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Live Reviews

Guelph Jazz Festival: Guelph, Canada, September 7-11, 2011

By Published: October 5, 2011
The naturally flowing aura of the whole performance gave the impression of a joyful conversation between two friends who do not sentimentally remind themselves of the old times, but rather keep laughing and rejoicing about the endless creative possibilities of the here and now.

Lotte Anker, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver

Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker
Lotte Anker
Lotte Anker
opened the first Saturday evening set by turning her saxophone into a fairy-tale mechanism, producing the soothing sound of a metallic wind. This was nothing but the starter of a set where each of the virtuosic musicians involved—pianist Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
and drummer Gerald Cleaver—transformed their instruments into something different and unexpected.

From left: Craig Taborn, Lotte Anker

Taborn alternated highly atonal poetics with muffled, shrilly suffocated tones, realized by longitudinally caressing the piano strings with his bare hands. Cleaver, on the other hand, alternated his vertical use of the drumstick on his high-hats to the chaotic resonance created by adding a smaller cymbal on his snare drum.

They all shared a futuristic desire to denaturalize their musical tools, removing their sonorities from the most commonly accepted paradigms and filling the performance with surprising sounds, excitingly fit together like the pieces of an exquisite corpse game.

The Necks

The Australian trio's set— featuring pianist Chris Abrahams, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Tony Buck—confirmed its exquisite sense of dynamics as much as its reliance on a Giacomettian minimalism, where jazz is cleared of all its contours and revealed in its most essentialist structural form. The repetition of a single chord or note, with only carefully selected variations, became a long-lasting psychedelic loop aimed at making the audience fall in trance with the monochromatic ocean of sound of the band.

The Necks, from left: Chris Abrahams, Lloyd Swanton, Tony Buck

Similar to Yves Klein's blue series, the choice was so radically essential as to provoke the most extreme emotional reactions. If you were able to lose your own self in these compulsive-obsessive tonalities, the result was a psychedelic state of utter absorption and blissful loss. However, if the desire to remain rooted to the realms of the real and conscious prevailed, your instinctive reaction could have been an almost brutal physical rejection.

A single piece, more than sixty uninterrupted minutes of flow—and, for some, an almost healing music therapy.

Henry Threadgill's Zooid

During the inspiring academic colloquium which preceded his performance, Henry Threadgill
Henry Threadgill
Henry Threadgill
pointed out how the beauty of his experience with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)—both from an aesthetic perspective and from the point of view of social activism—was due to the craving, of all the musicians involved, to express their souls outside of the expected parameters, by taking all the risks that free improvisation implied.

His compositions, at the very core of the Zooid set at the Guelph Jazz Festival, were imbued of a similar spirit. Notation in his music seems exploited only to set a common idiom which leaves his musicians open to purely improvisational sections and to a sincere expression of their own personal styles.

The very first choice for the evening was a summation of this compositional method. "Extremely Sweet Williams" disclosed a melodic texture, where soft delicacy became one with syncopated, bustling energy. In spite of the fast tempo and complex network created by each instrumental part, the general sensation of Threadgill's creation was that of an uncannily natural sonic unity. Yet, as in a perfectly conceived recipe, each flavor was not only recognizable, but enhanced by the majestic structure within which it was inserted.

The mindful contrapuntal interplay of Stomu Takeshi's bass guitar could therefore be clearly captured in the ensemble, as much as the delicate elegance of Liberty Ellman's guitar. Threadgill's flute resounded like the final touch of a majestically conceived structure. His presence took the shape of rarefied brushes of sound, thoughtfully limited to a minimum of perfect gestures.

In "To Undertake My Corners Open," Jose Davila
Jose Davila
Jose Davila

's syncopated trombone conversed with Elliot Humberto Kavee's subtle rhythmical accents on drums, with perfect symmetry.

Threadgill's presence was that of an amused deus ex machina in "A Day Off," his sax echoing with lighthearted joy and humor, showing the smiling side of a performance whose emotional width was astounding, until the very final note.

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