Monday, May 27, 2013

Robert Fripp and the Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists

Short (but timely) Notice

Around the beginning of May, a friend and fellow attendee of both ToAPP camps, Diego Lanz, sent me a Facebook invite. The event was a short, 3 stop, East Coast tour, by Robert Fripp and the Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists. Had I watched the North American Guitar Circle site more carefully, I would have known about it earlier.

As it turned out, Diego had joined a Guitar Circle back in February, and was actually performing as a member of the Orchestra. I have often wondered whether I should have enrolled in a course, despite being a keyboard player. I am still contemplating doing this.

Almost a Quarter Century Ago

I had seen Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists perform at the Chance in Poughkeepsie. Three of the dozen performers that night would go on to form the California Guitar Trio, and eventual King Crimson member, Trey Gunn, was the opening act. That show was a once in a lifetime event, an experience that I will never forget.

Looking back, I think that performance had such an impact on me, because I was very receptive to the Muse, at that point in my life. I was in the middle of my own 5 year drive, consisting of Jazz piano study and practice, along with my first foray, into Chinese Martial Arts. To see a group pull off what they did that night, was both astounding and unsettling. Nothing has ever been the same with me, since that performance on March 30, 1990.

Off to Newark!

After receiving the invite, I quickly made arrangements to get my butt to the NYC show. I was able to score a relatively cheap flight to Newark, NJ on Saturday afternoon, and a reservation at an airport hotel. Bad weather in Dallas almost totally derailed the trip, resulting in a very late arrival on Sunday morning. Finally getting to the hotel at 3AM, I slept, had a late breakfast, and left Newark around 1PM, spending the next hour taking the PATH train from Newark, to 9th Street in Manhattan, then hoofed it the rest of the way to St. Mark's.

I arrived right at 3PM, and encountered the line you see here. I had purchased my ticket before even making travel arrangements. A good move, as it was sold out. Looking ahead, I saw another friend from ToAPP camp, up at near the front of the line.

St. Mark's Church in the Bowery

St. Mark's in-the-Bowery

The performance took place in the nave of the church. When we entered, there was no altar or pews, much to my surprise, since I think it is still an active church. There were doors in the front, which led to a sacristy, where the performers were prepping. There was also a second floor balcony, that extended along both the side and the back walls.

In the middle of the nave, there were chairs for the audience arranged in 4 large concentric ovals, with space in the middle. There was additional seating around the outside, with a structure that looked like bleachers covered with cloth, and on the dais where the alter should have been.

Soundscapes were emanating from the sacristy, as people chatted, and waited. The soundscapes suddenly stopped at 4PM. Immediately, all conversation stopped, as well. Five of the performers then walked out to the center of the floor, and issued a request to the audience in German, French, Spanish, Italian and English that there be no photography, and that no audio or video recordings made. They asked instead, that we give them our attention and our ears, for the performance.

Shortly afterwards, you could hear the almost inaudible sound of guitars. Slowly, a procession of guitarists emerged from a 2nd floor door on the right side, on to the balcony. The proceeded around all 3 sides, into a door on the left side, then down the stairs in the sacristy, before re-entering on to the first floor. They slowly circled the audience seated in the oval. I quickly counted and came up with a number of approximately 60 guitarists in total.

As they walked above our heads, it seemed like we were in a light, rain shower of sound. It was exquisite. Although this is not from this show, I did find a You Tube video of the Orchestra in procession, so that you might get a better picture of how it sounded.

For the first 20 to 30 minutes, the material appeared to have been improvised. With the Orchestra alternating between one large circle, and 6 or 7 smaller circles. All sorts of circulations were executed, including silence, single notes and chords.

After the extended improvisation, the playing stopped. Robert who had been standing quietly at the rear the church, walked to the center of the empty floor, with the Orchestra in one big circle, and sarcastically said, Don't you know any songs with a melody?. When Robert quickly exited, a small circle of 8 guitarist formed and played, Red.

More improvisation followed, as well as more songs. I did notice that the entire Orchestra played Eye of the Needle, and a smaller circle played 21st Century Schizoid Man. The 90 - 100 minutes flew by. I was very happy that they chose the very hauntingly, beautiful song, Asturias for their encore.

After the show, I caught up to Diego, but we had only a short amount of time to talk. Robert had the entire group on a strict schedule, so he had to leave to get back on the bus. (I only realized later that the tour was part of a week long Guitar Circle course, in Mass).

Fellow ToAPP Campers

It was a wonderful day of music, and I spent the rest of the day over in Hoboken, my old stomping ground, with a friend from college.


I found this picture on Facebook, by one of the members of the Orchestra. It shows the group preparing for the show, inside of St. Marks.