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Suoni Per Il Popolo, Montreal, Canada, June 5-22, 2013

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Suoni per Il Popolo
Casa del Popolo/Sala Rossa
Montreal, Canada
June 5-22, 2013

The Casa del Popolo and Sala Rossa mini-empire that Mauro Pezzente and Kiva Stimac started on upper St-Laurent Boulevard in September, 1990 boasts a high-level eclectic program throughout the year, but the annual Suoni per Il Popolo festival concentrates special events and visits by "star" performers during the two-and-a-half weeks of the festival, the 2013 edition beginning on June 5 and running until June 22.

This year's edition had, as usual, a strong cohort of avant jazz performances, from the duo of Peter Brotzmann
Peter Brotzmann
Peter Brotzmann
b.1941
reeds
and Joe McPhee
Joe McPhee
Joe McPhee
b.1939
reeds
, three evenings of performances curated by Ken Vandermark
Ken Vandermark
Ken Vandermark
b.1964
saxophone
, and a rare Montreal appearance by guitarist extraordinaire, Joe Morris
Joe Morris
Joe Morris
b.1955
guitar
.

My own Suoni experience this year began on Wednesday, June 12 with a performance of compositions by violinist Malcolm Goldstein, played by Montreal bassist/composer Nicolas Caloia's Ratchet Orchestra, a long-running workshop-type aggregation normally dedicated to playing Caloia's compositions. The highlight of the set was "Two Silences," a 12-minute piece that had each musician play a single, held note each, over and over before a short silence, repeating the first section (same note), a second short silence, and then the final section, with the musicians playing a different held note repeatedly until the end. Out of these minimal compositional elements emerged a suspenseful and compelling study in texture and timbre.

Following the Ratchet set, the action moved across the street to the back room of the Casa, where guitarist Bill Orcutt and drummer Cris Corsano cranked out a high-energy set of slashing, grinding guitar and all-over-the-kit drum explosions—total rock and roll, totally compelling.

Bassist William Parker
William Parker
William Parker
b.1952
bass, acoustic
has probably appeared at the Casa and Sala more times than any other out-of-town musician, save perhaps Ken Vandermark, and he made his first appearance at this year's Suoni at the Sala Rossa on Thursday, June 13 in the company of drummer Hamid Drake
Hamid Drake
Hamid Drake
b.1955
percussion
, saxophonist Kidd Jordan
Kidd Jordan
Kidd Jordan
b.1935
saxophone
, clarinetist Louis Sclavis
Louis Sclavis
Louis Sclavis
b.1953
reeds
, and pianist Francois Tusques
Francois Tusques
Francois Tusques
b.1938
piano
, a group dubbing itself the French-American Peace Ensemble. The performance was preceded by Amine Kouider's short documentary on the late David S. Ware
David S. Ware
David S. Ware
1949 - 2012
sax, tenor
, David S. Ware: A World of Sound. The septugenarian Jordan was the star of the evening, a formidable force, playing with indomitable will and endless inventiveness, coming from a deep wellspring of the soul.

The first set ended with Jordan playing the last part of John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
's A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965) after a long section in which the quintet moved through various motifs as the saxophonist played one long solo line. The first improvisation in the second set began with a Drake drum solo, deeply African-tinged, and then moved into a Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
-ish ragtime-to- notime solo passage by Tusques, before Jordan stepped in with a string of beautiful ideas as the rest of the band churned furiously, playing with a power and endurance that belied his age. Not two minutes after this long solo, Jordan was in full gunslinger saxophone mode in the second piece of the set, using every part of the width of the groove laid down by Parker and Drake. Tusques was a revelation, with angular chord phrasings and stretching of rhythmic space. The piece ended with Drake playing off of Parker's bowed bass and then breaking up the rhythm before moving back into a tighter groove into which Jordan stepped with three and four-note bursts. A hard-swinging free section followed, as Sclavis joined in before Drake brought it all down and the saxophonist and clarinetist played a blues lament which, in the New Orleans funeral march tradition, became a celebration on the way home, ending on a long, blue note. This was deeply spiritual "creole" music, the quintet playing for David S. Ware, indeed as if for their very lives.

Longtime Casa/Sala friend Ken Vandermark came along with a number of his musical friends for a series of performances beginning on Sunday, June 17 at the Casa. The back room was packed as John Butcher
John Butcher
John Butcher

saxophone
kicked off the evening with a solo set, followed by the duo of drummer Paul Lytton and trumpeter Nate Wooley
Nate Wooley
Nate Wooley
b.1974
trumpet
, followed by the duo of Butcher and guitarist Andy Moor of The Ex. As might be expected, the music was a textured and nuanced exploration of extended techniques, the aleatoric musical elements from the Casa lounge in the next room leaking through the wood wall of the concert space.

The sets at the Casa two nights later—with a trio comprised of Vandermark, Wooley and Lytton, followed by the duo of Paal Nilssen-Love
Paal Nilssen-Love
Paal Nilssen-Love
b.1974
drums
and Terrie Ex, contained pleasant surprises from the musicians—Vandermark and Nilssen-Love in particular—that Montreal audiences have seen many times over the years, mainly in these same rooms. Despite all of his accomplishments as a bandleader, Vandermark rarely receives credit for his playing. The naysayers should have heard Vandermark this particular evening, as he showed a mastery of tone and breath on tenor and baritone saxophones and clarinet. The set with Wooley and Lytton was a study in acceleration/deceleration, tension and release, texture and tone, and overall inventiveness—at turns soft, focusing on the decay of the long-toned notes leaking out of Wooley's trumpet valves, and funky clarinet with a hint of New Orleans blues, all the way up to free blowing. Nilssen-Love and Terrie Ex might have been expected to blast out some punk-jazz, but instead opted for a quieter and more subtle approach, Ex working off two strings but ultimately slowing down and playing atmospherically, with Nilssen-Love cool, abstract, restrained.

The punk-jazz blowout would wait until Lean Left's performance the next evening, at a packed Sala Rossa. The show opened with a solo set by the always deep and unflinchingly human Joe McPhee, who spent much it playing soft, slow spirituals on a white plastic saxophone, music that incorporated bits of melody ("Amazing Grace," and was that "Danny Boy"?) that encapsulated the African-American experience: the griot, the mythic figure Legba limping along the road of life, the man who lives on a block where someone just got shot, the man on the horn telling you what he's seen and what he's dreamed. McPhee comes to these rooms quite frequently, and Montreal audiences know him well; on this night, in this red room, the best of the man was seen.

Lean Left followed, with a set of rocking high-speed free jazz improvisation. In fact, Terrie Ex was leaning right while Andy Moor was leaning left, but the one direction everyone was going was forward, in a roller coaster of speed and intensity—tight and intuitive, with everything up for grabs stylistically: spooky, fractured blues, Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler
1936 - 1970
sax, tenor
meets Sonic Youth, Slim Gaillard, honking R&B, angular punk, hard rock, and always, funk. A wonderful evening of music.

The final evening of the festival featured the Joe Morris Trio with William Parker and Charles Downs. Morris doesn't play in Montreal all that often, so this was a treat. Morris is an astonishing guitarist, intimidating in his ability to play out very advanced harmonic ideas at extremely high speeds. In the first half of the set, this side was seen, though less evident as the focus shifted to Parker and Downs as the music moved along. But the surprise of the festival was the opener, drummer/composer Mike Reed's latest project, People, Places & Things, which opened a lot of eyes with its forward-looking hard-bop that took in all of jazz history. The interplay between saxophonists Tim Haldeman, on tenor, and Greg Ward
Greg Ward
Greg Ward

saxophone
, on alto, was crisp, and Reed kicked the whole thing along with an absolutely sure sense of direction.

There was a remarkable buzz around this year's Suoni Per Il Popolo. The concerts were all very well-attended, and the performances were first-rate to outright stellar. Each evening, concert-goers shuttled between the two venues on opposite sides of St-Laurent. Between sets, patrons gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Sala or in the open-air courtyard/terrasse at the back of the Casa to smoke and converse.

Pezzente once said that he and Stimac regard the Suoni as a gift to themselves, but the critical role that the Casa and Sala have played in Montreal's outside music scene cannot be overstated. The spirit with which the Casa and Sala were conceived—and in which they carry on—is a gift on their part to people who care about having the space to take the music as far as the human spirit will allow.

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