Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Bike Ride

I'm currently in Kelowna Airport, flying home after an action packed and wonderfully inspiring week. Like previously mentioned, I was asked to join National Bank Financial's “Bike Ride for Youth” for six days and write a piece of music based on the event. In a nutshell, the employees and clientele of NBF are collectively riding across Canada to raise money for the “Big Dreamer's Fund” they have set up for “Free The Children”. The beauty in this program is that it enables leadership initiatives in local youth, and supports it with the money that's been fundraised within the community. For example, let's say a young girl or boy in Victoria raises 4000$ towards a sustainable development program for an impoverished village in Kenya, the Bank will give them 4000$ from the money collected in the “Big Dreamer's Fund” from the riders of the Victoria branch. Individual communities are able to support the work of their own kids helping others, which greatly benefits the people that receive the aid, but also creates globally conscious youth in our society. To be very blunt about it, I love this concept because the money isn't just being thrown at the problem and assuming results. I think FTC's work is outstanding because it addresses long-term development issues, such as education and sustainable development in places that are unable to instigate change without aid (while managing to create future leaders in our society).

My intentions, now that the ride is over, is to write a large work that commemorates the event and continues to raise awareness and funds for FTC. Fun, eh? (British Columbia is home to one of the variations of the Canadian accent, which I have to admit, I don't actually have, but has been the source of bad Canadian jokes directed towards me in the last 2 years.) This means I'm gearing up the Big Band for an early Deember tour! I'm way too excited about this... 


Here's a de-briefing of my experience in the ride:

Passing Vancouver on my way to Victoria

I arrived in Victoria on the 6th with my father and 2 bikes. He had borrowed a Specialized “Allez-Up” from a friend, and we had gone out to buy the mandatory revealing lycra shorts, among other necessary road-bike nerd gear. I'm an avid commuting cyclist (it's the most efficient and fun way to get around in NY and Montreal) but I had never really ridden a road bike, let alone done a 6 day trip before.

My father dipping his tire in the Pacific for good luck

 The first day was the Victoria to White Rock leg of the trip, which was only about 70 km (if that) because of a ferry ride, and quite a few unexpected events (see picture of the van barely getting through a cow tunnel. It's a long story...) I grew up in White Rock, and hadn't returned in 8 years, so after the welcoming celebration near Semiahoo high school, I decided to take a ride around my old neighbourhood. Things have changed. It's been commercialized (the apex of which is a Wal-Mart) and apparently the real estate market continues to grow. It's not the little town I grew up in anymore. I passed by my old house, knocked on the door, and the current owners were nice enough to let me look around! I then biked down to my old school, which was shut down soon after I moved to Montreal (I found out on this trip that it was full of asbestos and lead paint at the time that I was a student there). It's now been refurnished as a daycare, with the original buildings intact, as it is a heritage site.

Old School (Kensington Prairie)

Truck clearance in cow tunnel...

Epic Flat
I met up with the rest of the team at a restaurant owned by someone at the bank for a dinner along White Rock beach.

White Rock Beach

 The next morning we departed from White Rock with a team of about 13 people. I spent the first half of this 140km ride by myself. The second half was much more physical, riding with the “fast” group.


We arrived in Hope, and I ended up having a kooky experience trying to find a bus for the father in-law of the mechanic (Guillaume) of the trip. Hope isn't big, so naturally, the bus station closes early. I got an inside tip from a taxi driver to seek out a man running a restaurant who would be able to get a ticket for us... After being led to a back room of a laundromat, Alain (the in-law) had his ticket in hand, and I went to meet up with the rest of the team. I realized while eating that I was coming down with a fever (which I hadn't felt while riding, I must have been too focused...)

The 3rd day was the Hope – Manning Park leg of the ride. This involves 95km distance, with a climb of 4000 feet! I managed to keep up with the leader of the B.C. ride (Trevor) although I had to work for it. Manning Park is in the middle of the path from Hope to Penticton, and there's not much going on there except for it's natural beauty. This may have been one of the most physical things I've ever done in my life, and the fever didn't help, although I managed to get rid of it within a day of literally “sweating it out”. 

We started the day at 40 feet above sea level

The 4th day was the longest ride, and the low point in the trip for me. We were geared up for a 170 km ride, the team this day being myself, Trevor, and two new members Pierre and Steve. This was a group of true cyclists. Trevor competes, Steve rode 5000 km this summer and felt like it was very little, Pierre has done the Iron-Man Triathlon. The beginning of the ride was total payoff for having ridden purely uphill for an entire day. After an hour of riding, we hit the downhill portion of the mountain. My highest speed was 67km an hour, which apparently is not very fast for a real cyclist, especially on the hills we were riding. After a snack break, the team decided that we would ride in formation for the next portion of the ride. They asked me how experienced I was in formation riding, I answered “not at all”, and they went through the procedures/hand signals I needed to know.

Formation Riding (post-accident, hence my fear of drafting at this point, this is also a bad example...)

We got in line, I was in second. After a short while, Trevor signaled me to come up front, so I did, and began signalling things (maybe too many things, in fear of not properly doing my job.) After a couple of minutes, I signaled a baseball-sized rock that was right in our path, but I think it may have been too late, and it's possible Steve hadn't seen it, so he flipped over his handlebars, Pierre flipped over Steve's bike, and Trevor managed to “bunny-hop” over Steve! I heard all of this behind me, stopped immediately and got in the middle of the road to signal the cars that were approaching to slow down, while getting Pierre's bike, which had flown into the other lane. I saw that Steve had gotten up and was walking around, although Pierre was on the ground and holding his shoulder. Steve kept assuring us that he was fine (although he had road-rashes all along his left side), but Pierre was clearly in a lot of pain. After assessing the damage to Pierre, we realized that he had fallen on his head and shoulder, so his helmet had cracked, and his shoulder was separated... He asked me what happened, I responded, a few moments went by, an he asked me again, so I responded. After a third round of the same question, we realized that he was in shock and wasn't in his right mind. Guillaume showed up in the van (he hadn't been behind us because he had been packing up the food into the van). There was no cell-phone reception where we were so they went back to the town where we had just left to ask where the nearest clinic would be. Steve decided to keep riding, knowing that he would end up being sore otherwise. We rode the rest of the way, not feeling too great. And then, the numbness began...

Me, Trevor, and Steve arriving in Penticton

We arrived in Penticton where we were met by Pierre and his wife. We had a nice dinner prepared, but I couldn't enjoy it because a) I'd been responsible for a serious injury, b) I'd just ridden 170km, and c) I couldn't feel my nether regions. I express this to Trevor who tells me that he once had numbness that lasted three and a half months. That's when I decided I should take the next day off.

Pierre post-accident
The 5th day was a quick ride from Penticton to Kelowna, so I didn't miss much. I used this spare time to do more reading about Craig and Mark Kielburger, and to start writing out the ideas I'd come up with for the piece. We were met at the local NBF branch by a good-sized crowd, and given a presentation from two girls who had done FTC trips. We were asked by an ex-employee of the bank to go on a boat ride/wakeboard.

 The 6th day was an 80km ride, and the team had grown to 14 people (not including Guillaume and Nathalie, the Velo-Quebec ride manager). This was the most beautiful ride of the trip. We were met by a large crowd in Vernon for a celebratory dinner and presentation. The two ride vans had to leave directly to Banff, and I was flying out of Kelowna so I was staying the night in a hotel. I met up with a friend from elementary school who lived in Vernon for the evening (I hadn't seen her in 8 years!)

Bikes in Vernon

Bikes. Lots of bikes.

I flew out the next morning from Kelowna to Victoria, Victoria to Toronto, and Toronto to New York. (It took me a while to finish this entry, so it's been a while since my opening sentence in Kelowna).

Gold Helmet. I don't mess around.
With Guillaume, mechanic-extraordinaire

Beginning of ride (with both vehicles)

Now, I'm on to the music. I've never spent so much time on a piece of music for this little output. The first movement is nearly finished, but it's subject to change drastically anyhow. I've let some of the band members know that the tour is coming up, but I'm in the early stages of getting everything organized. I'll be spending the time from now until the tour writing this piece, and we are set to record it in Montreal, put it up online and give half of the money we receive to Free The Children!

I've been listening to so much music in the last few months, and haven't listed them off. So here are the notable records, without any commentary, in no particular order:

Nico Muhly: Mothertongue
Nico Muhly: A Good Understanding
Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians
John Adams: Shaker Loops, Wound Dresser, Short Ride in a Fast Machine (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra)
Bjork: Medulla
Radiohead: King of Limbs (and a lot of OK Computer, Hail to the Thief, In Rainbows, Kid A)
Ravel: String Quartet
Paul Moravec: Tempest Fantasy (and others)
Phillip Glass: Einstein on the Beach
Charles Ives: String Quartets #1 & 2
Brahms: 4th Symphony

I suppose that's enough for now, those are the ones that come to mind...

I had a fun gig at Rockwood Music Hall with Talia Billig's band recently, and the most memorable show I've seen since my return to NY has been "Chaos Manor".  The music/sound design was put together by my friends Dom Mekky and Levon Henry. This was the official description: 

"CHAOS MANOR is a live multi-disciplinary performance installation that seeks to capture the visual and sonic event of W. Eugene Smith’s 821 Sixth Avenue “jazz loft” endeavor 1957-1965"

This is what it looked like as a spectator:

Crowd from one of the "sets"
My brother Matt on bass, with good friends Levon Henry on tenor, Eric Read on drums, and Martha Kato on keys. This was taken inside the freight elevator that they played in during the performance, which was open on the exterior of the building.
Very cool evening, glad to have seen it!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The DBQ Tour (and the lead-up)

Firstly, I should apologize for the lack of material in the months separating this entry and the last one.  I got up to some amazing things, and there's no good reason not to have updated this blog.

This summer was basically musical hibernation. I left off the last blog post having just recalculated the events of the "big band" tour, after which I spent 2 months in Montreal, waiting for a visa to allow me back into the States.  On the gig front - many with hometown hero Bud Rice, Talia Billig came up north to play a couple of shows (including street hockey and poutine to initiate Dan Parra, the great bassist of that band to MTL life), a really fun gig with Marc Beland's Beat Project, some varied situations with Rick Rosato (holy shit, that's all I can say), a great NY return with Jeni Chandler (double-bill with Sam Anning's band!), among others.  I spent a great deal of time discovering new music, analyzing, and reflecting about the upcoming compositions I want to put down on paper (or computer, rather...)

Bud Rice and the Black Flies

Some notable events:
1) I got a job offer at my favourite record label, which didn't end up working out, but I was extremely flattered to have been considered.

2) I had a "lesson" with Ben Wendel when he was on tour in Montreal, which was a total eye-opener for me as far as my trajectory as a musician is concerned.

3) I've been making music alongside Dominic Mekky for a documentary being made by Todd Lambrix, a Parsons teacher, and Alexandra Garkavenko, a Parsons student.  The film follows the experience of 5 students at the New School, and will continue to do so over 4 more years.  I believe the premiere is in October, I will post the exact date when it's confirmed.

4) I went to Vancouver for a week to visit a dearly beloved.

5) I moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn.

5) I went on tour with Dillon Baiocchi's Quintet in California. That's what I'd like to talk about.

The band was/is:
Dillon Baiocchi - Alto (U.S.A.)
Me - Guitar (Canada)
Sami Bronowski - Tenor (France)
Max Esquivel - Electric Bass (Costa Rica)
Douglas Marriner - Drums (England)

Jonesy Photo Shoot

We left NY together on August 20th, arriving in Santa Cruz (land of the "gnarly") that evening.  Dillon's family friends (the Fitz's) had a little guest house in their backyard where we stayed.  The beginning of the week was spent playing a radio show (I forget the name of the network), playing a clinic at Soquel High School, rehearsing a ton, and exploring the city. This included beach hangs, going on a BYOB sailboat, BBQ's, going to the boardwalk (the famous Bronowski/Rollercoaster incident, you can ask me about it personally), and more BBQ's.

The first and most important gig was at the famous Kuumbwa Jazz Centre on the 25th.  Right before soundcheck we were invited to a studio right next door to have our pictures taken by an eccentric man named Jonesy.  The studio was massive, and FULL of lights, cameras, lenses, prints, gobos, ect.  Here's another one from that shoot:

Jonesy Photo Shoot

We proceeded to soundcheck, where Doug managed to convince the owners to let him play on the house Craviotto kit.

Drum-Gear-Nerd shot

 We played two sets to a wonderfully attentive audience, and a post-gig run-down confirmed that we all felt this was the best the band had ever sounded.  Dillon's music is many things; intricate, beautiful, dark, lyrical, polyrhythmic, the list goes on.  It's also very difficult.  It's taken many months for the band to sink into it's sound and act as one unit. This tour was the best way to get it together.  We were able to talk about our personal approaches to the music, where each of us felt comfortable and uncomfortable, and build a sense of musical trust within the band.  All summed up in an evening's work. It sounds that way on the recording as well.

Kuumbwa Jazz Centre w/ DBQ Quintet

Friday, we visited San Francisco and I met up with my good friend Sara Knox. Amazing city, it was too bad there was so much fog (I couldn't see Alcatraz or the Golden Gate Bridge).  Regardless, I had a blast walking around and getting a feel for the place. I know I'll be back soon.  Saturday night we played at a venue called Senzala, the gig went well but wasn't as well attended as we would have hoped.  We stayed the night in San Raphael, at another friend of Dillon's family.  I don't think I can stress this enough: we were treated like royalty the entire trip. Every meal was fantastic, everyone was generous and hospitable, and we moved from palace to palace (at least in my eyes).

Post-Senzala gig (Hence the sweat)

It became clear that with the effect of hurricane Irene, we would not be able to fly back to NY for several days.  We played a fun gig in Berkeley at Cioccolata di Vino, and afterwards walked around the Berkeley campus (where my friend Sara has just begun her doctorate).  The radio station had invited us back, where Dillon, in between performances, openly announced our availability to work due to the hurricane delay.  We managed to get another gig at the Bargetto Winery on the Wednesday, where in addition to monetary payment, we got loads of wine and a lesson in wine etiquette! The days in between were filled with more beaching, hiking, surfing, boardwalking, etc.  By the way, although this is uncommon for a local Santa Cruzian, we saw a whale, dolphins every time we went to the beach,  seals, sea lions, and sea otters.  The gig at the Winery went well, in addition to payment, we got a lesson in wine tasting, and an offer to be flown back for the big winery events!

Santa Cruz Sunset #1
Santa Cruz Sunset #2
We flew back on the Thursday without incident, re-listening to the recording of the show and further discussing the music.  The band is only going to continue to grow, and I know Dillon's music is evolving into a really unique sound and concept. I'm looking forward to more playing and touring with this amazing band.  On a side note, I've never laughed so hard in my life. Put a Frenchman and and Englishman together in the same room for more than a week and you're bound to get results.  This entry has taken me longer to write than expected, so I'm cheating, but look forward to the post about National Bank Financial's "Ride for Youth" which I was a part of! I will post listening suggestions at the end of that one (I have so many...)

Giant thanks to Dillon, Sami, Doug, and Max for this experience.