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Live Reviews

Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville (FIMAV) 2004

By Published: July 9, 2004
Driving up to Victoriaville (located 100 miles northwest of Montreal) with several other "respectable journalists", an approximate eight hour road trip from Manhattan to the Quebec city, I was introduced to an oasis and forum for unfettered improvisational music that annually visits this small town. It is known as the Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville (FIMAV). For listeners with preconceived notions of what "jazz" entails, there's at least a show a day that will both whet your appetite and stretch your personally defined parameters.
"This whole festival is all about doing what it does. So long as there is a color to it, an identity. The idea is to open up ears to different kinds of music. Though it's never been a jazz festival, a strong part of the art of it is jazz. I try to keep it as wide and varied, loud-gentile-chaotic, so you can go through a full day of music and go through different moods," says festival organizer Michel Levasseur. The three main venues - the Cinéma Laurier (basically the town's movie theater), the Colisee Des Bois-Francs (a transformed hockey stadium), and the Cégep (the quaintest performance space of the three) - are all within a few minutes walking distance from one other, and the varied size and space of each venue offers a refreshing listening perspective from one group to the next as opposed to music festivals that keep you planted to your seat or patch of grass for an entire day.
One of the festival's strong points is their mission to not only present unique instrument combinations, but also their commitment to presenting musicians and groups who rarely if ever make it to North America, let alone Eastern Canada. This year's 21st anniversary of FIMAV showcased many forms of expression - the many unaccompanied solos perhaps reflected the economics of improvisational music, but it also represents one of the greatest forums and challenges for individual artistic expression. This unique invitation was offered to three European specialists.

The legendary Belgian pianist, veteran improviser, and European music organizer Fred Van Hove created one of the most memorable improvisational solo piano concerts I have ever witnessed. A uniquely gifted pianist of legendary stature whose name and music is inexcusably an unknown entity to most non-European listeners, Van Hove before the concert spoke in an interview of his musical intentions and mission as an improviser which offered a descriptive and revealing preview into what indubitably became the highlight performance of the entire week-long festival for most: "I try very hard to change the sounds from the piano which I play from anyone else playing, but that is very hard work. You can succeed in that; as I always say - when Thelonious Monk played white notes, you knew it was Thelonious Monk. So, there's a way to do it personally. It's obviously not so easy though. If you come to the concert, you will hear that I am trying new techniques to have these sounds come out of the piano."

Without preconceived ideas or compositions, Van Hove stepped up to the piano with a clean slate and a blank mind, as he simply said beforehand, "I go to the piano, and I start." Lofting notes into space, his loose hands - occasionally crisscrossing - gently but rapidly swept each and every finger distinctly across the keys creating a solid and dynamic wave of connected flittering single notes (as opposed to Cecil Taylor's more clustery and at times characteristically frantic and dense playing). With a very natural flowing delivery from one end of the piano to the next, his simultaneous compositional momentum and improvisational sense worked quite literally hand-in-hand in extraordinary fashion. <> His work on the inside of the piano offered an interesting dynamic, utilizing a heavy ball and several brass mouthpieces, summoning an unamplified electric guitar technique reminiscent of Derek Bailey, John Russell, or Marc Ribot, allowing only so much of each note to reverberate. His handling of the slightly smaller in size though similar in weight croquet-like marble ball, created a slide guitar effect bordering on a Japanese koto with Gamelan-like echoes. Alternating between playing at length on the inside of the piano, and then - as if a separate movement within the same piece - returning to the "traditional" playing of the keys, the pianist performed a cyclic multi-dimensional and highly textural spontaneously played composition.

Van Hove's first piece lasted approximately 40 minutes ending in an immediate standing ovation. His second shorter piece had a much more rhythmic-centric component that was locomotive-like in its forward momentum and sheer force, utilizing a recurring dramatic theme in the bass clef with randomly placed treble flurries for heightened urgency as well as quick reprieves with suddenly placed pauses and short-lived rests. A "Flight of the Bumblebee"-like chase between his hands took the intensity of the apex from Ravel's "Bolero" up yet another notch, as my hands even began to hurt as I sat and concentrated, staying on the train without mentally wandering for even a split-second afraid that, otherwise, I would never be able to hop back on if I fell off! With both of his hands working simultaneously in the great stride tradition (e.g. Luckey Roberts and Willie "The Lion" Smith) - Van Hove was even Tatum-esque in his technique and musical ability. The 20-minute finale similarly brought the audience immediately to their feet with thunderous and appreciative applause - ending an event that served as a precursor to his visit a few days later to New York's Vision Festival (where he performed with trombonist Johannes Bauer) - and by all accounts was nothing short of an historic occasion. Many were in agreement to Lavasseur's comments afterwards, "It was a rare moment. It was like seeing one of the giants."

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