Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 1 - May 17, 2007
What exactly is Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville (FIMAV)? With appearances by exploratory pianist Marilyn Crispell, intrepid woodwind multi-instrumentalist/composer Anthony Braxton and equally fearless saxophonist/MacArthur Fellowship Grant recipient John Zorn, improvisation and uncompromising musical individualism are clearly major parts of the picture and, on the broadest of scales, jazz. With heavy-metal explorers Melvins, Rock in Opposition-meets-hardcore and avant-opera's Koenji Hyakkei, and experimental-alternative singer/songwriter Carla Bozulich, the line-up could be described as a genre-resistant mix of rock variants. And with a lineup that includes musique concréte pathfinder Theresa Transistor, sonic experimentalist Jean-François Laporte and the impossible-to-categorize aural manipulator Daniel Menche, it just might be safest to describe it simply as a "new music" festival and leave it at that.
But truth is, it's all those things and none of them. Festival CEO and Artistic Director Michel Levasseur has, for the past twenty-four years, been unyielding if not relentless in pushing the boundaries of what a music festival can and can't be. Rarely for the faint-at-heart, about the only consistent thing you can expect at any edition of FIMAV is the unexpected. You may think you intimately know the music of some of the performing artists, but you're just as likely to hear them in unfamiliar, altogether unique settings, as was the case in 2005 when Braxton appeared with noise improv group Wolf Eyesdocumented on Black Vomit (Victo, 2006). "What a laboratory, what a fertile ground for research and discoveries! Victoriaville is like an archeological site for the future, exclaimed Levasseur.
The 24th edition of FIMAV kicked off in style with Marilyn Crispell, joined by bassist Mark Helias, drummer Andrew Cyrille and saxophonist Lotte Anker. They've all crossed paths beforeHelias can be heard on the pianist's Storyteller (ECM, 2004), and Anker works with Crispell in a variety of contexts. But this is the first time the four have played together, an openness to new combinations and possibilities that bodes well for the rest of FIMAV's five-day run.
Anyone who thinks that Crispell's approach has softened in recent years, evidenced by three ECM recordings (including Storyteller) that find her more introspective, spare and lyrical, will be happy to know that, like any artist of merit, those singleminded releases remain only one part of who she is. Not that she lacked any of those attributes in the FIMAV performance, but she equally was brash, busy and aggressivecreating endless cascades of notes, dense chord clusters, jagged fragments while traversing a broad dynamic range.
Helias remains an unsung hero of the double bass. He's an active player but hasn't managed to achieve the broader recognition he deserves. As robust with pizzicato as he is warm with arco, his extended and virtuoso techniques at times made it sound as though there were more than two hands at work. While there was rarely any straightforward groove, on the rare occasion that one emerged, he demonstrated élan in a supportive role equal to his distinctive individual voice during the democratic conversations with his band mates.
Cyrille was deceptive for much of his time, using the kit for textureand in a more orchestral fashion than, say, Paul Motian. But towards the end of the set he ratcheted up the energy, delivering two awe-inspiring solos of power and in-the-moment compositional strength.
Marilyn Crispell, Lotte Anker, Mark Helias, Andrew Cyrille
Anker, regardless of her sax of choice, was an equally inventive player, with a wealth of extended techniques enabling the creation of some sounds rarely, if ever, heard on the reed instrument. Multiphonics are one thing, but Anker combined that technique with rapid trills and guttural timbres along with an agility capable of going instantly from a whisper to a scream.
A satisfying mix of form, freedom and everything in between, the set seemed to move gradually towards greater coalescence as time went on, with the more jagged sounds of earlier tunes leading to a couple of compositions that were deeply melodicdemonstrating that even the freest of players can be hauntingly lyrical as well.
One of the set's many highlights came early on, a piece where a cued theme acted as a rallying point for a series of duets that explored all permutations and combinations within the quartet. From a sharper exchange between Crispell and Cyrille to an almost microtonal conversation between Helias' arco and Anker's soprano, there was little territory left unexplored.
Crispell, Helias, Cyrille and Anker covered so much ground, while asserting a distinctive group personality, that one can only hope the show was being recorded for future release on the festival's Victo label, and that this new collaboration will be more than a one-time affair.