Much of the rest of the schedule was filled by New Yorkers, or at least players from the States. Zorn conducted his Modern Jazz Quartet-molded William S. Burroughs project Nova Express (Tzadik, 2011), with drummer Joey Baron, bassist Trevor Dunn, keyboardist John Medeski and drummer Kenny Wollesen, although the concert seemed to fall short of the dynamism of the recent CD release. Better was a new project, The Concealed, with Zorn again conducting (his saxophone was not to be seen), which added violinist Mark Feldman and cellist Erik Friedlander to the MJQ instrumentation for a lushly romantic set of compositions based on mystic texts but falling into purely enjoyable listening.
The anticipated appearance of another icon of New York's Downtown music ended up not happening for reasons not given, and as a result the trio Blixt became a duo of guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim and drummer Morgan Ågren, with spirits and energy level high. To fill out the bill, Henry Grimes (who was not scheduled to play but was in attendance for the whole of the fest) played a solo set on violin and double bass. Grimes may be at his best when he's on his own, and made a strong showing for an excitedly receptive crowd.
Brooklynite guitarist Mary Halvorson played a memorable set with her new quintet. Halvorson's infectious ideas as a composer, and perhaps more so as an arranger, come through all the more strongly with the five-piece, and can only be expected to grow with the promise of a septet in 2013. The pieces often were built on strong unison horn lines and Halvorson's guitar less adorned than usual, with the rhythm section shifting tempi and intensity somehow independent of but still reinforcing the melody lines.
Halvorson's playing seems to have grown along with the size of her ensemble. She's always been a bold guitarist but with this new band she's demanding greater versatility of herself. She did stomp on the overdrive now and again, but for the most part let the warm voice of her big hollowbody come through with less electronic augmentation than she has often used in the past. While the moods swunga jazzy progression banged and fuzzed, a proggy vamp delivered with surprising delicacy, even something like a calypso through a prismthe structure continually shifted and remained solid.
The New York/New England power trio Spanish Donkey laid a heavy, heavy drone with a scream of what truly sounded like Jimi Hendrix-induced controlled feedback. The set may have been a shock to people who think guitarist Joe Morris and keyboardist Jamie Saft permanently reside on the polite side of avant jazz. Saft and drummer Mike Pride erect monoliths of sound under the name Kalashnakov, and seem to be concerned first and foremost in the trio with reframing Morris' playing. Morris, of course, is more than there for the challenge, and if an idiosyncratic single-note style is what he's best known for, he's also taken to bass, banjo, mandolin and ukulele, so Spanish Donkey is hardly the pony's second trick. At FIMAV, the aural onslaught was heightened by a rigorously democratic mix: everything was at such an even level, including a buzzing synth that stayed just safe of subsuming them all, that at times the only way the noisy keyboards and harsh guitar could be differentiated was by virtue of the players' body language. When on occasion the smoke cleared, Middle Eastern riffs and psychedelic organ became apparent.