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Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville 2023

Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville 2023

Courtesy Martin Morissette


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...if this is to be the last-ever Victo, it was a a pretty good one to go out with.

Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville
Victoriaville, Quebec, Canada
May 18-21, 2023

This year's 39th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Victoriaville (FIMAV) was characterized by a new performance space, a good number of noteworthy performances, and trepidation about the future of the festival following artistic director Michel Levasseur's announcement that this would be his last year at the helm.

The Centre des Congrès, a new facility next door to the festival hotel saw several of the more compelling concerts of the festival. Among them were performances by saxophonist Dave Rempis and guitarist Tashi Dorji, the out-rock quartet GNR8RZ, the heavy rock group Bunuel, and the guitar/electronics duo of Nina Garcia and Arnaud Rivière.

On Saturday afternoon, Dorji and Rempis explored a variety of delightfully contrasting textures, with Rempis playing sinuous lines up and down the range of his alto saxophone as Dorji scraped and scratched and hammered at his guitar, an array of effects pedals employed in the task. In the same 5 p.m. timeslot on Sunday, Garcia and Rivière did a set that had much in common with the Rempis/Dorji set, which is to say total control over a wide range of their instruments' possibilities. Garcia produces jaggedly ethereal sounds with her guitar, and Rivière maintained a steady, coherent flow of sounds with what appeared to be a turntable equipped with a contact interface, to captivating effect.

The midnight shows at Victo are always loud and occasionally rowdy. Opening night midnight at the Carré 150 was a performance by young tenor sax sensation Zoh Amba, who played with a unit of Micah Thomas on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Miguel Marcel Russell on drums, who would have made a pretty good free jazz trio on their own. Amba is waif-like but intense, playing the tenor saxophone in the lineage of Albert Ayler and Peter Brötzmann, both in her no-holds-barred approach and in the way she interjects melodic fragments in her shower of notes. Powerful but lyrical, Amba covered a wide emotional terrain in the set, keeping the listeners wondering where she would go next.

Friday night's show by bassist/guitarist Simon Hanes' GNR8RZ was an anarchic affair. Cellist Aliya Ultan came out clad in skin-tight silver lamé bodysuit and with a big grin, dove into the first piece with a ferocious two-bowed attack, only to have Hanes abruptly stop the show because none of his equipment worked. In a moment, he had his bass in working order and re-launched. Was it part of the act? The festival is not known for technical glitches. Whatever, the effect was to throw matters just a bit off-kilter. Drummer Calvin Weston kicked off each piece with a funky beat, organist Anthony Coleman supplied washes of organ sound with witty interjections of specific chords that subtly shifted the colors of the overall sound, while Aliya and Hanes rocked the strings with feedback and jagged lines, funk, punk, psychedelia and dada. Several members of the audience danced as if no one was watching, and everyone walked out of the hall with a smile.

Bunuel's performance on Saturday evening was a more serious affair, a blast of doom metal and anguished rapped/spoken lyrics by frontman Eugene Robinson, who swaggered and stomped around the stage as his bandmates unleashed an onslaught of heavy doom metal. The set was one of the two loudest of the festival, beaten out narrowly on the loud meter by the Rivière/Garcia set the next afternoon.

There were a number of strong acoustic or semi-acoustic sets, including Ikue Mori's "Tracing the Magic, and the trio of Alexander Hawkins, François Houle, and Kate Gentile. The Fred Frith Trio with trumpet player Susana Santos Silva, and visual artist Heike Liss, who "drew" with a computer interface on projections displayed behind the four musicians was a standout. Frith was forthright but deliberate in his use of various pedal effects and plucking techniques, while Santos Silva, a gifted improviser from Portugal with a gorgeous, breathy tone and an incisive lyrical sense floated above the work of the trio, completed by bassist Jason Hoopes and drummer Jordan Glenn. The group communication was uncanny. Fred Frith's contribution to improvised music as both a musician and a teacher cannot be overstated, and he remains a vital artist interested in exploring new ideas with young musicians.

Montreal-based clarinetist Lori Freedman's solo set in 2018 was a highlight of that year's edition of the festival, and the group project she presented on Saturday evening at the Carré 150, "BeingFive," was another success for her. The quintet was comprised of Axel Dorner on trumpet, Andrea Parkins on electronics, Christopher A. Williams on bass, and Yorgos Dimitriadis on drums, along with Freedman, and the performance was textured and balanced with subtle shifts in mood and tone throughout the set.

A surprise delight of the festival was the world premiere of a work titled "Collectif Tendancielle" by Camille Brisson and Isabelle Clermont, a duo from the paper mill town of Trois-Rivières. The piece is a radical comment on and performance of traditional female roles that combined spoken word, crinolined skirts, necklaces employed as musical instruments, even an electric harp/flute section in the middle of the piece, which concluded with an astonishingly musical mashing up of a table full of cups and saucers, saucepans and serving trays.

The festival closed out at the theatre space in the Carré 150 cultural centre with two, actually three, performances by John Zorn projects. The first two were trios playing, appropriately, music for trios, while the final performance was the New Masada Quartet, with Zorn, guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Jorge Roeder, and drummer Kenny Wollesen. Before the final performance, Zorn saluted Levasseur for his four decades of presenting adventurous music at Victoriaville and the audience of the sold-out show gave Levasseur a standing ovation. Of the concerts, the first trio was an acoustic set by Roeder and drummer Ches Smith with pianist Brian Marsella, the "Suite for Piano" compositions in a post-bop vein with pleasing interaction among the trio, especially Smith and Roeder. The second set was an organ trio of John Medeski, guitarist Matt Hollenberg and drummer Kenny Grohowski that featured grinding textures in a traditional organ trio setup that hewed far away from any soul jazz approach. Zorn's New Masada Quartet was more successful. Zorn opened the first piece with a ferocious solo that laid down the gauntlet for guitarist Lage who, though diffident at first, gradually asserted himself as the performance went along and met Zorn's challenge. Both performances were well received by the Victo audience, for whom Zorn has always been a major drawing card.

Zorn presented Michel Levasseur to the audience before the New Masada Quartet set and led the audience in a lengthy ovation for Levasseur, who has left a mark on the wide area of adventurous music since the inaugural edition of FIMAV in 1983. As Fred Frith noted in his press meeting on Friday, everyone who has regularly attended Victo over the years have been given the opportunity to learn so much and to meet so many interesting and inspiring creative people as a result of Levasseur's work.

The future of FIMAV is uncertain. With no new artistic director having yet been named, it is reasonable to wonder how next year's edition will look, if it is held at all. Obviously, everyone wants the festival to continue, and it probably will, with changes. However, if this is to be the last-ever Victo, it was a a pretty good one to go out with.

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