A Rude Awakening

Santiago in twilight under a thick fog. Two sparse trees in the foreground.
Photo by Luis Villasmil / Unsplash

Well, it's been three months since my last monthly update. Quite a lot has happened—and I'm grateful to finally be putting fingers to keys again to try and share some of it with you. Going into the trip, I had a hunch that my trip to Chile might throw me for a loop, but I really had no idea what was coming!

First, two weeks before my scheduled departure, I contracted COVID-19. (Please, people: this is not over!!!) If anything, that really forced me to let go of any sense of control over what would happen in Chile, as my capacity to prepare was dramatically lessened by the virus. Thankfully, the spirit of Ornette Coleman's capacious aesthetics supported me in trusting that whatever happened when we got there would be whatever it needed to be.

Our recovery proceeded rapidly enough that we were still able to travel without incident, flying down with Marina, Nico (my kid, not the guitarist) and Reca on a direct overnight flight from New York City. Our first performance would take place that same night we arrived.

Returning to Thelonious after nearly seven years brought up a groundswell of emotion. Of the three jazz clubs that I profiled for my dissertation research, it is the only one that remains active today. The club has large, heavy wooden front doors; as I opened them to step inside, I felt a powerful sense of belonging there—as if the house was a little pocket of good vibes all to itself, where the frequencies resonated in ways that they simply don't anywhere else I've been on the planet. After sharing an enthusiastic abrazote (big hug) with the owner, Erwin, we spent some time catching up as I wandered through the space to take it all in.

Nico, Pablo, and Reca showed up shortly and we talked through a few things together before the downbeat. I had tried to arrange for us to rehearse at the club in the afternoon before the set, but that wasn't in the cards, so we played our first set with no rehearsal whatsoever—that is, unless you count sharing dinner and a pisco sour together as gig prep.

The show was an unforgettable one for me, although difficult to conjure in words. (Ironic, perhaps, given that it used to be my job to show up at jazz clubs and turn the experience into a concert review.) I definitely soaked up whatever vibes were present that evening. Improvising without a rehearsal (and only a partial set list worked out, drawing mostly from Ornette Coleman tunes) proved to be an animating spark that brought out each of our musical personalities through the experiment.

The following night, we played another show at Tromba Pomodoro, a club that was new to me, having been established since my last visit to Chile. Being "on tour"—years since last having played in a club—was delightfully strange; I kept telling people that it felt like a dream. Again, the warmth, conviviality, and supportive energy felt like a blessing.

A few days later, we convened once more at a recording studio down the street. We spent a few hours together playing through some pieces I wrote, as well as some more abstract improvisations. Little Nico even made an appearance towards the end and we had a chance to accompany some of his piano improvisations! We closed out by working through a rapid-fire set of takes of Pablo's tune "En Otro Lugar," riffing off of the melody into six distinct short interpretations. The last take, which I'll feature this month on Ampled, really popped as a hard-grooving shuffle.

The week in Chile was full of other family adventures and visits with friends that I won't get into here, but suffice it to say that none of us were ready to leave after a week of high-energy summer fun. We did manage to catch our flight and return to the winter doldrums of the US Northeast, where Marina and I struggled to integrate the experience into our daily grind in Holyoke.

Suffice it to say, that didn't go very well on my end. A couple of weeks later, I landed in the hospital for almost a week with an abdominal infection. Although the doctors still aren't sure exactly what happened, I interpret the episode as a kind of embodied freak-out to the possibility of actually opening up to the powerful energy I connected with through the music in Chile. It's looking likely that additional surgery will be required, so the physical recovery is going to be a long process that coincides with my work to take next steps with the album project. I am playing trombone again now, after a hiatus of a few weeks, but will need to pause again after surgery next month.

In the meantime, I'm sifting through the various sonic and visual artifacts that we created together in January and planning next steps with Nico, Pablo, and Reca. In fact, Pablo is playing at the Village Vanguard this week with Melissa Aldana, so I'll be making a trip down to New York this weekend for a visit with him and Reca. Although this wasn't how I had hoped to be spending this part of 2023, I'm trying to take it in stride. Sometimes "waking up" can be painful, so I'm attempting to orient to this as an opportunity to let go more deeply of the fear that has been holding me back thus far. In any case, it's certainly cause for me to think in new ways about what Albert Ayler and Mary Maria Parks meant by "Music is the Healing Force of the Universe." Perhaps this will help me reach towards the possibilities that began to sound themselves out, ever-so-ephemerally, on the bandstand at Thelonious in January.

Since I usually close these with a track recommendation, how about this lovely visualization of the title track from Melissa's recent album, 12 Stars: