Guelph Jazz Festival: Guelph, Canada, September 5-9, 2012
Colin Stetson's rise as a saxophonist has been two-prongedthere are the accolades give his recent release, New History Warfare, vol. 2: Judges (Constellation, 2011), and his association with acts such as Arcade Fire, Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits, and Bon Iver. His approach to the instrument is uniquehe primarily plays the bass sax and uses circular breathing and extended techniques to create otherworldly effects. To further its presence and nuances, he employs a variety of microphones to emphasize the percussive sound of the valves opening and closing, as well as wearing a contact microphone collar around his neck, amplifying the sounds of his breathing and sub-vocalizations.
He began with "Judges," the second track on his recent album, and the eleven minutes that it lasted (almost double the album's five) made an epic in sound and physicality. He switched between bass and alto saxophone throughout the show and the eight songs plus encore were delivered with unbound energy in the sweltering venue. The sight of him rocking back and forth with a monstrous sax strapped to him must have been frightening to those in the front row as he seemed likely to launch himself into a mosh pit. There were times that the pew vibrated beneath me, and the full-bore roar and texture of Colin's playing made the concert an almost humbling experience.
Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche
Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche have found recent fame as guitarist and drummer for Wilco. Both, however, have long and deep ties to the avant-garde and improvisation scenes, despite this being only their second-ever show as a duo.
The prevalence of Cline's effect pedals and the presence of a laptop as part of Kotche's kit were no surprise when the evening opened up with science fiction-esque bleeps and bloops. The starts and stops and the rise of fall of volume gave the piece life, and wasn't just a sonic onslaught. It was a full 30 minutes before Kotche played like a drummer, with proper sticks and hitting things in some regular pattern, while Cline picked out a lulling chord melody. Mere minutes later, all was forgotten. To the crowd's delightand an acknowledgment by Kotche as to the true kings of Canadaa sample of Rush's "Fly By Night" was offered in the midst of the restrained noise. An engaging long set was followed by an encore and the evening came off without a hitch.
Cline was pressed into triple-duty at the festival, also appearing in ROVA's Ascension Reimagined show as well as making a guest appearance with Norway's Huntsville later on Thursday, also with Kotche.
John Coltrane's Ascension Tribute
The release of Ascension (Impulse!) in 1965 continued saxophonist John Coltrane's progression into the avant-garde. He described this recording as a "big band thing"the recording has 11 playersbut this certainly isn't typical big band music. And like Interstellar Space (Impulse!, 1967) and A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965), it has drawn musicians to recreate the piece. Mounting a note-for-note copy was not the goal, but the piece did, with its statement of a theme from A Love Supreme and the structure of ensemble improvisation alternating with solos, serve as an inspiration and blueprint on Friday.
Two groups presented their interpretationsJeremy Strachan led one ensemble while the ROVA Saxophone Quartet led another.
For the first performance at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, Jeremy Strachan shared the stage with a group of Toronto musicians. Later in the evening, at the River Run Centre, it was the ROVA quartet (saxophonists Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs and Jon Raskin) sharing the front line with cornetist Rob Mazurek and violinists Carla Kihlstedt and Jenny Scheinman while the backline consisted of Cline, drummers Chris Brown and Hamid Drake, bassist Fred Frith, and laptop artist Ikue Mori.
With the shows following one after the other, the door was wide open to compare and contrastthe pros of ROVA vs. Strachan's unknown upstarts; David vs. Goliath; the hometown (well, almost hometown, as Toronto is only an hour away) vs. the away All-Starsor not. The shows were very different.
Strachan's group was on fire from the first note. They faithfully recreated the lineup from the original recording (two trumpets, three tenor saxophones, two alto saxophones, two bassists, a drummer and a pianist) and the original structure of group sections alternating with soloists. Strachan led the group with hand signals, moving them through the group sections.
The sound of this group was ferocious and awe-inspiring, with the physicality of each performer's exertions clearly evident on their faces. As the last notes faded, the audience exploded in applause.