Halvorson's playing seems to have grown along with the size of her ensemble. She's always been a bold guitarist but with this new band she's demanding greater versatility of herself. She did stomp on the overdrive now and again, but for the most part let the warm voice of her big hollowbody come through with less electronic augmentation than she has often used in the past. While the moods swunga jazzy progression banged and fuzzed, a proggy vamp delivered with surprising delicacy, even something like a calypso through a prismthe structure continually shifted and remained solid.
The New York/New England power trio Spanish Donkey laid a heavy, heavy drone with a scream of what truly sounded like Jimi Hendrix
-induced controlled feedback. The set may have been a shock to people who think guitarist Joe Morris
and keyboardist Jamie Saft
permanently reside on the polite side of avant jazz. Saft and drummer Mike Pride
erect monoliths of sound under the name Kalashnakov, and seem to be concerned first and foremost in the trio with reframing Morris' playing. Morris, of course, is more than there for the challenge, and if an idiosyncratic single-note style is what he's best known for, he's also taken to bass, banjo, mandolin and ukulele, so Spanish Donkey is hardly the pony's second trick. At FIMAV, the aural onslaught was heightened by a rigorously democratic mix: everything was at such an even level, including a buzzing synth that stayed just safe of subsuming them all, that at times the only way the noisy keyboards and harsh guitar could be differentiated was by virtue of the players' body language. When on occasion the smoke cleared, Middle Eastern riffs and psychedelic organ became apparent.
Reinvention was key to a set by Quebec's Maïkotron Unit with Connecticut-based trumpeter Stephen Haynes
. While they were, on the one hand, a classic piano-less quartet, the unit had a way of shape-shifting with instruments they'd morphed in advance. Frankenstein monsters of brass and reeds filled the stage: a double-reed soprano sax with an elongated neck, a trumpet body held vertical with a clarinet mouthpiece, a rather unholy sousaphone and a fairly ingenious system for mechanized mutings. But more to the point, Michel and Pierre Côté (a pair of brothers unrelated to Ambiances Magnétiques' Michel F. Côté) have learned how to play their hybrids, how to trap air and nudge it through the tubes. The quiet flutters of the ill-begotten instruments made for nice contrast with their passages of free jazz.
There are many ways to weigh a music festival, and one that might be a bit too demanding a measure is perfection. Perfection can be fleeting, and is too nebulous to really pin down. There were several moments of perfection during the 2012 FIMAV, but one stands out as the sort of thing it often takes a such festival to pull together. Manitoba-born, Berlin-based bassist Miles Perkins
convened a quartet with British trumpeter Tom Arthurs
, French pianist Benoit Delbecq
and Canadian drummer Thom Gossage
that delivered pure and serene abstraction. The music was soft and beautifully intricate, accented by mellow flugelhorn and subtle piano preparations. They played open-ended compositions with open improvisation; they played something like jazz and something like new music; and they played together with never a misstep. The point of a term like musique actuelle
, or "music of the present," is to defy definition, but there could be worse things than if the Miles Perkin Quartet was offered up, by way of example, as a definition of the art.Photo Credit
All Photos: Martin Morissette