Guelph Jazz Festival: Guelph, Canada, September 5-9, 2012
Huntsville with Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche
There is a town a few hours north of Guelph called Huntsville, a cottage enclave for those that can run away from their homes over the summer. So, the appearance of the Norwegian trio by the same name was greeted with the image of people lounging on deck chairs, roasting marshmallows. However, none of that was in sight when the trioguitarist Ivar Grydeland, bassist Tonny Kluften and percussionist Ingar Zachwalked onstage with Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche. This lineup is a reunion of the 2007 concert released as one disc of Huntsville's two-disc set, Eco, Arches, & Eras (Rune Grammofon, 2009).
The show began with a simple bass introduction from Kluften and then the layers of riffs and loops in rhythmic sync began. The two guitarists and bassist all had a variety of effect pedals to increase the textures and timbres, while Kotche (who, again, had a laptop with him) and Zach had a variety of small percussion on hand to augment their full kits.
The variety of Cline's sonic explorations is well documented, and Grydeland matched himthough he was progressed through the jam by addition and subtraction, as opposed to Cline's approach, which based more on variations of a given sound. Kotche played more "drummerly" than on the previous night, while Zach demonstrated, at times, a The Necks-like ability to lock in a groove. The evening's single improv turned into a 90-minute piece that never lagged.
The music portion of the festival is only half the story. The GJF is unique in North America in that a three-day academic colloquium runs in tandem. The colloquium is presented by the ICASPthe Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice research projectwith the goal being to present papers which show the impact improvisation can have on justice, social change, and pedagogy. The ICASP's home is the University of Guelph and that campus hosts the colloquium and several festival shows.
The colloquium theme this year was "Pedagogy & Praxis"and under that banner academics and fans assembled to hear findings on Gil Scott-Heron, the impact that school-based improvisation programs have on at-risk youths, and whether improvisation can be taught. Workshops and concerts punctuated the talksone notably was hands-on, based on exercises from John Steven's Search & Reflect (Community Music, 1985).
The Wednesday keynote speaker was Professor Jesse Stewart. Stewart has a long connection to the University of Guelph and he outlined his formative years as well as what, and how, he teaches students at Carleton University in Ottawa. He provided examples of how his collaborative ensembles have created and played instruments out of paper or balloons.
On Thursday, it was Professor David Ake, from University of Nevada at Reno, who talked about how he, as a jazz educator, and his students struggle with musical categories both from the point of what to teach but also who to include. The number of notable "jazz" players that have pronounced that they don't play jazz or that jazz is deadfrom drummer Max Roach to trumpeter Nicholas Paytonis long; the question arises, if they themselves renounce the title of "jazz," should they be taught in a jazz program? And how does the acceptance of labels shape a players education and self-definition? Ake's stance is that the word "jazz" is like the word spaghettimultiple strands, some are more attached then others, and all-in-all rather messy.
Friday morning began with an interview with Fred Frith. Frith's reputation a guitarist is without questionHenry Cow, Art Bears, Massacre, Naked City, numerous recording under his own nameare all testimony to his relentless progression and inventiveness. But since 1997 he was been a member of the music faculty at Mills College and is mentoring, teaching, and shaping many of the next generation of creative musicians. In his interview, he recounted how he got involved in teaching, the challenges in teaching improvisation in an environment that expects accountability, the expectations of students, and how his own background shapes how he approaches students.