Week of Wonders: Prelude
Kurt and His Week of Wonders
(with an unwitting soundtrack by Harris Eisenstadt)
I spent the first week of September between Ostrava, the Czech Republic, New York City, then Guelph, Ontario. I carried with me a record by Harris Eisenstadt called “September Trio” with Ellery Eskelin and Angelica Sanchez (released by Clean Feed October 25). The track titles spell out the first week of the month (“September 1” through “September 7”) so it seemed natural to listen to one track a day as I kept my travel diary, beginning on the 1st, which was the 8th day of the Ostrava Days festival. The only edits from what was written out in longhand in the little notebook I bought in Chinatown were made for clarity. My personal context (mood, surroundings, geography) was allowed to influence me as much as it wanted to.
I was in the Czech Republic to cover the Ostrava Days festival for New Music Box. The review can be read here. My review of the Guelph Jazz Festival appeared in the New York City Jazz Record, a PDF of which can be downloaded here.
It was a week that caused me to question my own preferences. Is it improvised music I gravitate toward (a delineation which brings up innumerable questions)? Or is it small group music? Perhaps, but not only that. I found myself surprised, maybe even embarrassed, by the simplicity of discovering that it's contemporary music, current, modern, post-modern, music of the now that attracts me. There's a sense in which freely improvised music is as now as it gets. But perhaps Morton Feldman's music was so infused with the now that it resonates even today, even … now. Or perhaps, as Keith Rowe suggested to me in an interview I did for the NYC Jazz Record shortly before leaving town, “If you pick up a composition by Shostakovich written in 1950 or 1960 and open the pages in 2011, it's alive at that moment. The past is continually changing before us.” But then a composition by the composer Lucie Vítková, heavy with rock drumming and techno-sounding clarinet, seemed a rather dated piece of pastiche. And yet I enjoyed it quite a bit. Was it of the now, or yesteryear? Could it be that Feldman – who would be 86 if he were alive today – is more of the now than the 26-year-old Vítková? Does that even mean anything?
Traveling from a classical festival in Europe to a jazz festival in North America gave me a lot to think about – things I'm still trying to resolve.