ABT Diaries 5
I’ve fallen a little bit behind on the travel journal, so a quick recap of the last couple of days.
Day 8 – 9/17: 32.7 miles, Kennebunkport ME to Portland ME
Started out the day with a quick trip to the Kennebunk Bike Company, to get some more work done on my rear wheel. (The biking bluesman’s lament: “I got a wheel, and it won’t stay true…“) After the geographic shenanigans and the heavy mileage of the day before, I decided to take the ugly and industrial but very simple and direct Route 1 to Portland. A scenic landscape of water parks and motels as far as the eye can see.
For the gig, I was joined by Lisa Saffer (soprano voice), Paavo Carey (tenor saxophone), and Steve Lantner (piano), with Portland-based (but former New Haven resident) saxophonist Allen Lowe sitting in on Black and Tan Fantasy. We did a mix of solo, duo, trio, and quartet pieces, including the Borgel Songs cycle I wrote a few years ago using some wonderfully absurdist fables by author Daniel Pinkwater. (“Once upon a time there was a race between a rabbit and an eggplant.”) Everyone played beautifully. I know Paavo from his work with James Jabbo Ware’s great Me We and Them Orchestra, so it was fun to hear him in a more stripped-down and experimental context, a big yet sensitive sound with rich overtones and ideas. Steve has long been one of my favorite improvising pianists in the northeast (you can hear him on a couple of excellent hathut CDs from the last few years), and he killed it, covering multiple styles with grace and creativity. And I’m wildly biased because Lisa is essentially family, but she was amazing. I can’t think of another opera singer with her mix of musicality and technique, insight and curiosity. She had the idea to perform Handel’s Lascia aria contrasted with extreme cornet noise improvisation, and it worked beautifully, one of the favorite things I’ve played all tour.
I spent the night in a house of literary excellence, visiting my old friends Sarah Braunstein and Justin Tussing and meeting their fabulous 3-year old son Asa (who was also a deeply engaged and enthusiastic audience member). I loved Justin’s first novel The Best People in the World, and am eagerly anticipating Sarah’s The Sweet Relief of Missing Children, which comes out early 2011. But their creativity is not restricted to the written word. One of my ongoing quests on this trip has been to fix my sunglasses. I have a pair of shades I got for two dollars at a thrift store that I really like, but I lost one of the nose pads over the summer, and been been searching for a replacement pad ever since with no luck. I’ve dropped in at optometrists throughout the region, nobody had anything that fit, and I’m too stubborn to buy a new pair. Sarah had the brilliant idea of using some hot-pink ear plugs, and Justin exercised his craft skills and custom designed them with scissors and a heated paper clip. Now the glasses sit snugly on my nose, and will indubitably start some kind of fashion trend.
Day 9 – 9/18: 97.7 miles, Portland ME to Newburyport NH
I had a very Maine culinary day: beginning with blueberry pancakes at breakfast (along with eggs benedict), and a lobster roll and clam chowder on the side of the road out of a truck at lunch. (Hey, I’m burning a lot of calories here!) Unfortunately, in between meals I took an extended detour. I had carefully mapped out a route this time, wanting to avoid a rehash of Rt. 1. Along the way, I stumbled upon the Eastern Greenway Trail, that, according the the tiny map on the posted sign, looked like it stretched all the way down the east coast. I figured that would be a hipper way to ride south than whatever I came up with. And it did lead me on beautiful roads, but it is not a coastal route, and my destination was definitely a coastal town. By the time I gave up on it and beat back seawards, I had gone over 15 miles off path. I’ve come to realize geographic navigation is clearly one of those areas where I need to curb my spontaneous nature.
I had a little bout of homesickness riding through the southern Maine coast, since it is so reminiscent of the ocean-front Connecticut towns I rode through all summer in training. (Though I must admit, Maine is probably a little prettier.) And got lost once more trying to get through Portsmouth (I don’t know what it is about New Hampshire cities, but they are kicking my ass on this trip). But I finally made it to Newburyport, for a delightful reunion with some old friends.
Richard Osborne, the proprietor of Dyno Records in Newburyport (support independent record stores!!), offered his cozy establishment as the locale for a Newburyport gig. Curt Newton had emailed me saying he was going to come to this gig, so I said he wasn’t allowed to unless he brought his drums. So we were planning on a duo hit, but that morning I had the belated realization we had to get Jeff Song in the house with his cello! Curt, Jeff, and I had an improvising collective called Trio Ex Nihilo that was quite active around ten years ago, we played pretty regularly and made one album I’m still very proud of. This was the first time we had played together as a trio in ages, and it was a blast. It was like getting together with old friends you hadn’t seen in years, and picking up the conversation right where you left off, comfortable in old relationships yet inspired and informed by new experiences. After my second day of 100-mile biking in three days, I wasn’t sure I’d have the energy to pull it off, but the thrill of reconnecting with these guys easily carried me through the evening.
Day 10 – 9/19: 49.3 miles, Newburyport MA to Boston MA
A relatively quick ride down Rt. 1A into the Boston area, getting to Cambridge in time for a 1:30 rehearsal. (A reintroduction to the peculiarities of Boston drivers…this is where I grew up biking, so I’m used to it, but damn they are crazy. What’s with the local ubiquity of the random U-turn?) And a fantastic day of music with the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra. I’ve been playing with Aardvark for over ten years now but the band has been around since the seventies; it is a true musical institution, simultaneously sui generis and a throwback to the classic days of the composer-led, territory big bands. Composer/leader Mark Harvey has cultivated a dedicated community of musicians, with an unmistakable ensemble sound and a joyful and loving spirit. We did half my music and half Mark’s, including a piece I wrote called Choices featuring Mark as the trumpet soloist. It was extraordinary fun to try out my music with a big band I know so well, great to just to see and hear all my old friends in the ensemble, and the music was happening, all the players bringing out their best. For a tour that is supposed to be about alternative ways of thinking, connectivity, celebrating New England artists and communities, and just trying something crazy, nothing could be more perfect than playing with the mighty Aardvark.
I had a sentimental journey biking home after the gig, the only route I didn’t have to map out. It’s almost surreal in the middle of a trip like this to have a night sleeping in my mother’s home, but very comforting to be in the house I grew up in. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 18, so all my high school memories were on my bike (the same bike I’m riding today!). Heading across the river at night, coming back from a gig in Cambridge, is something I remember well. I even took a little detour to ride by the old ice cream store where I used to work (now a hair salon, sadly). Most weekends of my teenaged years I would get off work at 11pm, either bike home, or go visit Sarah or Cilla or one of my other friends en route, or swing to the Coolidge Theater to trade Nate a pint of mint chip for a ticket to the midnight movie. A nice memory.