Suoni per il Popolo Festival
June 1-27, 2007
The Suoni per il Popolo is an annual festival organized by the people running Casa del Popolo and La Sala Rossa, two of Montreal's most important venues for new music. Since its beginning in 2001, the festival has established itself as a key event in the city's musical life. The seventh edition proved that Suoni per il Popolo has not only reached an undeniable maturity but become one of the most important musical attractions of its kind in North America.
Suoni per il Popolo has never dedicated itself to a single musical genre but rather favored practices that push back boundaries and challenge the status quo. The 2007 edition was as true to this philosophy as ever. First, the festival seems to have achieved a good equilibrium among various idioms. With concerts by the likes of Marc Ribot, the Rob Brown Quartet, Hamid Drake's Bindu, Phill Niblock, Matana Roberts' Coin Coin, Alexandre St-Onge, The Evens, Ensemble SuperMusique, Halim El-Dabh's Barking Dog Sextet and Jandek among many others, there was enough variety to appeal to anyone's musical curiosity without falling into the trap of a willy-nilly sampling. Second, while none of the concerts was likely to change the future of music, most performances definitely pointed forward, providing audiences with fresh, unfamiliar ideas to chew on or, at the very least, to discuss.
On a strictly musical level, most concerts at this year's Suoni Per Il Popolo proved to be very good aesthetically and satisfying personally. On June 11, French contrabassist-extraordinaire Joëlle Léandre presented a new trio, with clarinetist François Houle and violinist Mat Maneri. Despite being not totally polished like many first meetings, the music was very focused and serious yet alive. On the 25th, the ICP Orchestra stopped by La Sala Rossa as part of a small Canadian tour to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Instant Composers Pool organization. The 10-piece band played compositions such as Misha Mengelberg's "Kneushoorn," "Zombie Zua and "Habanera," Tristan Honsinger's "Bird Brain," Ab Baars' "Misha Passed the Donkey and Monk's "Locomotive and "Jackie-ing." The interpretations were perhaps less chaotic and less oriented towards self-sabotage than usual, while the ensemble was tight as ever, demonstrating how versatile these musicians are. One particularly great moment occurred during "Misha Passed the Donkey, when Baars, Michael Moore and Tobias Delius created long and piercing tones using the clarinet's higher register. Additionally, hints of Ellington and Monk in most of the themes were nothing less than charming.
But the highlights of the 2007 Suoni per il Popolo definitely were three: the meeting of John Butcher and Martin Tétreault, the Sten Sandell Trio and The Ex. No matter how good the others were, these three concerts were in a class of their own, deserving a place in the annals of the festival's history.
This year marked the return of Butcher after his amazing solo set in 2003. The evening started with a solo improvisation by Tétreault. Using turntables, LPs, effect pedals and a mixer, he created an ever- changing low rumble of static and surface noises. It was fascinating music, if only for its extemporaneous, serendipitous development. Indeed, Tétreault let the sounds unfold naturally in a succession of beautiful accidents, his role mainly consisting of moving interesting ones to the forefront. Butcher then performed a stunning 15-minute improvisation on tenor saxophone. It made clear that sound takes place in a medium and context, in that the sounds he produced multiphonics, feedback, tongue slaps, etc. were as important as their interaction with the acoustics of the Casa del Popolo. The second part saw the two musicians playing as a duo for the first time. Again, it was improvised music at its very bestin terms of interplay, complementing of sounds, structure of the improvisations. The attentive ear could not help but notice indecisiveness at times but the overall quality of the music was so impressive and theunfortunately smallaudience so receptive that these details did not matter.
In comparison, the Sten Sandell Trio was less radical sound-wise and remained closer to the tradition of European free improvisation. Yet, the 65-minute set performed by pianist Sandell, contrabassist Johan Berthling and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love was a constant amazement. All musicians shone throughout. Nilssen-Love, especially, was at his most convincing. By not requiring a full-blown assault, the trio's attention to dynamics allowed him to be loud and active at times but also restrained and sparse at others. His work with small cymbals was a nice complement to Sandell's piano. Still, apart from such individual contributions, the trio as a whole really stood out for the flow of ideas, integrated in that cohesive and imaginative way characteristic of a great band on a great night.
In a totally different register, The Ex' two concerts were also highlights of the festival. Now a quartet, The Ex played an 80-minute concert that included new songs, three from 2004's Turn and two classics originally recorded with the late Tom Cora: "Hidegen fújnak a szelek and "State of Shock." These two concerts proved once again that The Ex is one of the best live acts around. Seeing them on the small stage of La Sala Rossa had to be nothing less than magical for the feverish, responsive 200-something crowd.
It goes without saying that a few concerts were less conclusively successful. However, these were too few to taint the positive impression one got from attending Suoni per il Popolo. Indeed, the 2007 edition was definitely the best yet as well as one of the most satisfying events presented in this city in recent years. The dates of the 2008 Suoni per il Popolo should be circled on the calendar of music aficionadosif only to to serve as a reminder of an event not to be missed.