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Guelph Jazz Festival, September 8-12, 2010

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Guelph Jazz Festival
Guelph, Canada
September 8-12, 2010
Some music festivals are holidays and some are expeditions. The annual Guelph Jazz Festival & Colloquium in Ontario has a way of being more safari than respite. The days are long, with lectures and panel discussions on some days beginning at 9:00am and concerts on others as early as 10:30, and then running on into the early hours of the morning. The rewards, too, are plentiful—more so, in fact, than are possible to take in. Adding to the usually exhaustive schedule, the 2010 instalment added a "nuit blanche" of concerts, installations and site-specific works lasting one night through until the following morning. There was no way to catch it all. Even without sleeping, enough overlapped that the best bet was sometimes to walk around downtown and see what could be stumbled upon (which could even be one of a number of paintings stowed around town, with instructions to return it to a particular gallery). And when exhaustion finally caught up, the model of George Lewis could be followed. Speaking at the opening of his installation with sculptor Eric Metcalfe, Lewis said, "I come from the period of sitting around while La Monte Young is playing the Well-Tempered Piano, and waking up again and he's still playing it. And nobody seemed to find that problematic."

The first day of performances, Sept. 5, 2010, following the full days of academic presentations on arts and technology, was a decidedly 21st Century take on the " Improvising Bodies" theme of the festival, perhaps, but what stood out in the first two sets was how well they came off—not only free of technological glitches, but achieving an organic, warm quality. Lewis' piece used samples of an orchestral work of his, dissected and then reanimated by the activity around them, housed in Northwestern-design totems. Before their opening reception, Pauline Oliveros presented an octet stretched across the Americas. The Skype collaboration featured musicians also in Troy, NY, and Bogotá, Colombia, and came off remarkably well—due, in part, to dedicated Web 2 lines that, for the most part, prevented the glitches and time lags that usually plague such long-distance meetings.

Roger Dean played compositions for live and prerecorded pianos with electronic processing, and despite references to Thelonious Monk, it sounded, at times, more like Chopin, or George Winston, or the Love Story theme, maybe, but slowly the pianos began echoing onto themselves—doubling back and filling in gaps until eventually there were different parts coming from speakers in the four corners of the small room.

The technology may have outshone the music, but the gradual process of filling the room was effective.

Electronic interfaces were also on display during an excellent double bill of Ben Grossman and Germaine Liu, followed by a first meeting (with no more rehearsal than a soundcheck) by Bob Ostertag, Sylvie Courvoisier, Taylor Ho Bynum and Jim Black. And while Grossman was playing through effects, controlled via an iPad and another laptop, as well as foot pedals, his hurdy-gurdy playing felt very human. Even if the long drones were electronically manipulated, they felt natural, and were complemented by Liu' s quietly tactile percussion—a drum kit and a collection of handheld percussion, with sticks rarely used.

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