Casa del Popolo, Sala Rossa, La Vitrola
Suoni Per Il Popolo
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
June 1-24, 2017
This year's edition of the Suoni per il Popolo, or Suoni as it is popularly known, was the 17th since the inception of Mauro Pezzente and Kiva Stimac's Casa del Popolo mini-empire, which also encompasses venues La Sala Rossa and La Vitrola on Montreal's St-Laurent Boulevard. For lovers of avant-garde musics, the Suoni has become a bucket list event, as the locus of venues becomes the best place in the world to be during the first three weeks of June.
The festival program is eclectic, to say the least, and while outside jazz/creative music always has a big part in the schedule, this year's schedule was jam-packed in that regard, and this review will focus on some of those performances.
The festival began on June 1 with events dedicated to the memory of Pauline Oliveros
, in conjunction with the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI). As a member of IISCI, Oliveros had been involved in planning a series of events, including a display of Oliveros scores, notes, recordings, interactive sites, etc, at the McGill University music library to commemorate her 85th birthday on May 29. However, at the time of her passing in November, Oliveros was apparently unaware of the plans for a musical tribute to her, in the form of an evening of music composed by former students and inspired by or dedicated to Oliveros in some way.
For anyone who might be visiting Montreal this summer, the Oliveros exhibit at the McGill University music library is a must-see. The opening was preceded by a real-time Second Life performance with musicians in different parts of the world, their avatars projected on a screen, along with four musicians on a stage at McGill's music faculty. Friday night's tribute at the Sala Rossa was somewhat more conventionally staged, as an assembly of nine mostly Montreal musicians (Marianne Trudel
, Lori Freedman, Isaiah Ceccarelli
, Jennifer Thiessen and others)sympathetically interpreted the compositions dedicated to Pauline Oliveros, whose spirit was very present in the room and at the events as a whole. It really was too bad that the great lady could not have been there in earthly form, for she surely would have enjoyed it.
One could write a full-length review that only comprised the concerts that I missed, for one reason or another. Among them were performances by Phill Niblock
, Peggy Lee
with Mary Margaret O'Hara, Alan Licht, the Anthony Braxton
Sextet, and Perch Hen Brock & Rain. Fortunately, there was a lot of other interesting music on offer, so I will focus on what I did see.
The duo of saxophonist Peter Brötzmann
and steel guitarist Heather Leigh
had the stage at the Sala Rossa on Tuesday, June 6. This unlikely pairing has received critical acclaim for their 2016 recording Ears Are Filled With Wonder (Not Two), so the concert was highly anticipated. Normally, I prefer to listen to improvised and/or so-called creative music in a live setting, as the mood of the particular performance is more readily apprehended when all one's senses are employed. However, this performance did not really work for me, as it seemed to be caught between the atmospherics of the pairing of steel guitar and reed instruments (tenor sax and clarinet) and the urge to move forward the music forward, without a clear direction of where to go. This may have been a bad night or a case of unrealistic expectations on my part. Fortunately, I will be able to hear the duo again this year at Jazz em Agosto in Lisbon, and I hope to appreciate them more that time. In any event, you will be able to read my review of Jazz em Agosto on AllAboutJazz.
Chicago-based saxophonist Dave Rempis
has been on a tour since February in which he plays a solo set and then a set with local musicians, and he stopped at the Casa del Popolo on Thursday, June 8 for his Montreal date on the tour. Rempis did five improvisations, three on alto sax and two on tenor. Rempis's playing is both ruminative and forceful, as he likes to work off of arpeggiated phrases from which he launches explorations and then turns back. His set with bassist Aaron Lumley and drummer Michel Lambert
hit the stage running, and didn't let up for the length of the 45-minute set. The playing was nimble and intuitive, as the trio displayed excellent musical communication.
On Sunday, June 11, the Casa was graced by Joe McPhee
accompanied by Montreal drummer John Heward
, longtime musical associates through their work in Trio X
with the late Dominic Duval
on bass. Heward is a painter and sculptor, and his playing is subdued and impressionistic, a perfect backdrop to McPhee's soulful expressionism. McPhee stuck mostly to tenor saxophone, with a couple of forays on pocket trumpet. As usual, his playing was right on time all the time, with spoken reminders that we have to stand for what we believe, but we have to do it with love.
Moving along into the second full week of the Suoni, the free jazz power trio Icepick: Nate Woolley
(trumpet), Ingebrikt Haker-Flauten (bass), and Chris Corsano
(drums) tore up the Casa with a ferocious set on June 14. Nate Wooley has become one of the most important musicians on the current scene, with his ferocious chops and advanced musical conceptions. Technically brilliant, with a full range of conventional and extended techniques at his command, Wooley can go from lyrical to raging emotionalism on the turn of a note, and make it all sound perfectly logical. Haker-Flauten and Corsano provided a roiling drive behind Woolley. I must mention the lovely set by a young Montreal trumpet player named Emily Denson, who opened for Icepick. Her pieces were well thought-out, witty and pointed. It was a pleasure to see such a promising young musician.
The next evening saw a full house at the Sala for a solo set by Roscoe Mitchell
. Mitchell is one of the elder masters, (Peter Brotzmann and Joe McPhee also fit into this category), who it is a privilege to see perform. It is not simply for the brilliance of their playing but for the fact that a man like Roscoe Mitchell carries so much history, musical and personal, in his playing and his example. The fire burns just as fiercely in Roscoe Mitchell today as ever. His three piecesone on sopranino, one on tenor, and one on soprano saxwere sound explorations by Mitchell that went deep into his well of life experience, worrying phrases until he'd found everything they could offer him. Clean.
The final week of the festival featured a double bill of Kaze
, the quartet of pianist/composer Satoko Fujii
, trumpeters Natsuki Tamura
and Christian Pruvost
, and drummer Peter Orins
, and Gordon Grdina
's Haram. These are two totally different groups, but who cared? Each offered their own kind of fun.
Kaze are now on their third North American tour, and the Sala show on Tuesday, January 20, was the second date of the tour. Having somewhat overcome jet lag and the complexities of working in new compositions by Fujii, the group was tight and sharp in Montreal. Fujii was aggressive and at her playful best, working a lot inside the piano and prodding the "three guys." There are generally two focal points with Kaze: the trumpets of Tamura and Pruvost, and the drums and piano of Orins and Fujii. When the internal dynamic of each duo works, the interplay between the two duos is facilitated as they work their way through Fujii's compositions. On this night, everything was in sync, and with the requisite looseness built into the structure of the music (Fujii loves to make a mess, so she claims), we were treated to a challenging and satisfying performance.
Grdina's large group Haram mixes Middle Eastern music, funk, R and B, and free jazz in a gloriously swinging fashion. On one side of the stage is the Middle Eastern quartet: Grdina's Iraqi oud, ney, percussion, the horn section opposite, with the hard driving rhythm section of Kent Loewen and Tommy Babin in the middle. The group had just come back from a European tour and were happy to be in Montreal, and it showed in the playing, which was tight and focused, polyrhythmic and soulful, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek zany. We're talking serious fun, and it was a good final memory of the Suoni Per Il Popolo 2017.