Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville (FIMAV) 2004
The very strong set was top-notch, suiting this festival's profile (if there is one) like a glove with its dedicated improvisational and experimental nature of as much music as musical sounds and effects. Parkins was attentive to every breath Eskelin made, playing parallel lines and consciously offering occasional counterpoint that alternated and overlapped his deep delivery of bellowed notes. One had to be conscientious of their seating in the cinema for the best listening vantage point which was always a good ten rows back center (otherwise the amplification became an unfortunate distraction from either side with the tower of speakers that deemed itself unnecessary for more of the non-electronic, primarily acoustic and "jazz"-oriented music in particular).
And then there was the last-minute invitation of double-bassists William Parker and Henry Grimes with Charles Gayle on alto. Parker affectionately called them the "Emergency Replacement Band", as they subbed for the ailing Derek Bailey, who was to play with John Zorn and Ikue Mori. The trio performed for the first time during their sound check, and the set itself served as a taster to their highly anticipated appearance a week later here in New York at the Vision Festival with the addition of two more bassists, Sirone and Alan Silva, which wound up being as overblown an affair as well. Parker played predominantly fast-paced walking pizzicato lines over Grimes' rushed arco, and the two occasionally role-swapped. Grimes' short, quick stroke technique was unrelenting, in effect removing any space or breathing room out from under the music itself. Gayle's pure, strong, spirited, and imaginative lines on alto were both harsh and warm delivered with a characteristic intense tone. He would have been much more successful, though, with one less bassist, or even as the fourth invited unaccompanied soloist to the festival. Gayle fluttered overtones that were at once slow then jumpy, but for 45 minutes there lacked any character development in the collective (an occupational hazard for many under-rehearsed avant-garde ensembles); Gayle at least kept things musical and interesting as the focal point. It was the much shorter near 5-minute second number that made their set worthwhile, however, featuring a briefly unaccompanied and much more patient and resonant Grimes.
Of the Canadian and European groups, the longtime duo of virtuosi François Houle (clarinets) and Benoît Delbecq (prepared piano) offered another highlight. Theirs served as a polar-opposite performance to the aforementioned "Emergency Replacement Band" as far as utilization of space. Houle is a clarinetist from the other side of Canada in Vancouver who is equally influenced by Jimmy Giuffre and the late John Carter as he is by modern classical composers such as Conlon Nancarrow and Ligeti as was evidenced in the encore performance "Nancali", a compositional tribute piece to both composers as well as the title track to the duo's excellent 1997 release on Songlines. Houle blew on two clarinets simultaneously and then one like it was a shakuhachi flute, conjuring up a world of sounds as similarly did Delbecq who utilized a partially prepared piano that created wooden and metallic percussive sounds alike conjuring up marimbas and steel pans. Outwitting even the best of sampler specialists, these two made electronic experimentation superfluous, naturally creating a cornucopia of colors and effects simply with their hands and breath. With eyes closed, the mere twosome quite literally expanded into a small ensemble whose creations were unquestionably musical, yet always pushing the brink of experimentalism, spontaneity, and music forms. Delbecq occasionally added or adjusted his array of objects in the strings of the piano's inside mid-way through his improvisations, as Houle would play his clarinet whole, then separate and play only the top half portion of his instrument, showing his in-depth mastery in the worlds of jazz and new classical in particular which were evident compositionally and via their complex improvisations.