[iks]: The Iksperience, Alive and Well

Pascal-Denis Lussier By

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Those of you who've had the opportunity to hear the Montreal-based contemporary jazz band [iks] have, I'm certain, immediately felt one of two things: nonplussed or absolute love; it's one of those bands. Those who've felt the former and awarded this band the necessary attention along with those who've instantly felt the latter are probably reading this and thinking, "Oh yeah. It's a real shame that the band disappeared."

Officially, despite the few years of absence around a brief return and the release of a little-known DVD recording of a 2007 live performance piece, (Le Cauchemar De L'horloger (Ora, 2008)), and given the five years since their 6th CD release, Inner Whatever (Ora, 2005), [iks] has never left the music scene albeit the necessary breaks imposed by life, studies, the desire to focus on different projects, and the shift in band members these entailed.

A major upset in the band's history occurred in the spring of 2008—what many assumed was the end of the group— when co-founder/bassist/composer, and electronics wizard Pierre Alexandre Tremblay officially announced what many already expected: he was leaving the group for a permanent move to Huddersfield, UK. Tremblay now teaches electroacoustic composition at the Centre for Research in New Music at the University of Huddersfield while pursuing other solo and group projects (ars circa musicæ being one of them), and also acts as producer and session bassist for a wide array of groups. He earned a Ph.D from Huddersfield in 2005 and was already spending most of his time there prior to and after, one of the reasons for the slowdown in the group's activities; his departure was nothing more than a formality at that point.

"It was a tough decision," recalls Tremblay, "but I was offered an opportunity which, I felt, I couldn't pass up, and although we discussed the possibility, realistically, the physical distance made it impossible for me to continue on with the group in any way. The only logical and fair thing to do was to cede entire leadership of the band over to Sylvain."

Tremblay is, of course, referring to guitarist/composer Sylvain Pohu, his long-time friend and collaborator with whom he founded [iks] and the Ora music label in 1996. They still own and manage Ora together, and although the Tremblay/Pohu dynamic is no longer a part of [iks], the two continue to play and record as a duo—under the name, de type inconnu—whenever they can get together; they plan to release an album soon.

"Sylvain and I are continually in touch, and I'm still there for the band, but mostly in spirit," says Tremblay. "It was never my band, it was always our band; now it's his. I trust and respect whatever direction he chooses to take."

It's no coincidence that Tremblay wants this to be clear. Based on personalities and the roles assumed by each—Tremblay acted as Artistic Director—it was easy for fans to be mislead into thinking that Tremblay was the sole leader and thus, easier still to believe that his departure announced the band's demise. However, after an adjustment period, Pohu, a highly gifted and, in my opinion, shamefully overlooked guitarist, has taken full control, sincerely proving otherwise. [iks] is wholly back in action. The band has already given a series of concerts in 2010, and indeed, having attended two of these, I can attest that the essence of [iks] is still very much alive and healthy.

It's true that Tremblay was a major element in the group, his infectious, unyielding approach and staunch devotion to music rarely paralleled, but his departure has a plus in that these same traits are now more evident in Pohu as well—albeit the clear difference in approach—as he assumes his new role as leader and Artistic Director of the group. At their "unofficially official" re-launch concert given in December '09 to a small gathering of devout listeners, I quickly learned to set aside my disappointments in regards to Tremblay's departure, for, as true fans know all too well, changes are an inherent part of [iks], and [iks] has always known how to embrace change. Other than Tremblay and Pohu, none of the seven albums produced so far have featured the same line up.

The "New" [iks] I witnessed had far more electronic gadgets than I recalled, delving slightly more into live-sound processing. That isn't to say that they are drifting away from their organic, improvisational approach to music making; the purity and integrity of individual creativity remains uncompromised—their music still emerges from real instruments and lives in the "now," always a reflection of the moment, and that's true whether live or in the studio. Therefore, their music is sometimes crude, occasionally awkward, but it is always brilliantly honest. And because of this, called upon to describe [iks] using one quick "sound bite," that phrase would still have to be: Rebellion without the angst. In one word: Art.

A New Album for Spring 2011


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