Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Speaking via Stones

Before I ever started playing with drummers, guitarist/ingenious Tom Gavin fashioned a "drum set" for my first album's opening track Muscles of Mine from half-filled plastic water bottles.  The song is written in memory of my adorable Grandma Yetta and a day my Mom slowly massaged her sore calves, releasing stories from her past. 

I chose this song to perform in a concert commemorating the Giornata Internazionale Contro La Violenza Sulle Donne (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women), in the nearby town of Monselice.

Roman ruins have recently been discovered two floors below where we played, in the Complesso di San Paolo. We tiptoed on glass over the ancient beige structures.

A few weeks each year the show's director Alessandra Gelsetti replaces her directing cap with a big, furry one to work a booth at one of Padova's outdoor Xmas markets. Two winters ago, when I swung by to tell her I was "in cinta!" (pregnant!), she immediately left her stand, grabbed me by the arm and said "I have a gift for you!"  Two booths down, a long-haired woman behind a table of stones-for-everything handed me a beige one on a string, saying "this will help you speak with your baby."

So that night, lying on flowered sheets ironed by my mother-in-law, I gingerly began speaking to Giordano via the stone placed on my exposed belly.

My one discomfort during the pregnancy was not having control over what my husband Finni and I were making.  With everything else I've ever created, I've had the joy of obsessing over it - deciding each note and harmony, each instrument, each word, each punctuation mark.  I had urges to sculpt this baby's personality, looks, like how I would a song.  But minus some sweet words through a rock and some preggie swimming classes, I just had to lie back on pressed sheets or in cool water in dolce attesa (sweet waiting), and trust.

Of course, the person we made is more beautiful and soulful than anything I could have ever, ever dreamed up.  And this lesson is reflecting back now into music, as I feel myself loosening my grasp.  I let the energy of a concert just be whatever it's going to be, without trying to force a mood.  With my video project for the album, animators and video artists have free reign to create whatever inspires them. Remixers are taking the song and running with it.

On that note I'm thrilled to announce *TODAY'S RELEASE* of London's acclaimed Roshi Feat. Pars Radio's gorgeous remix of PlexiLusso's opening track-to-be, Emma. The remix features Rob Schwimmer on theremin, Julia Seager-Scott on harp, and Jimmy Weinstein on drums.

Please enjoy! 

A trio-version of Emma initiated the first of my fall concerts, in Rome!  Matt Renzi and his wife Visia Tartaglione curate a great series called Esplorazione at Teatro Keiros.  Visia is a lioness with a head of wild curls and the kind of Roman confidence you want to stick in your pocket for later when you need it.  And Matt's winds created a mane of color over Jimmy Weinstein's always deep-feeling drumming.  Besides a vocal mic we weren't amplified, and the whole vibe in the room was really natural and easy.

Here is a song from that night:

With chestnut tortes and puntarelle (a new-to-me Roman salad that's amazing with garlic and anchovies) stuffed in a paper bag, I rode back to Padova in anticipation of getting to play with Jimmy and Matt later again that week.  Xmas lights, cushioned chairs, lentil soup, and Jimmy and his wife Lilli welcomed an enthusiastic audience for their inaugural house concert.  Jimmy, Matt and bassist Stefano Senni treated us to the improvisational closeness caught on their album 4 Stories, recorded in 2011 in the very same room

Matt Renzi / Stefano Senni / Jimmy Weinstein: 4 Stories

In describing the album, All About Jazz speaks perfectly to what we got to hear in the cozy concert as well:

The improvisational stories unfold patiently and organically, stressing a calm and intimate atmosphere, where every breath, phrase, touch or beat counts. There is no sense of urgency nor any attempt to feature any kind of virtuoso playing, just total commitment to in-the-moment musical creation.

At the end of the set I was invited up to play a few songs with Matt and Jimmy -  a preview to our concert two days later at the Mestre jazz/blues club Al Vapore (Steam).  Talk about steam, I was stuck under a towel with a cold the whole day of the show. That, combined with the owner of the club thinking we were going to be a bebop act, led to a less-than-perfect concert. But!  I sat back in musical dolce attesa, loosening my grip, and some nice things happened anyway.  Matt and Jimmy's playing lifted the night as usual, and a lot Venetian and Padovan friends showed up unexpectedly, including Tomaso with a big "Bravo!!" 

Jimmy and I ended the string of shows at the beloved Carichi Sospesi in Padova (thanks to Mirko Di Cataldo for the great sound!).  Here, Jimmy and I play on our own "suspended carriage" (my hairdryer). 

Unlike Chicago where my undried hair always turned into a head of icicles, in Padova you just can't go out with wet hair or you get chased down by women wielding hairdryers.  Luckily I've been following the rules, because Monday's Antidanza movement workshop asked the group to move without lifting our heads from the floor.  Antidanza is led by the innovative Fabrizio Turetta in a  small studio nestled in a mall, and always gets me looking at life from a new perspective, literally. 

Last March, Fabrizio asked me to lead a workshop using my accordion to explore musical textures and silences in the body, with the theme of In-Stallo (being stalled). 

I was going through quite a stalled phase at that time - the exhaustion of new motherhood made it often hard for me to finish a thought, let alone invent a full night of movement exercises!  But In-Stallo broke my stillness, and we lifted each other in the air as if we were accordions, vibrated into each other's skin with sound, and broke a sweat, stopping and starting our movements a bellows to songs from my soon-to-be released album.

These expressive dancers were the first to hear the completely mixed, mastered songs, other than Giordano who had accompanied me in utero to every mixing session at Max Trisotto's studio (another way to speak to your baby is to force-feed him the same song over and over).
Soon after Giordano arrived, the album masters arrived from Istanbul. Pieter Snapper, my music technology professor from Oberlin, now runs the world class Babajim mastering studio there. 

Those precious days, when I wasn't dancing to the masters, I was dancing with my new partner to Tin Hat Trio's Bill from The Rodeo Eroded, which was on a lullaby mix-tape my aunt and uncle made:

And now I'm dancing on the front page of my new website, also arriving soon!

The photo session this September with music photographer Merri Cyr and makeup artist Kyriaki Savrani in Greenpoint had me jumping up and down hundreds of times 'til I almost landed with my head on the floor, not on purpose!

I was originally fixed on a turquoise theme for the album's artwork/makeup, but just days before the session my Mom spotted a marshmallowy white dress by Swedish designer Nelly Johansson in a Chicago store window, and I found a book called Colors: What They Mean and How to Make Them by Anne Varichon on her shelf.  It spoke of the fertility and power of yellow.  My whole concept shifted, and I suddenly envisioned a bar of yellow across my eye. 

Then, just weeks ago, I was wowed to find this yellow eye-bar in a Venice Biennale sculpture by Dutch artist Mark Manders:

Now the album is in the hands of the trusted designers.

On Sunday Giordano crawled through a tube in a gym as a reindeer in the asilo nido (little nest daycare) annual holiday recital

…and these days we're planning our next trip through the wormhole, a move from Noventa Padovana back to Brooklyn, where we wish to start a puppet company on the foundation of two shows we've written: The Orange Teardrops for PS 10, and a 2nd, a commission this summer from friends Courtney and Marty for their children's co-birthday party!

The Giant's Bracelet arrived via a straight-line wind that had just blown above and around my family's summer house in Michigan, miraculously not damaging it but practically tearing down the surrounding forest. 

We watched from the upstairs window as unhelmeted, cigarette smoking tree cutters led by their brazen leader Bob made the forest safe again with their chainsaws. 

As Bob went up and up…

…I went down, down to snap shots of Aquaphor on the bedroom table for my new record label logo

…with Finni following me to use his "mini chain saw" birthday present (electric razor) which came wrapped in stubble. 

Once the forest quieted, I sat in front of our new sunset view, and with a Guide to Trees and my accordion "Bob the Tree Snob" came to life: 


Soon a brother and a sister, modeled after birthday girl and boy Hayden and Declan, skipped stones into the lake from the long expanse of sand so luminescent, it could have been the bracelet of a fancy-schmancy giant, which she unclipped from her wrist and laid out flat in her drawer. 

While the story was unfolding, Giordano was busy making discoveries in nature


…and Finni was sawing fallen stars and fallen trees from plywood on the unscratched porch below. 

Back in Chicago, my Mom, who was once an art teacher, helped Finni paint the set


...and it was time to party!

Giordano played MC, introducing the show from atop the wooden set-piece, with Finni moving his arms and speaking for him, ventriloquist-style. 

"Now close your eyes…
open your ears…
and enjoy the show!"

Now months later, Giordano is starting to talk on his own: "Mamma!" "Pasta!" "Luce!" "Gatto!" "Book!"  His favorite book, Giordano del faro, is filled with drawings of cloud-fish and shell-stairs.  It's about a boy named Giordano who lives in a lighthouse, sending bottles across the ocean to a girl named Paloma. His beach is filled with stones, one with musical notes on it:

and every time we turn to that page: "Sassi! Sassi!" (Stones! Stones!).

So now Giordano is speaking via stones, like me. 

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