Sometimes we may move towards the fringes of jazz or free improv. This beautiful album is more avant-garde classical, yet nevertheless of posssible interest to the readers of this blog. The musicians are Ida Toninato on baritone sax, hailing from Strasbourg in France, and Jennifer Thiessen, playing viola d’amore, and hailing from Manitoba in Canada.
Thiessen is very active in modern classical music and in baroque music with the ensemble Cénacle, she even if she took some steps into pop music with her band Daily Alice.
Toninato comes from a more experimental background, exploring reverberant spaces with uncommon acoustics, with her solo debut album Strangeness Is Gratitude as a wonderful example of that approach. She also works with Ana Dall’Ara-Majek as Jane/KIN, creating performances that mix spatialisation and improvisation.
Their music is spacious, calm, intense, slowly and cautiously progressing, creating timbres and resonance and pursuing them further as they grow and change. In contrast to even modern classical music, there are no obvious patterns or melodies to discern, but a drone-like shimmering of solemn sounds that explore each other around a space of silence. Despite their differences in background and perspective, both musicians find each other perfectly in the deep and central register of their instruments, which are almost always played with a gentle traditional approach.
On the last track Toninato adds some wordless singing and even if I usually hate this, somehow it works here.
It’s great to hear two young musicians perform in a duo with unusual instruments and coming from different perspectives and continents, and find such a strong common ground and sound. The whole album is solid and with a clear central vision on their music: coherent, beautifully performed and with a unique sound. They find each other in the space between them, and they delight us. What more do you want?
Stridences enfin (mais pas que) chez les partenaires d’une belle rencontre entre le Français Xavier Charles (clarinette), l’Autrichien Franz Hautzinger (trompette) et les Canadiens Philippe Lauzier (clarinette basse), Michel F Côté (batterie) et Eric Normand (basse électrique et caisse claire). Enregistré en concert dans le cadre du festival Musique de Création de Jonquière (Canada), les huit plages de Torche! portent bien leur nom: captivants départs de feu, craquements toniques et belles incandescences, voilà de quoi devenir pyromane!
While his previous conceptual works, like Canot Camping, conjured paddling through streams, Jean Derome considers waves and currents of a different kind on Résistances — a paean to the hum, crackle, and fizz of electricity. After receiving its premiere at the 2015 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, this work was recorded at the rehearsals and second concert performance at the Gesù Amphitheatre in Montréal in March 2017.
While the technical world of circuits may seem distant from the experience of communing with nature on a camping trip, both works share Derome’s primary modus operandi: find a topic, research its details and how to represent them through sound, invite a diverse group of top musicians to participate, and alternate composed sections with directed improvisation through the use of over 140 hand signals developed and refined over decades of experience.
A group of twenty veterans and relative newcomers to Montréal’s musique actuelle scene contribute to this sixteen-part hour-long work. The musicians play roughly equal numbers of electric and acoustic instruments, including various synthesizers, turntables, electric guitars, and basses, along with woodwinds, horns, strings, and drums. A group sound dominates throughout, and very little soloing. The instruments fuse well, with more textural similarity than one might expect from such a diverse lineup, the acoustic instruments’ extended techniques merging seamlessly with the electronics. Résistances flows through sections that range from minimalistic drones featuring 60 Hz buzzing to swinging big-band movements that positively surge with energy.
In its first twenty years under founders Danielle Palardy Roger and Joane Hétu, Montréal’s Ensemble SuperMusique has established itself as Canada’s most broadly exploratory midsize ensemble (here numbering thirteen), investigating and combining contemporary composition, graphic notation, and collective improvisation. Les porteuses d’Ô presents interpretations of three recent graphic scores, each of which has strongly programmatic content and challenges the ensemble in different ways.
Roger’s En arrivant par le nuage de Oort (2014—15) is a graphic score that resembles conventional notation, creating an ambiguous ground for the members of the ensemble. The work describes a cosmic journey from the Oort Cloud — the ring of comets orbiting the sun at the outer edges of the solar system — to the sun itself. It’s a journey from darkness to absolute light, marked by rising pitch and volume, accelerating events, and an expansion of orchestral colour that grows in intensity throughout its thirteen-minute duration. It’s a singular, initially gradual movement, but the passage through space is marked by sudden flashes of brilliance.
Hétu’s Préoccupant, c’est préoccupant (2015—17) the CD’s centrepiece, is inspired by “various concerns that can insidiously interfere in our lives.” There are four concerns here, two with multiple forms: falling from high (including effervescence and fainting), states (coup d’états and states of mind), bitter oranges (an inspired list of expired foods, among them putrid steak and rancid nuts: the items are called out throughout the work’s duration), and the “tone of your voice.” The musicians follow a sequence of words, drawings and colours, and the piece teems with high spirits, good humour and explosive invention, highlighted by a duet between Hétu (voice) and Jean Derome (alto saxophone).
B.C. composer Lisa Cay Miller’s Water Carrier (2017), is inspired by issues of water rights in Canada and uses mixed materials, including graphic scoring (a checkerboard), standard rhythmic notation, and free improvisation. No detailed programmatic concordance to the work is supplied, but it abounds in unusual textures, including a full-ensemble passage in which Ensemble SuperMusique’s horns and rhythm section sound like a traditional jazz big band, while the strings play contrasting parts from the vocabulary of European high modernism. Other unlikely textures include the opening passage in which grinding, discordant, bowed strings give way to episodic, liquid intrusions from Bernard Falaise’s guitar amid consonant pizzicato passages.
Each of these highly inventive, heterodox works gains immensely from the Ensemble’s precision and improvisatory skills, making the most of these pieces whatever their specific demands.