little village at first glance -- such pastoral surroundings replete with cows and sheep, and then wooden bric-a-brac trim and shutters framing pastel-colored houses that were sandwiched together just so, with snow capped mountains that imposed themselves upon you in every direction, hovering just out of reach, heavy with fog and wonder. Only the cars that zipped through the narrow streets made it all tumble into the present day.  I was genuinely surprised to see cottages tucked into so many crevices in the mountains. If I were a little kid, I would think that’s where all the happy little goats and rams live.

As soon as we got near the venue, Calvin snapped to it abrubtly and remembered exactly where to park and how everything was situated. As it turns out, he was there in April with bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and guitarist Vernon Reid as Freeform Funky Freqs. There was no internet in the hotel but the venue – Kunst and Kulturhaus, built in the 12th century – had wifi and luckily, it was open for immediate load in. From there, everything exploded into a million beautiful particles that continue to shine. What a big surprise. Oblarn turned out to be the sleepy little place that wasn’t so sleepy after all. The food, for example, was tremendous.  I had the trout, which I loved. I should have gotten the lamb, which was astonishing. (Isn't Calvin nice to let me eat off of his plate all the time?) Mark had the beef stroganoff, which tipped the scale towards fantastic. Unfortunately, that was enough to send us to bed, or at least a good little nap. When I eat that well, I know I'm going to sleep like a child.

In spite of a momentary snag during the set – Blood thought someone was videotaping the show and he stopped everything to figure it out – things only got better from there, really.  The music began to shift into overdrive early on. I distinctly remember the feeling of being blown back by the sound of Blood’s guitar – like a jet engine, churning and unwinding – and not being able to stop my body from flinching repeatedly. And then I looked into the audience and saw another girl who was having the same reaction. The visceral response is an honest one.

The audience was warm, enthusiastic and genuinely appreciative. Later, as I went to search for something to eat, I found the bar and more people. Hans gave me a long narrow beautiful bottle of local schnapps. I can’t get it anyplace else, I can’t order it online. What a conundrum. To me, local things are really the best there is because they are so inherently unique. As commercialism threatens to turn everything into a strip mall, such things grow more and more precious. And sacred, somehow. I don’t usually drink and I just loved it. It tasted like pears and elderflowers. Treat it like medicine, Hans intoned. I am absolutely drop-dead terrified that I will break it before I return to Harlem, so I wrap it very carefully in a thick towel and bury it in my luggage everytime we stop and go. 

No one behind the bar had ever heard of mescal – my personal favorite. I think I’ll send some as a thank you. If I could, I’d leave a bottle of high grade mescal in my wake, everywhere I go that loves me.  When it’s done right, it’s the absolute limit.

I had to leave eventually for the sake of my voice -- my physical body is my instrument and if I don't get the rest I need (and not strain my voice by talking in loud bars) I won't be able to sing. It doesn't help that I have GERD, either. 

On the other hand, Mark and Calvin closed the place down. Calvin is a big kid but I think that Mark is still recovering…