With Davu Seru/Paul Metzger (& Didier Petit) @ The Black Dog February 21

In 2009 I contacted Robin Rife, who, at the time, was booking music for Cafe Maude, about the possibility of a gig. The first surprise was that, unlike, say the booker for the Dakota, she actually responded to my inquiry. (Despite my lack of appetite for chasing after work which has increased exponentially with age, I do, on rare occasions, check in with more highly visible venues — especially those with a grand or baby grand piano! — but only with a single attempt. [Something there about my aversion to power games; a favorite pastime of bookers and promoters.]) The second, even greater surprise was that she was actually familiar with my work. Thus, what ensued was an involved, and, often delightful series of e-mail exchanges. I made it clear to her that I understood the aesthetic parameters of Maude, and was interested in working within them, while she was concerned about my having to compromise (and, between the lines, whether I was even capable of it, on my terms or otherwise!). Yes, this was a paying gig complete with a sampling of their wonderful menu. But, my motivations ran deeper. All of my lifework has been concerned with, given various pragmatic considerations of course, playing music without compromise. And this is almost solely what I’ve been doing since 1969. So, the idea of adapting my aesthetic; of focusing on certain aspects of my work in order to respect the ambiance of the venue yielded a particular set of challenges, that, especially at this point in my so-called career, were appealing. Put another way, because I’ve gone about doing what I do the way I do for such a long time, self-inflicted adaptation was, for me, something quite removed from compromise. (And, there were [few-and-far-between] precedents for this sort of thing in my history, such as art openings, soundtracks and the like.)  For pragmatic reasons, I didn’t want to utilize my drum kit. Nor, did I feel my clarinet stylings — however mitigated — would work. Ah, but that antique grand piano that, at the time adorned Maude; *that* was where my focus lie. Concerning personnel, I had, at the time, just begun collaborating with Paul, who I knew Robin dug, and who had already played there, as had Davu. And, as my first outing with Paul was in a trio with Davu, the group for the evening almost formed itself. To be clear, adapting for Maude had nothing to do with utilizing formal structures or tunes, but, rather, considerations of dynamics, intensity and density; emphasizing notions of melody/harmony without actually overtly mining that terrain; something already integral to my work. But, due to a lack of clear communication on my part (my reluctance to enforce aesthetic concerns), the music that night was, to my discomfort, and the dismay of Robin and Kevin, the owner (though, in subsequent communications they  politely indicated otherwise) more than the Maude regulars were used to, or wanted to deal with. (On the other hand, people who came to hear us seemed to really enjoy it. And recording revealed that the aesthetic tension among the three of us was ultimately effective; an observation underscored by a friend of mine on the east coast who upon hearing a CD-R proclaimed it to among his personal favorites of the live gigs I’ve forwarded.) Needless to say, while not apologizing for the music per se, I did take responsibility for how the music unfolded. Despite my intents and concerted efforts, Robin’s misgivings turned out to be well-founded. And though there were subsequent pleasant and respectful communications, I was, understandably, never afforded another opportunity to play at Maude.

Which brings us to this gig at the Dog. Particularly in light of the fact that most often, the gigs Davu and I play together are ones I’ve organized, he recently expressed an interest in taking those reigns. Problem was, as is so often the case, finding a venue. So, during a recent phone conversation, and particularly in (another) light of (another) fact that he regularly plays at the Black Dog I suggested he might approach Sara, with a caveat. While the regulars there aren’t as provincially bourgeoise as the Maude crowd, they are nonetheless generally not enamored of what is construed (however incorrectly!) as “difficult” music. So, particularly in (yet another) light of (yet another) fact that the Dog now has a decent upright piano, and, still remembering “Our Night at Maude” with Paul, I thought it might be enjoyable to have another go at the adaptation aesthetic. And so, Davu booked us the gig, with a vital addition. Didier is going to be in town for a couple days, and asked Sara to ask Davu about sitting in. As I’ve had several satisfying encounters with Didier, which at one time, came close to involving Paul and Davu, there was no question of an affirmative response. First set, trio. Second set, quartet. First set, adaptation aesthetics. But with the conjoining of those “live wires” (figuratively and literally) for the second, all bets could be off.

Postscript: Ironically (and fittingly) the quartet set was actually more in keeping with those “adaptation aesthetics”, but it didn’t really matter as the vast majority of the people there seemed to be there for the music rather than the venue. Also ironically, the first  (trio) set seemed to me to be more of a direct extension of the Maude gig to great effect; certain tensions morphing into a sort of “bent jazz” vibe.

Further postscript: No thanks to Sony, whose proprietary  and short-sighted designs (i.e.; a recorder wherein the most important component is the most prone to breakage), and many thanks to the editing skills of Paul Metzger, a limited edition LP (100 copies) of the quartet set above produced by Mark Trehus is in the works.

3 thoughts on “With Davu Seru/Paul Metzger (& Didier Petit) @ The Black Dog February 21”

  1. semantics. dismay, misgivings…
    I will say this, I KNEW the customers would freak out, however your work was primary to my work at that time: a subversive role in turning people on to music they would never hear unwittingly. maybe even raising their pulse a bit, or something to that effect. MY dismay that evening was with the owner, with whom I had discussed very clearly, that this would be our most extreme case of monkey-wrenching the suburban crowd yet, (I believe this was pre Ghostband. Jon gave y’all a run for your $ on that front) who felt themselves very bohemian by attending our establishment and tolerating -sometimes even enjoying- our “interesting & eclectic” musical offerings.

    there was a clear understanding (I thought) about what we were up to that evening. So, a negative and thus in my opinion, unfounded response from said owner, yes. created much dismay for me, as did the fallen faces of you, my comrades in arms, whom I had invited, and I can only assume expected to feel fortified at least by their hosts, if not the few listeners or … the women drinking black bunny martinis. it was one of the most difficult posts of my stand, and the beginning of the end for me. having ABSOLUTELy nothing to do with the great music you brought that night.

    there was a similar incident (you know it is bad when a gig is referred to as an incident!) with martin dosh and tim glenn where they prepared the piano and recorded the whole weekend. again this was not well received due to the lack of commercial appeal. (?) the honor of even having such an event take place being completely disregarded. I had no misgivings about bringing you back, however knew it would be a hard sell to said owner, and it was. and I tried, and so eventually -yes with tons of dismay and disappointment…. I quit.

    that is my take these years later, and I am very proud to be associated with the recording- you, paul, davu – and even sara and didier being I am fond of both of them as well as the black dog. We try to expose the masses, and we DO expose the masses- to the unexpected. in the very least, with the hope that the next time they have similar exposure, they are that much more comfortable, and the next and the next- and hopefully, at some point their ears have stretched without a particular effort or strain- but by simply sometimes being in the right place at the right time.

    which cafe maude was on many a beautiful night during my 3.5 year tenure & that makes me extremely happy.
    love, Robin

    ps- let’s just give a shout out to the monster of a player that is Dean Granros, who withstood that audience numerous times, graciously and gracefully. it is my understanding he is no longer welcome, due to the whole premise of your post- and that, makes me extremely unhappy. I hope I am wrong about this. Prove me wrong Kevin Sheehy!!! Prove me wrong……

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