I am sharing a process that culminates in Black Floyd, my newest record with Jeff Gburek. It spans nearly 20 years. But the last 10 or so have been the most productive, virtually. The bold printed text below indicates words that I have already shared elsewhere.
Jeff Gburek and I have been witnessing alone together on social media, stumbling across death that marks the miles. When Ornette died Jeff reminded us of Science Fiction. When Prince went it was The War. I wasn’t familiar with either statement. I was born in Minneapolis in 1978 and have a lot to catching up to do, even with Prince now that the archive has been sacked.
I take inspiration from what appears to be Jeff’s boundlessness. A Romantic’s courage sans the dope. Prince’s guitar. Something familiar that I began finding the words for since before I left my mother’s home.
Call me Roy. The lo-fi picture left of center includes me on Jack Wright’s soprano saxophone. Jack Wright on someone’s trombone. Others preparing for the memorial procession at “Swan Fest,” Taos, NM, c. 2001. I bring Jack in here because he introduced me to Jeff. Here’s what I have gathered since:
6/9/2020: Jeff Gburek lives in Poland but we first met in Boulder, CO, back in 2001 or 2. I was touring the bo-ho improvised music territory with some percussion instruments, beer and cigarettes.
I joined FB in 2008 when I was working a desk job in publishing and soon with family to worry about. In Saint Paul, MN. That’s about when Jeff and I said hi again.
And I began to read his poetry.
Despite the impression management scheme that social media infects us all with, I have admired Jeff from afar and am inspired by his integrity–you might even call him an artist. It is an honor to have made my favorite recording to date…with him…and Black Floyd.
The cover art features two photographs: an offering from Jeff, and an offering from yours truly. Top: we stand on the grid where foreground vanishes from built environment to an impersonal Home. Beware of peak Naturalism on this side of the shattered glass. My offering (at bottom) features a white board and word cloud generated by college students in a course on 1968 in the literary and cultural imagination of the United States. I tucked it under the screen.
I’m remembering now that I posted once about a student paper on Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” (1982) which became another point of reentry to Jeff, it’s realism lyric observing: “Broken glass everywhere/People pissin’ on the stairs, you know they just don’t care.” It is clear when someone doesn’t care, no matter how hard they pretend. That I associate with non-Jeff.
More of what’s been said:
In place of live performance, I have taken–for the first time–to multi-tracking.
Jeff submitted solo tracks via email, I listened for the lure, then bit. And then walked away to my garden where I would listen for it to dig and settle.
After deciding which instruments that I wanted to prepare (after interpreting the call) I set up the studio and improvised wearing headphones. Despite these being multi-track recordings, I played with the consideration that I might someday be invited to perform the pieces; and, so, I limited my activity to something I might approximate live. The instruments include: drum set, glockenspiel (bowed and struck), 28″ bass drum and voice.
I have never sang for anyone before. I have no idea why I decided to do it here except that, as a student of literature, I am enamored with the lyric. The word made of flesh. Recognition. After the fact, I think I am singing Black Floyd to sleep. Asking that he let go. Allow for it. 8’46” is, after all, quite a bit of time to record/regard/respire while being murdered. The lyrics are adapted from Thich Naht Hanh’s book Breathe, You are Alive: The Sutra on Full Awareness of Breathing (1987). I had been reading the book when historical George Floyd was murdered, by which I mean I folded it into everything as praxis. When Jeff asked me who the singer was I told him “Leon Shepp,” signfyin on how my voice sounds like a hip Brer with a command of the King’s singing the New Thing all over again.
All tracks were recorded at home directly to free software using a $40 USB microphone. Along with a little reverb, the silences that interrupt the drum set on “Breathing Gatha” are the only post-production edits.
But there were also adjustments to gain and noise reductions applied to the few moments when the microphone could not handle the drums.
And more of me trying to understand in a public–
6/14/2020: I confess, this has been real for about a modern American work week. Jeff Gburek and I found a way to collaborate that really suits a landlocked we. Many years after the foothills where the Shambhala Sun has carved its initials. Where pizza boxes are made of hemp. Where Jack’s concert grand holds down the linoleum. On the outskirts of town past the prairie dog ghetto below Golden. I listened to it again today just to see if I’m sure while walking the dog. How is this only a work week old? Or did a hate-filled sucker troll me in the night. Nope. I am thankful I never enrolled at Naropa. I enrolled in Jeff.
The mixed kid went away with his grandparents last night and I sat and listened to Black Floyd with my partner Emily, who has had to live as a white person. I am proud and ashamed all at once. Black angry and full to the brim with comforting, white illusions. I submit to aesthetic experience and have insufficient answers. Am overwhelmed but not confused, oh no. Let the mixture run through. Let it.
So, the weird impression so far is like what a brother said about Ornette playing outside the Harlem State Office Building: I think it’s great. When musicians can get together without being together.
I hope the rest of us can get together.