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

Mike Chamberlain By

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The sets at the Casa two nights later—with a trio comprised of Vandermark, Wooley and Lytton, followed by the duo of Paal Nilssen-Love and Terrie Ex, contained pleasant surprises from the musicians—Vandermark and Nilssen-Love in particular—that Montreal audiences have seen many times over the years, mainly in these same rooms. Despite all of his accomplishments as a bandleader, Vandermark rarely receives credit for his playing. The naysayers should have heard Vandermark this particular evening, as he showed a mastery of tone and breath on tenor and baritone saxophones and clarinet. The set with Wooley and Lytton was a study in acceleration/deceleration, tension and release, texture and tone, and overall inventiveness—at turns soft, focusing on the decay of the long-toned notes leaking out of Wooley's trumpet valves, and funky clarinet with a hint of New Orleans blues, all the way up to free blowing. Nilssen-Love and Terrie Ex might have been expected to blast out some punk-jazz, but instead opted for a quieter and more subtle approach, Ex working off two strings but ultimately slowing down and playing atmospherically, with Nilssen-Love cool, abstract, restrained.

The punk-jazz blowout would wait until Lean Left's performance the next evening, at a packed Sala Rossa. The show opened with a solo set by the always deep and unflinchingly human Joe McPhee, who spent much it playing soft, slow spirituals on a white plastic saxophone, music that incorporated bits of melody ("Amazing Grace," and was that "Danny Boy"?) that encapsulated the African-American experience: the griot, the mythic figure Legba limping along the road of life, the man who lives on a block where someone just got shot, the man on the horn telling you what he's seen and what he's dreamed. McPhee comes to these rooms quite frequently, and Montreal audiences know him well; on this night, in this red room, the best of the man was seen.

Lean Left followed, with a set of rocking high-speed free jazz improvisation. In fact, Terrie Ex was leaning right while Andy Moor was leaning left, but the one direction everyone was going was forward, in a roller coaster of speed and intensity—tight and intuitive, with everything up for grabs stylistically: spooky, fractured blues, Albert Ayler meets Sonic Youth, Slim Gaillard, honking R&B, angular punk, hard rock, and always, funk. A wonderful evening of music.

The final evening of the festival featured the Joe Morris Trio with William Parker and Charles Downs. Morris doesn't play in Montreal all that often, so this was a treat. Morris is an astonishing guitarist, intimidating in his ability to play out very advanced harmonic ideas at extremely high speeds. In the first half of the set, this side was seen, though less evident as the focus shifted to Parker and Downs as the music moved along. But the surprise of the festival was the opener, drummer/composer Mike Reed's latest project, People, Places & Things, which opened a lot of eyes with its forward-looking hard-bop that took in all of jazz history. The interplay between saxophonists Tim Haldeman, on tenor, and Greg Ward, on alto, was crisp, and Reed kicked the whole thing along with an absolutely sure sense of direction.

There was a remarkable buzz around this year's Suoni Per Il Popolo. The concerts were all very well-attended, and the performances were first-rate to outright stellar. Each evening, concert-goers shuttled between the two venues on opposite sides of St-Laurent. Between sets, patrons gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Sala or in the open-air courtyard/terrasse at the back of the Casa to smoke and converse.

Pezzente once said that he and Stimac regard the Suoni as a gift to themselves, but the critical role that the Casa and Sala have played in Montreal's outside music scene cannot be overstated. The spirit with which the Casa and Sala were conceived—and in which they carry on—is a gift on their part to people who care about having the space to take the music as far as the human spirit will allow.

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