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McDonas, Thollem / Mad King Edmund: Happening: A Movement In 12 Acts (ESP-Disk)

A 12 act musical treatise with spoken and sung libretto by guitarist/writer Ed Pettersen about the current state of the US & how the Occupy movement has affected our psyche; developed for performance with pianist Thollem McDonas, drummer Pet Abbot, and saxophonst Jeff Lederer.

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product information:

UPC: 825481501224

Label: ESP-Disk
Catalog ID: ESPDISK 5012CD
Squidco Product Code: 23054

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2012
Country: USA
Packaging: Jewel Case
Recorded at Dunway Studios in New York City and Elk Dog Studio in Nashville, Tennesse.


Thollem McDonas-vocals, piano

Ed Pettersen-guitar, effects

Pete Abbott-drums

Jeff Lederer-saxophone

Fay Victor

Walter Egan

Charles Walker

Suzy Bogguss

Freedy Johnston

Mary Gauthier


Carmina Escobar

Matthew Ryan

Jennie Knaggs

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track listing:

1. Act 1 Opening 1:47

2. Act 2 The Common Man 3:34

3. Act 3 Wall Street Executive 3:54

4. Act 4 The Politician 1:31

5. Act 5 The Middle Class 3:08

6. Interlude 1 1:21

7. Act 6 Occupy Park 3:35

8. Interlude 2 2:01

9. Act 7 Homeless Person 3:43

10. Act 8 Female Love Interest 4:47

11. Act 9 Male Protagonist 4:14

12. Interlude 3 0:57

13. Act 10 History 3:17

14. Interlude 4 1:59

15. Act 11 Protest 3:38

16. Act 12 Resolution 1:49
Related Categories of Interest:

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
NY Downtown & Jazz/Improv
Large Ensembles
Spoken Word
Song Based Music
New in Improvised Music

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descriptions, reviews, &c.

"Happening: A Movement In 12 Acts is a treatise with spoken and sung libretto by various artists about the current state of the U.S. and the impact the Occupy movement has had on our psyche. However, it is not about Occupy but rather the 99%."-ESP-Disk

"Making effective political art can be tricky - an artist confronted by the larger issues of economics and class is likely to lose his touch, and the result can be well-intentioned but boring. Nashville producer and songwriter Ed Pettersen has delved into what you could call political music on his 2007 three-CD set Song of America, a sequence of songs selected to illustrate American history. Released under his avant-garde nom de plume, Mad King Edmund, Pettersen's new Happening: A Movement in 12 Acts is a politicized - if not overtly political - operetta that references the free jazz movement of the 1960s, complete with throbbing saxophone, dissonant piano and drums that imply the beat rather than state it. The relative difficulty of Happening is in keeping with its subject: the Occupy protests that have been in the news across North America. With contributions by the likes of Music City soul singer Charles Walker and all-purpose vocalists Mary Gauthier and Suzy Bogguss, it's a remarkable example of genre-busting - its intentions are noble, and it's certainly not boring.

Happening came about from a recording Pettersen was trying to make with free-jazz saxophonist Giuseppi Logan, who made a name for himself in the 1960s working with such figures as Patty Waters, Don Pullen and Milford Graves. After making a couple of well-regarded records in the '60s, Logan disappeared for decades - an apparent casualty of drug abuse and mental instability. Pettersen tracked Logan down a couple of years ago in New York, where the rehabilitated saxophonist had begun to play.

"What happened was, the original recording session I had scheduled with Giuseppi was for May 5, 2011," Pettersen says. "I'm tryin' to find Giuseppi and there's no Giuseppi, and I find out that he had fallen and broken his hip about a month earlier, and was in some unnamed hospital." (Pettersen did eventually make a recording with Logan later that year - he is currently trying his luck with Kickstarter to get The Giuseppi Logan Project off the ground.)

With the Logan project temporarily on hold, Pettersen hooked up with pianist and composer Thollem McDonas, a native of Palo Alto, Calif., and a player devoted to avant-garde, improvisatory music. They found saxophonist Jeff Lederer, who plays in a style similar to that of Albert Ayler, along with drummer Pete Abbott. They recorded a couple of hours' worth of material in New York, and Pettersen came back to Nashville to figure out what to do with it.

A remarkable player, McDonas took the original material and edited it, condensing it down to about 45 minutes. As he says, "I took a free improv session, and I did a lot of heavy editing. I think of it as an honest representation of that session, but at the same time, heavily re-arranged."

Pettersen wrote the libretto for the work, and he and McDonas began looking for vocalists to interpret the text.

Although Pettersen says that Happening is a work that is "inspired by Occupy, but not about Occupy," the characters that populate the work are ideal Occupy protesters - each has been scarred by America's ongoing economic meltdown. Songwriter Freedy Johnston voices a character who is called "Male Protagonist," while Bogguss sings in the voice of middle-class woman who questions the wisdom of our policies. Rhythm-and-blues singer Charles Walker - a Nashville musician who currently sings with the retro-funk band The Dynamites - does a remarkable turn as the voice of the "common man."

Walker adds immeasurably to a backing track that is abstract blues, with McDonas' rumbling piano and Lederer's mocking saxophone punctuating the lyrics. "We've been living in this small apartment / For the last two years / Since our home was foreclosed / All six of us here," he sings.

For Gauthier - a Louisiana native who moved to Nashville 12 years ago - the project represents a chance to expand her singer-songwriter boundaries. "I'm a lefty from way back, and when I started seeing people gettin' riled up, I was excited," she says of the Occupy protests. "I'm always rootin' for the underdog and the people who don't have a microphone."

Gauthier says the vocal session with Pettersen went smoothly. "I don't know how it happened, but I just instinctively knew when to come in," she recalls. "It was a stretch for me, but it was a good stretch." Similarly, Johnston's contribution stands as one of the record's highlights: his voice conveys a toxic mixture of boyish panache and all-American enthusiasm gone horribly wrong.

Another Nashville singer who appears on Happening is Walter Egan, who portrays a Wall Street executive who is somewhat less than sympathetic to the demands of the Occupy protesters. The composer of "Hearts on Fire," a song Gram Parsons recorded on Parsons' 1974 album Grievous Angel, Egan also cut the 1978 hit single "Magnet and Steel." He has been successful, but Egan says the success of a musician isn't the same as that of a Wall Street Master of the Universe.

"I'm very much in the 99 percent and not in the 1 percent," Egan says, referring to the well-known disparity of wealth distribution that is a major issue for Occupy protesters. "Doing this project with Ed gave me a chance to tap into what someone like a Wall Street guy would be like. It was a great experience - I just kinda went with the vocal, and they thought it was good."

Happening is the sound of American history in free fall, with McDonas' insistent piano figures driving the music in tandem with Abbott's deft drumming. The combination of piano, saxophone and seething electric guitar textures results in a kind of aural déjà vu. If the free jazz of Ayler, Shepp, Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane expressed the anger of disenfranchised Americans of an earlier era, the music on Happening does the same for a post-jazz, post-liberal age.

Mixed and mastered by former Motown engineer Bob Olhsson, it's a brilliant work - a piece of music that illustrates the power of avant-garde art. Pettersen's words are never arty, so the message is one of solidarity without sentimentality. There's anger in Happening, but the landscape of broken dreams is rendered as it actually exists in our fractured, fractious country. Far from being hard to take, the musical and verbal insights on Happening move the mind and the body, which is an unbeatable combination for anyone who wants to make the kind of historical and cultural connections that have lasting value."

-Edd Hurt, Nashville Scene

Get additional information at Nasheville Scene

Artist Biographies:

"Thollem is a pianist, keyboardist, organist, composer, improviser, singer-songwriter, activist, author and teacher. He's spent his life skirting and erasing the edges of boundaries musically, culturally, geographically. His work is ever changing, evolving and responding to the times and his experiences, both as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of artists across idioms and disciplines. Though Thollem's widely known as an acoustic piano player, he's also the lead vocalist for the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti and has recently branched out significantly into the world of electronics through a multitude of projects.

Thollem was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, studying the standard classical piano repertoire, composing and improvising since he was a young child and absorbing the myriad of sounds of his culturally diverse upbringing. After dedicating his 20s and 30s to grassroots political activism, he's refocused his attention these last 15 years on a breadth of musics that incorporate his myriad experiences and curiosities. In this last decade alone, he has played well over 1,000 concerts throughout N. America and Europe as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of musicians, dancers, and filmmakers. As leader or co-leader, he has released over 50 albums in that span on 22 different vanguard labels to international critical acclaim. "Thollem is an astounding pianist who understands the huge scope of the instrument" (Terry Riley) and who continues to delve into the furthest reaches and sub-genres of Post-Classical, Free Jazz, Noise, Punk, dance and film. A brief cross section of his many recent collaborators include William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Stefano Scodanibbio, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Rob Mazurek, Martha Colburn and ACVilla. He is the founding director of Estamos Ensemble, a Mexican-American cross border ensemble for musical exchange as well as the lead singer of the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti. Presently Thollem is developing an audio/visual experience about America through an 8 month, 48 state odyssey with his partner the videographer ACVilla. He's also a published author about art, politics and his travels in The Anthology of Essays On Deep Listening, Full Moon Magazine (Prague) and First American Art Magazine."

-Thollem McDonas Website (

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"As an artist, Pettersen has worked long and hard to develop his craft and in doing so has achieved a depth and sophistication that is just now being recognized. An emerging Americana artist in the 90's still driven by the twin influences of Springsteen and the country rebel artists of his youth, Pettersen gained attention for his second release "Somewhere South of Here". Steeped in Americana and country rhythms, the album fell somewhere between the traditional sounds of Americana and the rocking slide guitar of country radio and the tongue in cheek single "DWIOU" (Driving While Intoxicated on You) found a place in jukeboxes worldwide and on the country line dance charts.

But Pettersen's passion for music of all genres was unlimited and led to forming the rock band The Strangely's with friend and drummer Pete Abbott, his brother Mike (one of the finest guitar players Ed knows to this day), and bass player Lori Adams. Despite the great sound of the band, without label support and the inability to tour widely, the Strangely's drifted apart leaving Pettersen with two of his finest rock cuts, the moody and dark "Broken Mirror" and the plaintive "Justine". Around the same time a mysterious illness hit Pettersen hard, sending him through a long odyssey of doctors and hospitals, and being felled by acute physical pain for which there was no visible cause. Temporary paralysis of the vocal chords was a recurring symptom and so for several years Pettersen concentrated on songwriting and production, producing the quirky and gorgeous voiced duo Rosasharn and developing the concept for the Song of America.

An innate drive to hone his craft and work with the best of the best led Pettersen to Nashville in 2002. There, working with the best meant assembling a crack recording unit dubbed The Great American Rhythm section, featuring Reggie Young, Bob Babbitt, Dave Hungate, Catherine Marx, and Ed Greene on drums. The unit played a key role in many of the recordings for Song of America and other Pettersen productions. The only explanation that Pettersen could come up for why they convened at will when called was "They liked to play with each other and I didn't tell them what to do. Am I going to tell Reggie Young who has more number one hits than any guitar player how to play?" So while other songwriters were networking with country artists in town, Pettersen started getting cuts like his marvelous "I Guess We Shouldn't Talk About That Now," on Bettye LaVette's Grammy nominated 2007 The Scene of the Crime and "I Don't Want Anything" on Candi Staton's Who's Hurting Now?, from 2009. The latter includes one of the most delicate and poignantly beautiful lines of all time "Like the beauty of a child's smile, the future on an angel's wing".

In just the last few years Pettersen has re-emerged as a full-fledged recording and touring artist and in the meantime his voice and talents have grown tremendously. Discovering his Norwegian roots and Scandinavian heritage is the catalyst for the hauntingly melodic acoustic tunes on I Curse the River of Time. But it is the amalgamation of his early years honing a few well-crafted words in advertising, working with playwright and mentor John Bishop, trying a hand at film production, overcoming hardship and illness, and through it all constantly studying music, art, literature, and life that makes Pettersen an artist of note and a poet worth discovering."

-Ed Pettersen Website (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Pete Abbott is a studio and touring drummer who has had careers in cities such as New York City (New York), Oslo (Norway) and now Nashville (Tennessee).

In addition to being a drummer, Pete works as a strings arranger and music producer. He sample list of artists he has worked with, in the studio and/or live, includes The Average White Band (5 years and recorded 2 records), Tom Jones, Larry Carlton, Keb Mo', Freedy Johnston, Phil Ramone, Will Lee, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Noel Pointer, Marianne Faithful, and Mary Clayton."

-Joyful Noise Drum Company (

Have a better biography or biography source? Please Contact Us so that we can update this biography.

"Jeff Lederer is a New York based saxophonist-clarinetist/composer/educator whose work crosses the genres of jazz, latin and creative improvised music. In 2014 he has been named in both the critics and Readers Polls of Downbeat Magazine recognizing his work on tenor and alto saxophones and clarinet. He has worked for many years in the Matt Wilson Quartet and the grammy nominated ensembles of Bobby Sanabria and Salsa trombonist Jimmy Bosch. He has recorded for Gunther Schuller's GM Recordings, CIMP Records, Palmetto Records and his own Little (i) Music label. His quartet "Sunwatcher" made it's debut in 2011 on the Jazzheads label featuring Buster Williams on bass, Jamie Saft on piano and Matt Wilson, drums. His longstanding ensemble "Shaker n' Bakers" performs modern jazz interpretations of the Vision songs of the Shaker religious sect and has released two recordings of Shaker music and performed at the World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles.

Jeff's cross-stylistic composition/arranging projects include "Los Sazones", a salsa reimaginng of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" which was commissioned by the Ravinia Festival for the Chicago Symphony and has been performed by many major orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.

New projects for 2014 include a new recording and tours with the Honey Ear Trio with drummer Allison Miller and bassist Rene Hart and the debut of his new ensemble, "The Brooklyn Blow-Hards"- a brass band that plays sea shanties and Albert Ayler compositions.

Jeff has performed at numerous major jazz festivals including the Newport Jazz Festival, JVC Jazz Festival , Monterey Jazz Festival, Litchfield Jazz Festival, Pori Jazz Festival, Moldes Jazz, Guimaraes Festival (Portugal), Tiempo Latino (France) and many, many others. In 2013 Jeff performed a duo concert with drummer Allison Miller at the mainspace of the San Francisco Jazz Center. In 2010 he was invited as a special guest to perform spontaneous improvisations with the pianist Shahin Novrasli at the Baku Jazz Festival in Azerbaijan.

As an educator, Jeff has worked with Jazz At Lincoln Center where he was featured in the 2010 Jazz for Young People Concert "What is Free Jazz?". He has taught workshops and residencies in jazz and saxophone at the University of Miami, New England Conservatory, Dartmouth College, SUNY Binghamton, University of Northern Iowa and many other leading jazz departments. In 2009 he performed as a guest soloist with the Ellington competition winning Roosevelt High School Band (Seattle). Lederer also works as a music curriculum consultant and is the author of the Childrens' Orchestral Repetoire Project (Ch.O.R.D.). Jeff was co-producer of the recording "We-Bop - A Family Jazz Party" for the Jazz at Lincoln Center organization."

-Jeff Lederer Website (

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"For the past 40 years Mike Cooper has been an international musical explorer, performing and recording, solo and in a number of inspired groupings and a variety of genres. Initially a folk-blues guitarist and singer songwriter his work has diversified to include improvised and electronic music, live music for silent films, radio art and sound installations. He is also a music journalist, writing features for magazines, particularly on Pacific music and musicians, a visual artist, film and video maker, collector of Hawaiian shirts and appears on more than 60 records to date."

-Mike Cooper Website (

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