2010 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Days 1-3
The late night show at The Ironworks featured one of Vancouver's true treasures in pianist Paul Plimley, one of the highlights in this case of the entire Festival for this correspondent since he so rarely if ever makes it out East. And his trio with Barry Guy and drummer Lucas Niggli treated listeners to by-the-seat-of- your- pants improvisation of the highest order. Plimley and Niggi resemble hyperactive kids at play on their instruments at timesthey're just having SO much fun co- creating. And Guy was more often than not serving as the anchor (the surrogate parent if you will) through this kids-at-play session, which created two of the festival's most memorable sets. "I know that the three of us live very far from another but I can't help thinking I want to play with them more!" said Plimley between improvisations. The pianist is as animated a performer as they come, at times recalling Jaki Byard's eccentricities (both on and off stage), and Guy and Niggli are never too far behind. Most of their collective improvisations each set landed either around the 10- minute or pushed the 20- minute mark, allowing for the music to freely develop from a thunderous rolling snowball effect that mounded the empathetic threesome's momentum into one unrelenting instrument and wall of sound, to dispersing into thirds Plimley commonly encouraging Niggli's playful cat-like pouncing on his kit, as if his favorite play toy was covered in cat nip!
Back to Performance Works for their free early afternoon "Galaxie Series," today features another GUO offspring of sorts: Evan Parker (tenor sax) and Paul Lovens (drums) with non- GUO but indeed German, bassist Torsten Müller (who moved to Vancouver where he's been based since 2001). A little onstage audience and musician banter preceded the music regarding the FIFA World Cup soccer matches (today's results found Germany big winners over England, with Argentina, also winners, to face Germany in the next round). This created an interesting though good-humored bandstand friction, or at least perhaps that was Parker's intent (being a Brit) when he mentioned he'd be putting money on Argentina to win!
Müller, playing acoustically, had a much smaller sound in comparison to his partners and seemed comfortable enough, barely audible and performing in such a way on his instrument that his focus relied on the altissimo register of bowing his bass fiddle (at times resembling in tone a country fiddle, though a hoedown gone awry with the extremes of his bowing technique being literally perpendicular to the ground that is, parallel to, not across, his strings). Lovens, seated low to the ground as his preference, set up simply with his customary two ride cymbals, a hi-hat (intriguingly played more closed than open), bass kick drum and snarenothing fancy as, again, is his way. Warranting the title "percussionist" (over simply "drummer"), Lovens is acute to the sonic intricacies of not only his kit but also his musical surroundings. With his right hand, Lovens hit down on one ride while muffling it with the other, creating a gong- like effect that nicely added a bottom end echo to Parker's playing, almost unperceived but certainly intended. The saxophonist's deep bellowed runs predominated any circular breathed upper register forays he has become well known for, helping to create a perhaps unexpected element of warmth and fullness to this trio (possibly also due to the fact that the bassist's soft high register playing was frequently lost in the mix as mentioned). Müller's small sound certainly contrasts his large body frame.
Like with the surf, the trio's singular first set extended improvisation came in waves, from collective playing to duos (Müller to the forefront in a duo with Lovens) and solos. One of the more memorable "tides" as it were was Lovens playing unaccompanied. Very much in time, in the tradition of Max Roach, the drummer achieved a lengthy extended rat-tat-tat improvisation from one cymbal to the next, mesmerizing the crowd who continued to rave about this solo well after concert's end.
Late the same afternoon, bassist Guy and violinist Homburger met with Vancouver-based clarinetist extraordinaire Francois Houle at Studio 700. Their pre- concert clarinet trio tuning was like a mini orchestra warming up before a large symphonic work (always a pre-orchestral event highlight at least for this listener). And with their collective fluency and extended techniques, it was expected that this trio would have orchestral possibilities at their collective fingertips, particularly since each is proficient and well versed in both the worlds of classical and improvised music.