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Bell Orchestre / Clogs / Snailhouse Warm Up Montreal's Theatre Plaza

John Kelman By

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Still, while Clogs played with more power than those familiar with them might have expected, neither did they let the inherent spaciousness of the venue prevent them from creating the kind of intimate and graceful blend of through- composition and improvisation that's been a fundamental from their very beginning. Dressner often created warm elliptical patterns over which Elliott and Newsome layered melodies that transcended stereotypical expectations of what their instruments are capable. Kozumplik shifted between more conventional drum kit and hand percussion, creating the eclectic rhythmic fabric that's also helped define Clogs' unique sound.

While their first release, Thom's Night Out, put them in the same general space as groups like Rachel's, it's been clear with each successive release that Clogs are as stylistically impossible to categorize as they are as they are hypnotically appealing. While the majority of the young crowd at Theatre Plaza were there to see hometown group Belle Orchestre, it was equally clear that Clogs made some new converts during this fine and rare Canadian appearance.

With a minimalist wash of ambient sound coming from the sound system, Bell Orchestre gradually took the stage, with Nabatian and Amato playing their respective horns as they gradually wound their way through the crowd.

Touring in support of their first release, Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light (Rough Trade, 2005), the group quickly established their potent blend of contemporary chamber music with a propulsive rhythmic edge. While many of the roots of the group are likely lost on its audience—the minimalism of Steve Reich, adventurousness of electronic music and elegance of chamber music—they demonstrated that it's possible to take these more esoteric elements and combine them in a powerful and accessible blend. While the group focused on their primary instruments, they also incorporated odd electronics, tuned percussion and some distinctly less-than-conventional ideas—as when Schneider sat down at the front of the stage between Parry and Neufeld for a trio of bass, violin and...typewriter.

Neufeld—like Clogs' Newsome—is, perhaps, the most visually arresting performer, animated and actively engaged with every member of the band. But while this is a band—again, like Clogs—that's less about the individual and more about the collective, everyone had their moments to shine. And while the instrumentation is equally unconventional— bass, violin, percussion, trumpet and French horn—the result was a rich sound where conventional instrumental roles were often dispensed with. While Parry has a deep bass sound that, along with Schneider, can create a powerful rhythm section, he was just as often found creating long arco tones along with Neufeld, while Nabatian and Amato created almost conflicting lines that magically coalesced through the constant pulse created by Schneider.

The Theatre Plaza performance was the second-to-last date of a tour that's seen Bell Orchestre and Clogs visit New York, Boston and other venues in the New England area. While there's no question that their hometown crowd was especially appreciative of Belle Orchestre, the fact that these two groups—as far removed from popular pop culture as one can get—can hit the road and play to strong audiences makes it a certainty that, while adventurous music is relatively marginalized, it does have a place—one that will most certainly not be going away any time soon. Encouraging news indeed.

Visit Belle Orchestre, Clogs and Snailhouse on the web.

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