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Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival 2008

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The 2008 edition distinguished itself with an ambitious series dedicated to large ensembles.
Suoni Per Il Popolo 2008
Festival of Avant-Garde and Experimental Liberation Music
Montreal, Quebec
June 1-30, 2008

The 2007 edition of the Suoni Per Il Popolo had marked a transition in its development in that it showed consistency and maturity. It therefore created great expectations for this year's edition of the month-long festival. Now that the last notes have been played, there is no doubt that the Suoni Per Il Popolo met those expectations.

The 2008 edition distinguished itself with an ambitious series dedicated to large ensembles. The highlight without a doubt was Sam Shalabi's Land of Kush, a 30-piece band modeled after the Egyptian orchestras of the Nasser era, featuring strings, winds, guitars, electronics, percussion as well as four different vocalists and the leader's oud. The concert consisted of a 60-minute composition entitled Against the Day, inspired by Thomas Pynchon's epic novel. While remaining faithful to his twisted take on Egyptian and experimental music, Against the Day turned out to be Shalabi's best-crafted composition for the large ensemble format and, incidentally, his most accessible music. Another highpoint of the series was the Ratchet Orchestra, a 26- piece ensemble led by bassist Nicolas Caloia. The mix of original compositions and Sun Ra covers emphasized Caloia's singular conception of the jazz orchestra. One can only hope this series will become permanent.

This year was also characterized by two collaborations. First, the Improvisation, Community and Social Practice research project organized its two-day meeting to coincide with the festival. This resulted in the McGill-Suoni Per Il Popolo Improvisation Colloquium, with talks during the day and concerts at night, including a solo concert by keynote speaker Roscoe Mitchell. While the crowd was delighted by the whole evening, the two opening pieces were particularly remarkable. Performed on soprano saxophone, the first was an improvisation—at least everything suggested it was—based on breath and its effects on sound. Apart from isolated notes punctuating the piece, the overarching structure emerged from variations of intensity and grain proceeding from players' breathing. The second, for which Mitchell switched to alto saxophone, was at the complete opposite of the tempo-textural spectrum. Whereas the first was slow and quiet, the later was fast and loud and was mainly built upon the repetition of a single phrase using circular breathing.

Second, two evenings were organized together with L'Off Festival de Jazz de Montreal. One marked the return of the Sun Ra Arkestra while the other featured three excellent sets starting with the very first meeting of Philippe Lauzier (alto saxophone and bass clarinet), Pierre-Yves Martel (viola da gamba), Martin Tetreault (turntables) and, from Norway, Kim Myhr (classical guitar, zithers and other objects).

Working at a low volume, the quartet moved from drone-like sections based on multiphonics and bowed strings to agitated passages marked by tongue slaps, pinched strings and percussive sound coming from Tetreault's abuse of needles. All Up In There—a trio with Gordon Allen on trumpet, Frank Martel on theremin and Michel Cote on drums—performed second. Their opening 25-minute improvisation ranks among the finest moments of the Montreal music year so far. The trumpet and theremin fused into a single voice perfectly complemented by Cote either through the use of his drum kit in a percussive manner or of hand-held microphones plugged into small amplifiers that distorted the sound of his kit by generating feedback. The second short improvisation seemed not as conclusive a success, but maybe it paled only in comparison. The evening concluded with a convincing hour-long set by Barnyard Drama, the quartet comprising drummer Jean Martin, vocalist Christine Duncan and guitarists Justin Haynes and Bernard Falaise.

Despite the memorable improvisation of All Up In There, from the perspective of jazz and improvised music, the standout concert of the festival surely was that of the trio of Evan Parker, Barry Guy and Paul Lytton. In a way, it was perfectly faithful to one's expectations— fast-paced, dense and tightly-knit music that gives one the impression of being in vortex. It was also wonderful, perhaps paradoxically so considering how important innovation is in the world of improvised music. Indeed, Parker, Guy and Lytton are simply masters at what they do: the execution, the listening and the interaction were of the highest level. Again, simply magnificent music. What more can one ask for?

And while some concerts inevitably turned out to be less exciting, none of the attended ones could be characterized as genuinely bad. Other strong moments of the month-long festival included concerts by Loren Connors, Olivia Block and Quatuor Bozzini with guest Malcolm Goldstein, during which the Montreal-based string quartet interpreted a conceptually rich new work by Jean Derome and Joane Hetu.


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