Doek Festival blog #6
Blog 6: Monday 8 June
by Kevin Whitehead
photography by Sara Anke Morris
Sunday, the final day of the Doek/Tri-Centric festival, let us listeners quietly come down from all the excitement the orchestra built up last week. A few American guests lingered to play yesterday’s four-stop bicycle tour. Still high from Saturday’s Misha Mengelberg retrospective, wherever we went musicians were playing his tunes. We only made it to half the biking gigs—partly because everyone has to sleep sometime, partly because when a house manager tells us we’ll need to don blindfolds in order to be seated, as at the Pianola Museum, we are tiptoeing backwards out the door.
Oscar Jan Hoogland, who curated the day (and seemed to be everywhere), found a couple of gorgeous little theaters to visit. At the art deco gem Het Perron in the Jordaan, where he played intermission piano from the Mengelberg songbook, the main act was the trio of festival bandmembers who play in Misha’s ICP Orchestra, violinist/violist Mary Oliver, altoist/clarinetist Michael Moore and trombonist Wolter Wierbos. The three had had a ridiculous week. Besides rehearsing various festival premieres, they’ve been in endless technical/actors/dancers run-throughs for Misha’s opera Koeien premiering tomorrow.
At the Perron they started off free-improvising, as natural as breathing for these three, but before long bits of Mengelberg compositions slipped in: instant ICP trio. One tune they touched on is in Koeien, the ballad “Zo zacht als boter,” As Soft as Butter (which I’ll always associate with Jodi Gilbert who’s covered it). So even as they echoed last night’s blowout, they were turning toward their next job. The working musician marches on.
Kaja Draksler was playing from that same Misha songbook when we found the Torpedo Theater, nestled in a little alley off little Broadway—the Nes—in the city’s little little-theater district. To describe the Torpedo as little is to understate a pinch. It’s an opera house in miniature, about as wide as a thimble but surprisingly high and airy (there’s a tiny U-shaped balcony—proportions vary everywhere as sense dictates), and pleasant with more than ten people in it. And as James Fei pointed out, no Dutch theater is too tiny to have a bar.
The unostentatious decor is painted in good respectable Dutch primary colors. The stage area is so narrow and shallow the band spilled into the wings, looking gigantic: cellists Tomeka Reid and Harald Austbø flanking french horn player Vincent Chancey who sported a snug quilt-checked jacket and snappy narrow-brimmed hat. It wasn’t like something out of a Wes Anderson movie—they were in a Wes Anderson movie. The music was suitably quirky; Harald put some Misha scores on the music stand they all shared, sitting six inches from each other, and would drop sheets to the floor when it was time to move on. Their free play could be as tight as their circumstances, but Harald took the Americans into Dutch weirdo wereld. He still trots out eccentric stuff he learned at 14 from Ernst Reijseger (that’s him on the last page of New Dutch Swing), and now he sings a lot, in that loud, wild, dangerous voice of the drunk who won’t move on from under your Amsterdam window at 3 am. The highpoint was a sort of garbled mix of one of his besotted bar songs and Misha’s plaintive processional “Mother of All Wars.”
The week’s (and Misha weekend’s) final gig was anything but a valedictory. The Brazilian-turned-Dutch tenor and soprano saxophonist Yedo Gibson led a version of his trio with his longtime sidekick, the excellent, very melodic, creative, always listening, noisy when he needs to be and never louder than he should be Finnish guitarist Mikael Szafirowski. The ringers were subbing drummer Onno Govaert, who grabbed everybody’s ears this festival week, conveying raunchy feeling with immaculate technique, and ICP tenor and clarinetist Ab Baars. It was less Tenor Madness than Never Mind the Bollocks: Mengelberg punk style, starting with “A Bit Nervous” as/with honking H-Bomb Ferguson attack. Yedo is a charismatic guy and whale of a saxophone player, with a big sound and conceptual savvy, holding his own with Baars in a braying competition. Their merged low-register sounds were room-shaking cavernous on “We’re Going Out for Italian” taken as a Beefhearty dirge; the tune is Misha’s version of his then-young daughter Andrea’s happy chant whenever the family was headed to her favorite restaurant. The band sang the brief “Acappella” in three-part harmony, played another earwormy “Mother of All Wars” and the equally lovely “Poor Wheel,” and generally put their own spin on everything, rather like Ideal Bread playing Steve Lacy. A record might be nice.
It was a great way to end it all—a reminder there’s always more ahead. At the ensuing after party for anyone still around and vertical, Yedo good-naturedly but correctly chastised me for the way I’d been plugging this set, in the blog and on stage, making it sound like party entertainment rather than the final concert. The way everyone crowded into the room and hung on every note shows the audience knew what was what.
Pretty clear at this point Misha Mengelberg’s music like Anthony Braxton’s will keep ringing out, that these two composers/leaders who’d sometimes been accused of being rootless or betraying traditions have founded enduring traditions of their own. The Doek/Tri-Centric orchestra in its sheer dazzlement last week confirmed that traditions too march on.
It was a great week, and aside from all the talent and dedication everybody showed, part of its success was sheer dumb luck: sometimes big gatherings click and sometimes they don’t. This time every damn thing went right. But as Doek coordinator Carolyn Muntz reminded me as I was heading out the door, it’s also about all the little support stuff getting done, time after time after time: transportation and meals ready when you need them, awesomely competent volunteers to do advance work and run emergency errands, good personal relationships to grease the wheels. They got all that stuff right too.
Consensus is, in the future, this will be the Doek festival to beat. I don’t envy them that, but would be more than happy to watch them try. Next year: Amsterdam meets Chicago. Watch this space.