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Suoni Per Il Popolo, Montreal, Canada, June 5-22, 2013

Mike Chamberlain By

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Suoni per Il Popolo
Casa del Popolo/Sala Rossa
Montreal, Canada
June 5-22, 2013

The Casa del Popolo and Sala Rossa mini-empire that Mauro Pezzente and Kiva Stimac started on upper St-Laurent Boulevard in September, 1990 boasts a high-level eclectic program throughout the year, but the annual Suoni per Il Popolo festival concentrates special events and visits by "star" performers during the two-and-a-half weeks of the festival, the 2013 edition beginning on June 5 and running until June 22.

This year's edition had, as usual, a strong cohort of avant jazz performances, from the duo of Peter Brötzmann and Joe McPhee, three evenings of performances curated by Ken Vandermark, and a rare Montreal appearance by guitarist extraordinaire, Joe Morris.

My own Suoni experience this year began on Wednesday, June 12 with a performance of compositions by violinist Malcolm Goldstein, played by Montreal bassist/composer Nicolas Caloia's Ratchet Orchestra, a long-running workshop-type aggregation normally dedicated to playing Caloia's compositions. The highlight of the set was "Two Silences," a 12-minute piece that had each musician play a single, held note each, over and over before a short silence, repeating the first section (same note), a second short silence, and then the final section, with the musicians playing a different held note repeatedly until the end. Out of these minimal compositional elements emerged a suspenseful and compelling study in texture and timbre.

Following the Ratchet set, the action moved across the street to the back room of the Casa, where guitarist Bill Orcutt and drummer Cris Corsano cranked out a high-energy set of slashing, grinding guitar and all-over-the-kit drum explosions—total rock and roll, totally compelling.

Bassist William Parker has probably appeared at the Casa and Sala more times than any other out-of-town musician, save perhaps Ken Vandermark, and he made his first appearance at this year's Suoni at the Sala Rossa on Thursday, June 13 in the company of drummer Hamid Drake, saxophonist Kidd Jordan, clarinetist Louis Sclavis, and pianist Francois Tusques, a group dubbing itself the French-American Peace Ensemble. The performance was preceded by Amine Kouider's short documentary on the late David S. Ware, David S. Ware: A World of Sound. The septugenarian Jordan was the star of the evening, a formidable force, playing with indomitable will and endless inventiveness, coming from a deep wellspring of the soul.

The first set ended with Jordan playing the last part of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965) after a long section in which the quintet moved through various motifs as the saxophonist played one long solo line. The first improvisation in the second set began with a Drake drum solo, deeply African-tinged, and then moved into a Thelonious Monk-ish ragtime-to- notime solo passage by Tusques, before Jordan stepped in with a string of beautiful ideas as the rest of the band churned furiously, playing with a power and endurance that belied his age. Not two minutes after this long solo, Jordan was in full gunslinger saxophone mode in the second piece of the set, using every part of the width of the groove laid down by Parker and Drake. Tusques was a revelation, with angular chord phrasings and stretching of rhythmic space. The piece ended with Drake playing off of Parker's bowed bass and then breaking up the rhythm before moving back into a tighter groove into which Jordan stepped with three and four-note bursts. A hard-swinging free section followed, as Sclavis joined in before Drake brought it all down and the saxophonist and clarinetist played a blues lament which, in the New Orleans funeral march tradition, became a celebration on the way home, ending on a long, blue note. This was deeply spiritual "creole" music, the quintet playing for David S. Ware, indeed as if for their very lives.

Longtime Casa/Sala friend Ken Vandermark came along with a number of his musical friends for a series of performances beginning on Sunday, June 17 at the Casa. The back room was packed as John Butcher kicked off the evening with a solo set, followed by the duo of drummer Paul Lytton and trumpeter Nate Wooley, followed by the duo of Butcher and guitarist Andy Moor of The Ex. As might be expected, the music was a textured and nuanced exploration of extended techniques, the aleatoric musical elements from the Casa lounge in the next room leaking through the wood wall of the concert space.

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