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Live Reviews

Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 3 - May 22, 2010

By Published: May 24, 2010
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4


Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville
Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada
May 22, 2010

In a sense, by definition, experimental artwork can never fail because, as it constitutes experiments, even when the outcome is not the desired one, there is still something to be learned that moves a process forward. It is this kind of "heads I win, tails you lose" idea that often enough makes the evaluation—and even the creation—of abstract improvised music so prone to vagueness. At the same time, it serves as one of the beauties of the medium, contributing to a constant redefinition of the beautiful itself. In other words, even when works fail, they are still part of a continuum, much as life and death are intertwined in nature.

Day 3 at FIMAV had its share of such qualified failures. That said, these failures played their role in the greater artistic whole that was (or will have been) the festival itself at large. The day's first performance, a quartet featuring clarinetist Xavier Charles, was, strictly speaking, a success. Charles and his collaborators—Ivar Grydeland, Christian Wallumrød and Ingar Zach—were consummate technicians at the top of their game. Calling the collective Dans les arbres, its piece called for a mimetic interpretation—such as that of seeing it as representing the feeling of spending the night in the woods. And it was a very cold, quiet effort, with very sparse sounds that only occasionally burst into a conflagration of greater activity. Again, it was masterfully executed but at the same time off-putting; however, it might be argued that coldness was the quality it was seeking to render.

Charlemagne Palestine is one of the great masters of minimalism as it is more popularly understood; the type descending from Terry Riley

Terry Riley
Terry Riley
b.1935
that deals with trance-like patterns of sound. Palestine performed with the Berlin trio Perlonex, consisting of turntablist Ignaz Schick, electric guitarist Joerg Maria Zeger, and percussionist Burkhard Beins. The team has done some beautiful work on record, the double CD It Ain't Necessarily So (Zarek, 2008). Tonight they didn't blend right, in spite of the group's evident and sympathetic rapport with the older artist. In effect, Palestine's plangent vocals and rich walls of repeated piano notes (he favors middle E) were steamrolled by the industrial-type noise generated by the younger artists.

Neither the 5:00 PM quartet of Jim Denley

Jim Denley
b.1957
, Philippe Lauzier, Pierre-Yves Martel and Kim Myhr; nor the trio of redoubtable noteworthies Caterine Jauniaux, Malcom Goldstein and Barre Phillips
Barre Phillips
Barre Phillips
b.1934
bass
succeeded in coalescing as teams to deliver improvisations that satisfied as wholes. Such creative disappointments often result from the surprise combinations of otherwise accomplished artists who have never played together before—a condition which is dicey, however often good comes out of it. Also, the large venue formats of this festival are not the most conducive to the intimate nature of small group radical improvisation in its quieter forms. However this may be, the quartet's centerpiece was an effort in which all musicians strung along on the same note, varying only in time and timbre. This resulted, quite literally, in monotony. The trio featuring Phillips exhibited the highest form of intellectual craftsmanship and even communicated well on a certain level. Yet its set lacked fire.

Bill Dixon

It was up to Bill Dixon

Bill Dixon
Bill Dixon
1925 - 2010
trumpet
, at 10:00 PM, to come up with a hit in the clutch, which he succeeded in doing. Dixon's "Tapestries for Small Orchestra" were gems. Leading a group of eight younger musicians, he did innumerable things right, from compositional strategies and conducting, to re-conceiving the jazz idiom, which is more and more coming to seem like an endangered species. "Tapestries" was essentially a long stretch of loosely concatenated, subdued lines on various horns, executed in a kind of collective call-and-response manner, where one performer would blow and another would match it in his/her own way, with another then following and doing something similar. In other words, it was largely static, but imbued with blues, field hollers and human solidarity. It was this collective net effect, which has antecedents in Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
's Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1959) and John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
's Ascension (Impulse!, 1965), that carried the music on, rather than melody or rhythm.

Occasionally there were lapses, where cues weren't caught on time and momentum lagged. However, in a manner almost alchemical, vibraphonist Warren I Smith

Warren I Smith
Warren I Smith
b.1934
percussion
would pick up the slack, so that even what was at first a flaw became retroactively something beautiful. After sitting and conducting for the duration of the piece, Dixon finally got up at its end, shaking his arms madly and rousing the troops into a final burst of fire.

From left: Matthias Bossi, Shazad Ismaily, Carla Kihlstadt

Carla Kihlstedt led her trio with Matthias Bossi and Shahzad Ismaily at midnight. Kihstedt proved herself to be the single most gifted artist of this year's festival thus far. Her performance was part of a launch for her CD Causing a Tiger (Victo, 2010), and incorporated words from a 15th century Zen poet. The first, at the beginning, were something like, "I can't understand how beautiful it all is," a phrase which she repeated over a chilly, metallic background rendered by her own violin, Bossi's drums and Ismaily's guitar and bass. Kihlstedt had a command of genres from ambient to new music, to the pop of a Björk or a Sinead O'Connor, to goth-industrial and back through the centuries to Beethoven and baroque. Her dynamics and pacing were stunning.

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