By Mathieu Bélanger
If historically the music and artists the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV) featured played a crucial role in the establishment of "musique actuelle as a genre - think of the Montréal-based Ambiances magnétiques collective - the FIMAV has always favored a broad perspective on so-called experimental music that encompasses various forms of free improvised music, electronic music, contemporary music, etc. As a consequence, each edition offers some concerts of interest from a perspective anchored in the tradition of jazz and improvised music.
This year, in addition to Jerry Granelli's "Sandhills Reunion and The Nels Cline Singers who both performed on May 19th, such concerts were mainly scheduled on Sunday. It was a satisfying day overall although it offered few surprises to anyone familiar with the projects involved. The French quintet Hubbub, however, was an exception. Using essentially extended techniques to transcend the traditional identity of their instruments, the five musicians gave greater place to low dynamics and an overall high level of activity. Even though it perhaps ran out of breath during its second half, the resulting 50-minute improvisation proved to be dense yet restrained while incorporating space as a component as essential as the sounds produced by alto and tenor saxophones, electric guitar, piano and drums.
Sunday evening was devoted to large orchestras with Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet and William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. Though they share some aesthetic roots, both projects exemplified two different approaches to collective improvisation. On the one hand, playing without any form of amplification, Brötzmann's Tentet provided nothing less than a lesson in instant composition. After an opening salvo of Herr Brötzmann on tenor saxophone supported by his nine colleagues that literally blew the roof off the Cinéma Laurier, they would permanently form various sub-groups on the spot, sometimes to bring the music elsewhere, sometimes to support a soloist. Of course, most of the clichés associated with energy-driven and heavy free acoustic improvised music were present. Nevertheless, the sincerity, authenticity and skills involved turned these moments into a joyful and ecstatic celebration of the music this band makes. On the other hand, the approach of Parker's Little Huey was fairly faithful to the jazz tradition. With drummer Andrew Barker and Parker himself acting as a rhythm section, the members of the orchestra took turn as soloists while the reed, trumpet and trombone sections added occasional touches. The result was inevitably more linear and, at over 90 minutes, too long.
One of the main events of the festival surely was Anthony Braxton's first visit to Victoriaville since his quartet's 1992 appearance. The Anthony Braxton Sextet treated a receptive and enthusiastic audience with an interpretation of "Composition 345 . With the possible exception of trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum and, obviously, Braxton himself who insufflate more of their own personality, the musicians were totally in the service of the music in following precisely the score and its requirements. They would combine themselves in sub-groups as required by the modular structure of the composition. The result was a juxtaposition and layering of not necessarily complementary sub-compositions that fully exploited the internal combinatorial structure of a sextet. Two days before, Braxton had shared the stage with FIMAV regular Fred Frith. On paper, this pairing promised to deliver challenging music, if only because of their hardly reconcilable styles. Live, it certainly was challenging, but mainly because of the strange impression that the saxophonist and the guitarist, the latter rapidly passing from one technique to the other, did not really find a common ground.
The other concerts of the festival confirmed great expectations (Michel F. C''té's "Mecha Fixes Clock project, Stefano Scodanibbio, Pascal Contet), but also provided slight disappointments (the turntables duets of Kid Koala/Martin Tétreault and Philip Jeck/Janek Schaefer), a totally unexpected surprise (Lars Hollmer/La Fanfare Pourpour) and an unsubstantial concert (Hélène Breschand/Jean-François Pauvros). It all ended with a spectacular performance, courtesy of The Boredoms. With three drummers and the unique Yamataka Eye on stage, they delivered a well-rehearsed, yet inspired and impressive hour and a half of music by rearranging and putting together various pieces from their recent repertoire. In retrospect, it was another one of the too few astonishing moments of this year's FIMAV.