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Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival

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By Mathieu Bélanger
The fifth edition of the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival took place from June 1st to June 26th. It is an annual initiative of the hard-working folks running Casa del Popolo and La Sala Rossa - two of Montréal's most vital venues. Ever since its first edition in 2001, the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival positioned itself as a key event to understand Montréal's ever-evolving musical landscape. Now presenting itself as a celebration of liberated music - that is music that questions the status quo - the festival puts aside boundaries between so-called genres as well as the dichotomy between international and Montréal-based artists.
Generally speaking, the music featured at the festival could be classified under two poles. The first pole would encompass various approaches to improvisation, often in the tradition of free jazz and free improvised music, while the second would regroup song-based music, whether rock, folk or electronic.
Beyond this broad stylistic classification, the programming of this 2005 edition was conceived to be more than a succession of concerts. First, three concerts - Toni Blackman/DJ Oja, Wadada Leo Smith and Undersound with guests David Prentice (violin) and Christopher Cauley (soprano saxophone) filling in for Amiri Baraka - were organized in collaboration with McGill University Department of Philosophy's Project on Improvisation as part of the "Improvising in the Arts/Improvising between the Arts conference. Undersound delivered some of this trio's heaviest playing while maintaining a place for Joe McPhee's characteristic lyricism and John Heward's unique approach to rhythm. In comparison, Smith's trumpet playing was true to itself although his use of electronics sounded dated at times.

Second, it included two series that ran throughout the festival: the Local Label Nights Series and the Liberator/Creator Series. The object and purpose of the first are clear from its name. It showcased independent yet well-established Montréal-based labels. From the performance-oriented sound art of the squint fucker press night to the dramatic idealism of thee silver mt. zion memorial orchestra and tra-la-la band, the main act of both constellation nights, the concerts of this series tended to confirm the identity and aesthetics of the labels involved. One of the best concerts of the festival, if not the best, was Klaxon Gueule's which took place as part of the &records night. This trio, composed of Michel F. C''té (percussive objects and microphones), Bernard Falaise (electric guitar) and Alexandre St-Onge (treated electric bass and voice), has an astonishing ability to always redefine, question and push the boundaries of its approach while remaining faithful to its musical identity as a group.

The second series gave the opportunity to eight female musicians such as Alexis O'Hara and Magali Babin to invite an artist of their choice. The highlight of this series surely was the first meeting between Vancouver-based cellist Peggy Lee and Montréal's own Bernard Falaise on electric guitar. Without constantly referring to what the other would play, they both kept in mind that they were involved in a common process and accordingly choose their interventions in greater interest of the latter. It was perhaps a little conventional at times, but this did not overshadow the intrinsic value and high-quality level of the music.

Outside these events, the festival offered many concerts of interest from a perspective anchored in jazz and free improvisation with artists such as Peter Brötzmann (in duo with Nasheet Waits and Sam Shalabi), DKV Trio and the Willem Breuker Kollektief. From the wall of noise of Borbetomagus to the antics of Han Bennink to the Indigo Trio's Chicago-style jazz, the music was generally good. In the long run, it did not appear as totally satisfactory. Indeed, it offered few surprises and was too often too comfortable. It thus left the strange impression that the musicians involved simply held on to some now well marked-out territories they have been exploring, in some cases, for close to 40 years. A notable exception was Joëlle Léandre and India Cooke and their exquisite bow work. They created a musical space of freedom, creativity and self-expression where pretty much any sound, movement or reference became acceptable because of its undeniable pertinence.

In retrospect, the very notion of liberated music appears to be a very interesting one, but also a problematic one. From the point of view of what could be called mainstream music - including jazz - the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival indeed refutes the status quo by offering musicians a tribune for them to perform adventurous and audacious music. However, from the point of view of the so-called avant-garde or new music, based on the choice of musicians and the favored esthetics, one can't help but wonder.

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