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Something Else! Festival 2019

Something Else! Festival 2019
Mike Chamberlain By

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Something Else!
St. John the Evangelist Church
Hamilton, Ontario
June 20-23, 2019

I must confess that I spend very little time in churches, so I would not normally be inclined to spend the first weekend of summer in one. But sometimes exceptions must be made, and such an exception could only be made for a festival of creative music.

A church can be a dodgy proposition for presenting music. Ideally, the acoustics of the church are suited to the music and instrumentation. Where one is listening in the church makes a difference. The stage is another factor. Often, there is not enough rise to allow everyone in the audience to see well. And then of course, there is the discomfort factor of the hard, wooden pews. That said, some of the most memorable performances I have ever attended were held in churches, from Guelph to Montreal to Victoriaville.

Happily, St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in West Hamilton, aka The Rock on Locke, was a congenial site for the sixth edition of Something Else! Festival, curated by Cem Zafir and presented by the rest of the team at Zula Presents. A festival of music that is beyond category but draws from many influences has a small audience worldwide, much less in a rock town, like Hamilton. So the festival, like the music itself, is done for love. There is nothing to be done about the pews, but the acoustics of the Rock are clean and the sightlines generally acceptable, depending on where one sits—or squirms. The festival schedule consisted of six four-hour sessions at the church and a Friday afternoon of outdoor performances in the garden of a downtown museum, the Whitehern House and Garden.

The featured performers at Something Else! were Hamid Drake and Iva Bittova. The lineup also included a healthy number of female musicians, a variety of local musicians of various ages, and a New York City contingent of Sam Newsome, William Hooker, and Don Byron. I arrived in Hamilton from Montreal in a pouring rainstorm midway through the Thursday night session, just as Indigenous Mind were starting. The group—Drake on drums, Joshua Abrams on bass and guimbri, and Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone and ballophone—are extremely flexible musically, and this set saw the trio exploring African influences and motifs in constantly moving, shifting rhythms and colors.

Drummer/poet/provocateur William Hooker's solo set that followed was a dark, brooding, slyly humorous wake-up call delivered by voice and drums, griot fashion.

Friday afternoon's session took place in the garden of a former mansion (now a museum) near Hamilton City Hall. Jason Adasiewicz solo on vibraphone was gentle, subtle (as is typical for him), and playful, perfect for an afternoon in a garden. Following that set, saxophonist Brodie West joined Hamid Drake for a 40-minute set of engaging blues-based free jazz improvisation.

Iva Bittová is a unique performer, using Czech folk songs as source material, inspiration, and jumping-off point for improvisations with voice and viola. Her vocalizing includes singing, cooing, growling, and all manner of vocal gymnastics, with wild, abrupt leaps, swings, stops and hard left turns. I don't know what it all means, but the sense of total play in Bittová's music draws one into the music by awakening memories of childhood play, with all its fears, joys, and promises.

I had seen Bittová only twice before, the first time twenty years ago, so it was a rare opportunity to see her perform three times in one weekend. On the other hand, I have seen Hamid Drake play many, many times over the past two decades. Their duo on Friday evening at the Rock on Locke was one of the most compelling duo performances I have ever seen. Communication is at the top of the list of requirements for a successful improvisation, and Bittová and Drake were almost intimate in the way that they listened and responded to one another over the approximately 45 minutes from the moment they entered, playing, down the aisle of the church until the moment that they went back up the aisle at the end of the performance. Bittová did what she does, and Drake took his part of the musical conversation with her on frame drum, using all of his considerable sensitivity and control to cary it forward.

Also on Friday evening, the quartet of William Hooker (drums), Géraldine Eguiluz (guitar, voice, trumpet), Yves Charuest (alto saxophone), and Sam Newsome (soprano saxophone) whipped up a free jazz storm, energetic, rigorous, playful (there's that word again), and quite enjoyable.

Saturday's program produced several very powerful and satisfying performances.

Iva Bittová 's solo set in the evening expanded on her garden set from the day before, and she benefited from the space of the stage and the acoustics of the church to fully express herself

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