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Something Else! Festival 2019

Mike Chamberlain By

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Indigenous Mind were joined by Don Byron, who alternated on clarinet and tenor saxophone in Saturday evening's closing set. The music morphed from a non-idiomatic free improv intro to swinging and grooving versions of compositions, the high level of communication among the musicians most evident in the smooth, seemingly telepathic transitions between the pieces. Each musician had a chance to stretch out, all of them brimming with musical ideas in a performance that was musically compelling and spiritually uplifting.

Once in a while, one is totally amazed by a performance by musicians one knows little about or has not seen in the particular context presented. I was told sometime earlier in the day not to sleep on No Silenz, a project of Susanna Hood (dance and voice) with fellow Montreal resident Jason Sharp on bass saxophone and French musicians Fredéric B Briet (Magma) on double bass and Christophe Rocher (Ensemble Nautilus) on various clarinets. That was really good advice. I have to confess to somehow never having seen Hood perform, even though we live in the same city, nor Briet or Rocher.

Hood's movements were deeply physical—and except for one segment, during which Rocher played a solo on Bb clarinet that for me was the single best musical highlight of a festival that had a number of highlights—she remained in motion for the entire performance. Her body control was astonishing, as she could change the entire character of a movement, from a shy elf to a raging goddess in less than the twitch of an eye. The music was, not surprisingly, given the instrumentation, steadfastly in the lower registers, swelling, bending, bowing around Hood's voice and establishing the mood for the movements and the words. The fact that I did not understand what Hood was vocalizing probably enhanced my enchantment with the performance, freeing me from the distraction of linguistic meaning.

The intensity of those three Saturday performances was somewhat exhausting, and perhaps the pews finally got to me, but Sunday was something of a letdown, at least for me. The solo set by Sam Newsome was whimsical and playful, and Don Byron's solo set, which closed the festival on Sunday evening was deeply lyrical and soulful, but attention flagged through thoroughly musical and eminently enjoyable sets, though in quite different ways, by two groups from Toronto, Brodie West's Eucalyptus and the four musicians of Ear-Cam. Eucalyptus' user-friendly set of grooving was right for a Sunday afternoon, while Ear-Cam's provocations, driven by the always-inspiring voice artist Christine Duncan, were perhaps too unsettling for someone who had been sitting in pews for extended periods over the previous couple of days.

Festivals of creative music like Something Else! are gatherings of the faithful, and it is appropriate that they often take place in churches, even if the reason for holding a festival in a church is somewhat pragmatic (read: price, size, availability). A church is a community place, and the people who go to Something Else! form a small part of a relatively small worldwide community. Also, there is a spiritual aspect to the music, explicitly or implicitly, admitted or denied.

We are reminded of that at every such festival, but the point was brought home in Hamilton when artistic director Cem Zafir's mother died in shortly before the festival. Cem flew to Istanbul on Monday evening to bury his mother, then left Istanbul on Friday morning to arrive in Hamilton on Friday afternoon. As physically and emotionally exhausted as he was, Cem, I think, made it through the weekend buoyed by the love of the people with whom he, they, I, we form a small extended global family.

It is good to be reminded of these things, and sometimes one has to spend some time in a church to have that opportunity.

Photo credit: Mike Chamberlain

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