Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville (FIMAV) 2004
The FAB trio (double bassist Joe Fonda, drummer/percussionist Barry Altschul, and violinist Billy Bang), is a collective between two veteran string players and the unheralded Altschul whose sole release to date was last year's Transforming the Space (CIMP). The trio offers intriguing dynamics with the double arco, and likewise double pizzicato, playing of its string instruments inciting Altschul's swing-based circular free-bop based rhythms and solo percussive displays. Through the course of their well-rounded set, the triangular improvisational exchanges showed a multi-dimensionality combined with a solid foundation in jazz, blues, and swing. Eye contact and interaction were a constant throughout, and Fonda and Altschul even pulled a hat trick each for Bang's composition, "For Don Cherry". The former of the two added flute to his arsenal while the latter picked up Fonda's bass and admirably offered a confident bass line before handing it back like a baton after a minute or so to its rightful owner who meanwhile was taking his last breaths on the small wooden wind instrument. Altschul then took a seat behind his kit, and the group returned to its original format while eyeballing one another's every move and expression, facially and instrumentally. Fonda stiff-arms a very direct intense tone from his strings, and after a unanimous standing ovation, it was the his composition "Song for My Mother", the encore, which featured the composer's extended bass technique with occasional coloring provided by Bang who eventually entered melodically though he was surprisingly over-attentive to the sheet music before him (one would have thought, it was presumably a new composition, though in actuality it's an over 16-minute rendition of what they've recorded).
Tim Berne, another New Yorker, brought his Expanded Science Friction Band, which set up in tight formation. Berne in his latest "expanded" edition pairs longtime collaborator Marc Ducret (guitar) against new member David Torn (guitar and electronics). Torn's main concern as the group's second guitarist was of fitting into this already fine-tuned ensemble. He focused his efforts on not overlapping his more synthesized sounds over Craig Taborn's array of electronic creations and vast musical capabilities, rather than concerning himself with Ducret's disparate guitaristic approach. Ducret's style is more an action/reaction of finger on strings, while Torn's is more on general effect, whether feedback, loops, or sounds varying in volume. His loops along with Taborn's electronics and keyboard work (which in comparison to Chick Corea plugged-in is, given, vastly different though arguably far superior) strived to achieve what the laptops and electronic events heard elsewhere during the festival generally failed to accomplish: filling the space without loosing the music's dynamics. Drummer Tom Rainey, consequently, was left ample room for his subtle stick work which ideally suited Berne's flights of fancy and sporadic runs on alto in particular.
There was spirit and purpose in the music, not unrelated random, bland soundscapes, as a swinging at-times music center was always maintained from which the musicians' contributions continued to revolve around. Berne and Ducret's empathy and syncopated lines worked as a singular instrument, while Taborn and Rainey convincingly weaved in their individual improvisations. A well-deserved standing ovation invited the musicians back for an encore that featured the random percussively placed expertise beats of Rainey in and around the similar sporadic-ness of the band before settling into a smooth ballad for the like-mindedness of a breath-heavy Berne and Ducret. The result, a short but sweet vignette called "Twisted".
Ellery Eskelin's trio, the festival opener, was invited to FIMAV to celebrate their 10th anniversary as a group, and their years together showed. It was a taste from home which actually made me feel further away, being that they more frequently are touring across the Atlantic than on North American soil (playing the tune, tragically, of less than once a year here in NYC). The leader's fluent French detected from his introductory and interspersed remarks between tunes was a sure giveaway of his frequent travels (he tours Europe at least twice a year). His NYC-based trio of Andrea Parkins (accordion, sampler) and drummer/percussionist Jim Black featured music that similarly recalled Bernard Hermann's Hitchcock scores, Tom Waits' subtle yet wacky musical arrangements, and West African Yoruban chants and Olatunji-influenced drum circles, as well as reminders of New York's "musical" city-life sounds. All of which was wrapped in a tight swinging jazz trio consisting of one of the more unique instrumentations found, providing a constant three-way textural interaction of lively improvisations and fresh collective statements throughout.