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Suoni Per Il Popolo 2009

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Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival
Montreal, Canada
June 2009
For the ninth time since 2001, the whole month of June in Montreal was the affair of the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival. In past years, it would take place at Casa del Popolo and La Sala Rossa, a logical choice since the festival is the brainchild of the folks running those venues. For administrative reasons, concerts cannot be held at Casa del Popolo at the moment so some occurred elsewhere, mainly at Le Divan Orange and Centro Gallego.

As always, the Suoni presented Canada-based and international musicians active in a wide range of styles from jazz to sound art, the constant being music that pushes the boundaries. Audiences thus had the opportunity to hear Dave Burrell (in a trio with William Parker and Michael Wimberly), Pauline Oliveros, Tim Hecker, Sir Richard Bishop or Ensemble SuperMusique, just to name a few.

On paper, the lineup of the 2009 Suoni Per Il Popolo failed to generate the excitement it usually does. It seemed to lack cohesion and the outcome of most concerts appeared predictable. However, expectations and results themselves being two different things, the 2009 Suoni Per Il Popolo proved to be, as far as jazz and improvised music are concerned, an overall enjoyable if only comfortable experience.

One concert that certainly defied all expectations was that of Instant Coffee, the trio of Lisle Ellis (double bass and electronics), MC Schmidt (synthesizers, percussion, hi-hat and whatever happened to be at hand) and Jason Willet (electronics). With such a combination of musicians sharing different backgrounds and instruments, everything was possible. Yet, the result was surprisingly coherent and it was fascinating to witness Schmidt, a musician with a very acute sound sensibility, create music out of the oddest objects and situations imaginable, such as processing the sound of throwing many small percussion instruments into his darbouka, as well as the contents of his pockets including his glasses and cell phone, which naturally was to ring a few seconds later. After 45 minutes, this trio merged into a quartet composed of Ellis, Diane Labrosse (sampler), Pierre Tanguay (drums) and John Heward (percussion, canvas-throwing and recitations). They certainly placed themselves in a difficult framework and, while not entirely successful, their 20-minute set had some interesting moments.

One of the most awaited events, if not the most, was Monk's Casino. Maybe it was the return of pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach to Montreal after many years, the rare opportunity to hear Rudi Mahall and Axel D?rner or simply the appeal of Monk's music, but people showed up more than an hour before doors opened and, once they were, some even ran to get first row seats! A first in nine editions... Musically, it was faithful to the triple-CD set published by Intakt Records in 2005. One's appreciation of the performance was therefore most likely faithful to that of the CD's. What one doesn't get on disc though is comedy. Throughout the two sets, there were numerous jokes. For example, during Jan Roder's solo in "Monk's Dream," Mahall, Dorner and drummer Uli Jennessen left the room, thus prompting some falsely-concerned looks and facial expressions from the bassist. Such humorous moments did distract a little from the music itself during the second set where there were more of them.

One nice thing about festivals is the opportunity they represent for audiences, assuming they have enough curiosity, to be exposed to musicians with whom they are unfamiliar. Such concerts can be a great source of excitement. In this respect, Flymodus' concert at Centro Gallego certainly turned out to be the most rewarding of this year's Suoni Per Il Popolo even though, to be perfectly honest, their set was a little lackluster. Flymodus is a Norwegian duo composed of Martin Taxt on amplified tuba and Havard Volden on acoustic 12-string tabletop guitar and electronics. Roughly speaking, their music would be best described as leaning towards the low-volume, small-dynamic and sound-based pole of the improvised music spectrum. Indeed, Taxt often plays without a mouthpiece and focuses on breath, percussive low sound and squeaks obtained by rubbing the palm of his hands on his instrument. Often relying on a drone approach, Volden appeared as a little less mature than his musical partner for one is easily reminded of other tabletop guitarists, but perhaps his instrument being less spectacular than that of Taxt is partially responsible for this impression. Nevertheless, their visit to Montreal allowed for a nice discovery that left many wanting to hear more of these still young musicians.

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