Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 4 - May 20, 2007
A hallmark of FIMAV is its interest in groups that defy categorization and cross-pollinate styles so heavily as to frustrate any attempts at labeling. Vancouver's Fond of Tigers incorporated a wide spectrum of influencesthe irregular-metered complexity of progressive rock, the minimalist interlacing of melodic fragments, occasional ambience, a non-soloing collective approach to improvisation...and a hardcore energy and volume level that made for an intensely visceral experience.
Spearheaded by guitarist Stephen Lyons, it's a true collective that's heavy on drive with drummers Skye Brooks and Dan Gaucher (who's also a member of the more traditionally jazz-centric October Trio) and bassist Shanto Bhattacharya. Colors are provided by keyboardist Morgan McDonald and trumpeter JP Carter whoalong with violinist Jesse Zubot, who heads Drip Audio (the label that's released Fond of Tigers' 2006 debut, A Thing to Live With and his own 2006 solo disc, Dementia), comprises half of the rootsy Zubot & Dawson duo, and boasts playing credits with everyone from Kelly Joe Phelps to Joe Fonda add significant processing to the mix.
Fond of Tigers: Jesse Zubot, Stephen Lyons, Skye Brooks, Dan Gaucher, Shanto Bhattacharya, Morgan McDonald, JP Carter
The group took no time to establish its take-no-prisoners approach with pounding drums and sonic anarchy: chaos with a pulse. Traditional song form was nowhere to be found; instead the group developed lengthy pieces that blended multi-layered, repeated interlocking patterns with propulsive rhythm and powerful accents. Think Rock-in-Opposition meets Steve Reich. Swiss composer Nik Bärtsch's Stoa (ECM, 2006) may be trance-inducing "Ritual Groove Music," with improvisation so subsumed that it's nearly unrecognizable. Fond of Tigers is more electric and energized, with Carter deriving a surprising wealth of sound from a digital delay, distortion pedal and assorted techniques that make his instrument often sound like anything but a trumpet.
Brooks and Gaucher, much like Coady Willis and Dale Crover of the Melvins, worked hand-in-glove at times with perfect synchronization; but elsewhere Brooks laid down a strong and consistent groove while Gaucher provided cross-rhythms and improvisational responses. Lyons is almost an anti-guitarist, taking only one somewhat delineated solo that was spare yet jagged. The rest of the time he defined many of the shifting bar rhythms that created a high volume but hypnotic foundation for the frequently harsh, processed sounds from Zubot, Carter and McDonald.
While a certain anarchy underscored the pulses defined by Lyons, Bhattacharya, the drummers and, on occasion, Zubot, there was at least one point where an unmistakable but simple melody emerged, becoming dramatically anthemic as the group took it from gentle to ear-shattering.
With a new EP soon to be released and a new full-length album also in the works, Fond of Tigers' experimental rock edge blends its assorted roots into a distinctive sound that may not be for the faint-at- heart. But for adventurous musical spirits who subscribe to the ever-growing view that music needn't be defined by clear boundaries, it's a group with significant promise.