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Suoni Per Il Popolo 2018

Suoni Per Il Popolo 2018
Mike Chamberlain By

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Suoni Per Il Popolo
Montreal, Quebec
June 1-19, 2018

The Casa del Popolo and Sala Rossa, the hub of the annual June celebration of avant music known as the Suoni Per Il Popolo, sit across from one another on Saint Laurent Boulevard just below the major intersection of Saint Joseph. Likewise, for its three weeks, the the Suoni is an intersection for many of the most interesting musicians in the world. Musicians come to town, hang out for a few days, meet old friends and new, and of course, play some music.

Typically, the program for each evening consists of a set by each of two ensembles. Musicians and members of the audience mingle before, between, and after each set. Connections are made, friendships are strengthened, drinks and cigarettes are consumed. And everyone talks about what a great city Montreal is. They say this because it's June, not February.

Montreal is two different cities: one in the winter, and one in the summer. Montreal never feels more like the perfect hybrid North American/European city than in the summer—everyone out on the streets, a multicoloured laissez-faire parade that maintains a wacky decorum. The Suoni is part of that, a medium-sized and ambitious festival, run on a human scale, as befits the music, and the city.

This year's lineup of free jazz and improvised music was among the best in the 18 years of the Suoni, a blessing after what seemed like an endless winter.

My trip through the festival began at the Sala Rossa, on June 4, when the trio of Susan Alcorn, Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark, presented a set of airy, delicate textures in which McPhee and Vandermark, uncharacteristically for him in my experience, employed long vibratoless tones that wound above and within, variously, of Alcorn's shimmering vibrations on her pedal steel guitar. Slow blues and romantic microtonality.

The Wednesday, June 6 program at the Sala featured Chicagoans Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy along with Ghanaian balaphone player SK Kakraba. The opening duo set by Rempis and Daisy was underpinned by the heavy African influence in Daisy's drumming, which focused on the toms. Kakraba followed with a set on balaphone, of a type particular to his own Ghanaian tribe, which has fourteen keys and a type of metal vibrator that gives the instrument a certain twang. Rempis and Daisy then joined Kakraba for 30-45 minutes of soulful grooving. My takeaway from the evening was the inventiveness and subtlety of Daisy's drumming, the incisive lines from Rempis on tenor, and the exuberance of SK Kakraba.

The next evening featured the duo of Kahil El'Zabar and David Murray, who were preceded by Castor et Compagnie, the latest project by Montreal's Joane Hetu, the grand dame of the Ambiances Magnetiques family. The set was something of a stripped-down quintet version of Ensemble Supermusique, with Jean Derome, Pierre Tanguay, and Diane Labrosse, in which Hetu's usual musique actuelle approach to old and new compositions added a dimension of funkiness not normally heard from these musicians, while employing the small instruments and poetic word and sound play that one has come to expect from her.

El'Zabar and Murray's set was an intimate, happy affair, charming and beautiful. The two appeared a bit tired, which probably helped, as they moved slowly and deliberately through the music, which was imbued with a deep blues feeling. Murray even threw in a version of "Summertime," which, in his hands, did not sound hokey at all.

For many years, Casa majordomo Mauro Pezzente had wanted to bring Milford Graves to the Suoni. This year, Pezzente finally got his man, as Graves appeared in duo with longtime festival friend William Parker at the Sala Rossa on Sunday, June 10. As one might imagine, this was no ordinary bass and drum duo, given Graves' idiosyncratic approach to the trap set and his singing, a kind of chanting The duo worked their way through a half-dozen improvisations, Parker switching from bass to gimbri back to bass and finished up by playing taragato, in a charming, amusing, and oh-so-groovy performance. Two old masters, two old friends, showing that they can still teach us a few things.

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