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.
The Dutch scene is rife with cross-pollination, with half the members of Corkestra also participants in the equally multi-disciplinary Joost Buis' Astronotes, who delivered a stellar performance at the 2006 Ottawa International Jazz Festival. While the absurdity prevalent in much of the music coming from that scene was on generous display in Corkestra's FIMAV performance, their music on this occasion was also umistakably more serious in overall tone than either ICP or Astronotes.
Credit the aforementioned busy and dizzy Dutch scene for coming up with some of the most interesting and unconventional of instrumental lineups. Corkestra's front-line of two reeds and a flautist, along with a piano-bass-drums rhythm section, might initially seem conventional enough. But when you add percussionist Michael Vatcher's singing saw and hammered dulcimer, you know you're about to leave familiar territory behind. Propulsive rhythms were many to be found, but equally the octet explored more open-ended structures which, despite offering considerable freedom throughout, were still underscored by formalbeit of an often-fragmented nature.
Led by pianist Cor Fuhler (also an Astronotes member), Corkestra's FIMAV performance, though in the past featuring some explorative integration of electronics, was all-acoustic, making especially clear the textural diversity that can be derived through arrangement and orchestration alone. Corkestra's performance was largely as an octet, though the group did break down into smaller units at times. One high point of the set was a woodwind trio featuring Ab Baars and Tobias Delius on clarinets and flautist Anne La Berge, the resulting music of this combination sounding like Ligeti on steroids. The harmonics and microtonality exhibited a dynamic range from soft to shrill. Throughout, La Berge was a constant surprise, as much a weaver of texture as a creator of melody. On a variety of flutes she combined breathy multiphonics with sonorous melodic lines, at one point getting an uncharacteristically deep and guttural tone out of the normally high-register piccolo.
Astronotes bassist Wilbert de Joode was no less compelling. Extracting all manner of slapped, percussive tones from his bass, he was a lithe contrapuntal equal when the writing called for it but seemed just as content to lay down a visceral groove when the opportunity presented itself. The combination of Vatcher (another Astronotes member) and drummer Tony Buck became a more expansive, potent rhythm section with the addition of de Joode; but even when the music devolved into seeming anarchy, the percussion was never overbearing in rhythmic textures or dynamic levels.
While he rarely took clearly delineated solos, elected to leave the stage on numerous occasions and seemed content to drive the group rather than be its dominant instrumental voice, Fuhler did take a couple of solos demonstrating the encompassing breadth of his own improvisational acumen. At times spare and ethereal, at others hard-edged and Cecil Taylor-esque, he proved himself a versatile player capable of projecting resonant sounds along with a wealth of ideas.
It was, in fact, the marvelous arrangements of the largely episodic and, at times, almost cartoonish material that made the set such a resounding success. With so many instrumental possibilities in what might be considered, under normal circumstances, a relatively limited palette given the group's size, Corkestra's performance was as boundary-busting as fans of the vibrant Dutch scene have come to expect.