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Suoni Per Il Popolo 2016

Mike Chamberlain By

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Suoni Per Il Popolo
La Sala Rossa
Montréal, Canada
June 2-19, 2016

The final weekend of the 16th Suoni Per Il Popolo featured several notable performances by jazz-based artists: Myra Melford and Francois Bourassa; Luc Ex's Assemblee; and The Thing, with guest James Blood Ulmer.

The program by pianists Melford and Bourassa at the concert hall of the Conservatoire de Musique de Montreal on Thursday, June 16 was divided into three parts: solo sets of 20 minutes or so by Melford and Bourassa, respectively, and a duo set of about 40 minutes. Melford included a lovely rendering of Andrew Hill's "Images of Time" as well as several of her own pieces in a pointed and playful set. Montreal native Bourassa's playing was somehow both warm and probing while being emotionally engaging. In the duo set, Melford tended to steer the general direction of the improvisations as the two took turns in a friendly exchange of musical ideas. The two musicians clearly enjoyed playing together, and one hopes that the powers that be can bring them together again.

To my mind, the term "jazz fusion" conjures up thoughts of music that combines the least interesting parts of both rock and jazz into a smug celebration of virtuosity and self-regard. Luc Ex's Assemblee are what a fusion of jazz and rock should sound like. Comprised of Luc Ex on bass, Hamid Drake on drums, and Ingrid Laubrock and Ab Baars on reeds, the quartet shook La Sala Rossa on Saturday night with two sets of energy jazz. Ex's compositions are full of sudden shifts of mood, speed, and focus, long, languid dual tenor saxophones coloring the drive of Ex and the tasteful and fluid dynamism of Drake. The warm liquidity of Laubrock's tenor playing was especially compelling.

The next evening was, as expected with The Thing, equally as powerful. This was supposed to be the second night of their North American tour, but saxophonist Mats Gustafsson had gotten hung up in Heathrow on his way to their performance at the Something Else festival in Hamilton, Ontario the night before. Instead, Ken Vandermark joined bassist Ingebrigt Haker-Flauten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love for their first-ever performance as a trio. So, in fact, the Suoni show at the Sala was the first of the tour, with Ulmer guesting on guitar to boot. However, any doubts about where their heads were at were dispelled as soon as they took the stage. Ulmer played a series of chords up and down the fretboard, and as soon as he paused for a bit of musical breath, the Scandinavian trio absolutely tore into the music with a blast of high volume roaring tenor from Gustafsson, Haker-Flauten digging in on bass, and Nilssen-Love pushing the whole thing forward with his usual power and inventiveness.

This performance was apparently the third time that Ulmer had played with The Thing. It is always interesting to see how the Scandinavians interact with their guests. They are such a tight group who have been playing together a long time, and the presence of a guest can potentially unbalance the equation. The trio, however, managed to make space for Ulmer, and his slightly fractured sense of time fit in well with The Thing's approach. This was an unusual but highly satisfying ninety or so minutes of high-powered, on-the-edge improvising.

The Suoni did not feature as many "jazz" performances as in year's past, but fortunately, those presented were of a very high quality. One hopes that there will be a few more next year.

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