Issued at a bargain price, it’s a generous introduction to the scene. — Coda Magazine, Canada
… not at all the disparate individual self-indulgences that might be expected… — e/i magazine, USA
4 groups, 4 full-length CDs: that’s the groundbreaking concept behind this specially priced box set from No Type to celebrate the burgeoning and already quite bewildering Montréal free improv scene. Montréal Free is not intended as a complete anthology of all that is happening in this bristling city, but rather as a persistent snapshot of what one might hear at the Casa del Popolo on boulevard Saint-Laurent, where these musicians and others regularly astound audiences. Thanks to this unique box set, you can now listen to these magical spontaneous constructions in the comfort of your own home. All you’ll be missing is the pint of cream ale.
Although recorded in studio for the occasion, the four groups featured on this 4CD release are quite representative of the new sound of Montréal live improv: fiercer, rawer, oscillating between the atmospheric and the confrontational, and relentlessly inventive. The audacity of the younger performers is matched by the sheer musical insight of the more experienced musicians. A collective match made in heaven--or is it hell? With Montréal Free, we are happy to offer the world with the first comprehensive, immersive excursion into the smoky backstreets of the North American Capital of Sin. Because there is far more to Montréal than smoked meat…
Featuring: Thierry Amar (GY!BE, Molasses), Chris Burns, Nicolas Caloia, Andrew Dickson, Will Glass, Jacques Gravel, John Heward, Jesse Levine, Philémon (Napalm Jazz), Sam Shalabi (Shalabi Effect), Alexandre St-Onge (Klaxon Gueule, Shalabi Effect) and Rainer Wiens. Cover paintings by John Heward. Inside art by Andrew Dickson and Billy Mavreas. Liner notes by Mathieu Bélanger.
This box set contains the following items:
- Composer(s): Thierry Amar, Chris Burns, Nicolas Caloia, Will Glass, Jacques Gravel, John Heward, Jesse Levine, Philémon, Sam Shalabi, Alexandre St-Onge, Rainer Wiens, Andrew Dickson
- Performer(s): Thierry Amar, Chris Burns, Nicolas Caloia, Will Glass, Jacques Gravel, John Heward, Jesse Levine, Philémon, Sam Shalabi, Alexandre St-Onge, Rainer Wiens, Andrew Dickson
- Author(s): Mathieu Bélanger
- Cover image: John Heward
- Graphic design: David Turgeon
4 × CD
Disc 1: Po, “Provocative Operations”
Disc 2: ’Gypt Gore
Disc 3: Burns / Caloia / Heward “Presence”
Disc 4: Balai Mécanique
- Label: No Type
- IMNT 0306/09 / 2003
- UCC 771028030620
- Total duration: 228:14
- 126 mm × 126 mm × 15 mm
- 115 g
“I start from where I am
which is not the same
as starting from nothing;
there is a lot in all/around us
all the time. Nothing
prearranged or anticipated.
It is just a matter of letting
whatever is necessary
come forth to be heard
which is not the same
as repetition of habits…”
… wrote Malcolm Goldstein of his own musical approach. Bursting from the past and looking towards the future, improvisation is written in time on the mode of instantaneity; oblivious of yesterday, not bothering about the future, living a forever ephemeral existence. Improvisation is, nonetheless, the primary engine behind the music of Balai Mécanique, ’Gypt Gore, Po as well as the trio of Chris Burns, Nicolas Caloia and John Heward. Improvisation being… fierce, visceral, disturbing, alive, many adjectives which are also true of these four Montréal-based bands.
Po embodies improvisation on a tight rope. Sam Shalabi, Rainer Wiens, Alexandre St-Onge, John Heward: when the ordinary transcends itself to become extraordinary. These four musicians have each developed a distinctive language with their instruments. Within this vague framework, sounds and silences interlock to compose a pluridimensional mosaic. Sam Shalabi, Rainer Wiens and Alexandre St-Onge fiddle with electric guitars and doublebass, picking and preparing every conceivable aspect of their instrument, while John Heward exploits the complete chromatic tonality of his drums and cymbals. Po’s musicians redefine their instruments by restraining what they are not, and by thinking differently of what they are.
Balai Mécanique is on the other side of this spectrum: six instruments that assume their own identity to the point of radicalism. The guitar screams, the alto saxophone yells, the bass trombone growls, while keyboard, doublebass and drums are hit on pitilessly. Balai Mécanique’s six musicians assemble a sonic vortex out of an incessant thread of notes. The result is an explosion of great magnitude which thrice knocked the Casa del Popolo’s audience on its seats. Balai Mécanique, or improvisation at its most intense, and most violent possibly…
In a certain way, ’Gypt Gore is in direct lineage with Balai Mécanique, particularly so far as ardour and intensity goes. The duo however is different enough, if only because of the sheer speed and perpetual entanglement of the notes. Like a torrent of sounds storming into your ears, Sam Shalabi’s electric guitar and Philémon’s alto saxophone shout themselves hoarse in unison in an ultimate detuned, grinding roar; a perfect symbiosis between two musicians that constantly answer each other without necessarily referring to each other’s words.
The trio of Chris Burns, Nicolas Caloia and John Heward takes the shape of an appropriation of difference: three horizons, three ensembles, three approaches, three musicians… Three parallel lines that cross in a multitude of points. In the same way as John Heward explores his drums and cymbals as a sculptor would, raw matter is a primary element of the trio’s approach. In this sense, it is more about sound than music. In fact, the musicality emerges out of the collage and disposition of sounds. But it also emerges out of the disposition of musicians. From the empty ensemble to the trio, not to forget duos and solos, Chris Burns’ guitar, Nicolas Caloia’s doublebass and John Heward’s drums make real every possible combination a trio allows: 1 x 0 + 3 x 1 + 3 x 2 + 1 x 3. The trio becomes an octet thanks to the art of combinations. Improvisation here serves as a substrate to identities.
Four different models which illustrate the richness of improvisation since, after all, it is none of this and much more than that all at once, improvisation being… free!
Some recommended items
In the press
For the last several years, especially since Mauro Pezzente and Kiva Stimac opened the Casa del Popolo on upper St-Laurent Boulevard, there has been a flourishing improvised music scene in Montréal. I mention the Casa because of the opportunity that a regular performance space has given to the members of Montréal’s improvising community to create a musical scene that brings together audience and artists. Many of those musicians appear on this 4-CD set, which is the first release by No Type. Issued at a bargain price, it’s a generous introduction to the scene.
The four groups are respectively, Po (John Heward, Sam Shalabi, Alexandre St-Onge, Rainer Wiens), ’Gypt Gore (Philémon, Shalabi, Thierry Amar, Andrew Dickson), the trio of Chris Burns, John Heward, and Nicolas Caloia, and Balai Mécanique (Amar, Will Glass, Jacques Gravel, Jesse Levine, Philémon, Shalabi). The disc captures the musicians literally in their own element. Po were recorded at Hotel2Tango, the forerunner (in a sense) of the Casa, ’Gypt Gore at saxophonist Philémon’s home and Hotel2Tango, and Balai Mecanique at La Sala Rossa, which is the sister concert space of the Casa. Only the Burns/Heward/Caloia trio was recorded in a studio.
Derek Bailey is the spiritual godiather of the four groups here. For one, guitarist Shalabi, who is the heart and soul of this quasi-collecuve, has described Bailey as “The Beatles” of improvised music. For another, each group includes at least one guitar player. Finally, all the groups, as far as I have seen them, operate as total improvisers.
As might be expected, this is all a rather hit-or-miss affair. There are moments when the musicians build up a fury of sound and others when they appear to be searching for the elusive element that will bring everything together. Of course, it’s in the searching, or rather, the desire to search, that one finds the joy.
No Type presents a four-CD set featuring four free jazz ensembles from a scene centred at Montréal’s Casa Del Popolo. Two elements that immediately impress about these groups is a prevalence of electric guitar, an instrument not widely used in free jazz. Secondly is a marked absence of any electronics whatsoever in a time where most new jazz seems to put electronic elements centre stage. ’Gypt Gore is the duo of saxophonist Philémon and Sam Shalabi on guitar. Both play their instruments with a restless energy bordering on attention deficit disorder, occasionally rising to the point of eruption into angry beehives of noise. The fiercest and largest of the ensembles is Balai Mecanique, a sextet that includes the duo from ’Gypt Gore plus Thierry Amar. Unlike some larger groups they are not “led” by a specific member, making the directions taken and changes made much more spontaneous. The changes within the undulating chaos are deceptively subtle. PO (or “Provocative Operations”) is a quartet featuring Mr. Shalabi for a third time, as well as Rainer Wiens on electric guitar. Wiens is a 15-year veteran of the jazz scene and has truckloads of tricks and treats to splinter the guitar’s usual sound. John Heward and Alexandre St-Onge round things out on drums and bass; their music is the most delicate and introspective of the lot, featuring much more air and space surrounding each note, but also the most daring in terms of improvisation. Finally there is the trio of Chris Burns, Nicolas Caloia and John Heward (trio Presence). Chris Burns’s guitar is more subdued and classic, playing full chords rather than picking notes and generating noise, but also perceptively detached from the bass and drums of the other players. Each of the three musicians often picks their own course and seems to cross paths only occasionally and accidentally at that.
Ostensibly a showcase for a quartet of groups, this 4-CD ‘box’ is actually a rostrum for Sam Shalabi (better known in the eponymous and justly lauded Shalabi Effect) and friends. It’s also ostensibly ‘free jazz’, as far as that tired old sobriquet will go, though ‘free music’ would probably be more apt, but suspicious. Even more to the impalpable point, the first CD documents the Po foursome, wherein the far fringes of a transmutational psychedelic consciousness invade the proceedings, so what we open with is an organic free interplay effort somewhat akin to portions of old Amon Duul II anarchy. With two guitars and a drumset capturing the front stage, what’s actually of seminal import is Alexandre St-Onge’s undercurrent contrabass work, the very plasma of each song, where and when it occurs. Feedback supplies surrogate keyboards and the group pays close attention to every shift in dynamics, thus this isn’t a completely random affair by any means. One merely need pay attention to follow the lines. The ’Gypt Gore disc dives straight into Philémon’s gabbling sax, with Shalabi tweedling his axe like an undistorted James Ulmer, both scampering for rabbit holes and skyhooks, jetting off in seven directions at once. Five of the nine tunes feature the pair racing through surprisingly coherent colloquy, not at all the disparate individual self-indulgences that might be expected, the otherfourfeature either Thierry Amar, bassist, bringing a more fidelitous mainstream taste into contrastive play, or a second guitarist. Stymie Stime is of immediate interest, as it pays tribute to and mocks rock and fusion guitarwork. Again, in each selection, a concentrated listen reveals the subtleties of intercourse within the duet. The Burns, Caloia, and Heward Trio populates the third disc and comes the closest to recognizable forms, but their deviational twist is what makes the seven cuts attractive. The trio, like ’Gypt Gore, breaks down fusion (little of this could be called jazz) with some reverence and a lot of sloppy grace but also a knowing grin, slowing it way down and presenting the measures in connected packets, seasoned with lightly scattered noise, though some cuts are pure sound generation and just as fetching. In sum, a lazy quaalude reverse-dithyramb for zoned essences. Balai Mécanique, a sixheaded hydra, closes out the set in riotous Trummerflora-ish fashion, a convocation of Jovians down for a weekend freak-and-gossip session. Four long songs, and three very short ones, give the visitants all the room they need to ramble, argue, hght, philosophize and loll about, which they do with uninhibited abandon. The most noticeable vibe to this is its collective nature, more intense and much thicker than the mating discs. Saving it as the final installment was a good choice; the listener (and the critic) exeunts flushed and sated.
Pour l’arrivée du beau temps, le jeune label Montréalais No Type tape fort avec la parution d’un coffret de quatre CDs (au prix de deux) documentant la scène d’improvisation libre qui gravite autour de la Casa del Popolo, nouvelle plaque tournante de la musique fraîche à Montréal. Si le coffret, magnifiquement illustré par l’artiste-percussionniste John Heward, regroupe principalement des musiciens appartenant à une nouvelle génération d’improvisateurs, on y retrouve aussi quelques vétérans: le spécialiste de la guitare préparée, Rainer Wiens, et, bien sûr. John Heward, qui fait preuve ici d’une incroyable sensibilité aux textures. Une des grandes qualité du coffret est qu’on y retrouve une liberté synonyme de personnalité et que les quatre disques ont chacun leur identité. L’ensemble d’ailleurs offre une grande diversité de registres et de tons. D’abord deux disques de guitares; celles de Wiens, toujours aussi intrigante, et du terrible Sam Shalabi qui, avec Alexandre St-Onge à la contrebasse et John Heward à la batterie, jouent en frottements et en textures au sein de l’ensemble PO; et puis le jeu risqué, jazzy et «fêlé du cerveau» de Chris Burns en trio avec Nicolas Caloia (cb) et Heward toujours à la batterie. L’égarement prend ici une valeur positive.
Sur les deux autres disques arrivent les instruments à vent dans un déferlement de solistes multiples et de polyphonie. D’abord le dangereux et aventureux dno ‘Gypt Gore, où Philémon (sax alto) et Sam Shalabi (guitare) - deux membres trés actifs de la nouvelle scène improvisée - mettent en commun leur frénésie et leur exubérance pour une aventure des plus enlevantes. Le duo plaira aux agités. Pour le quatrième et dernier disque nous retrouvons les deux ‘Gypt Gore accompagnés de leur bataillon de «mauvais chats» Balai Mécanique (Thierry Amar, cb; Jesse Levine, p; Jacques Gravel, trb et Will Glass, perc.) pour une improvisation collective qui rappelle d’avantage une certaine tradition du free jazz, mais qui garde une grande fraîcheur et qui réjouira les mordus du genre. Beaucoup de fougue. de risques, quelques accrochages font du coffret un véritable manifeste de la liberté. Au total 228 minutes de déroutes, de défonce et de plaisir pour les oreilles assoiffées. Ce coffret, portrait d’une scène active, risque de passer à l’histoire.
Montréal Free is a four-disc box set spotlighting four separate groups that explore the realm of free improv. All are regularly featured performers at Montréal’s Casa del Popolo, a club founded in 2000 by Mauro Pezzente of Godspeed and his partner Kiva Stimac.
The first group heard on this release features drummer John Heward, guitarist Sam Shalabi, bassist Alexandre St-Onge and the electric and prepared guitars of Rainer Wiens and is known as PO, an acronym for “provocative operations.” Collectively, they exploit textures with the emphasis being on coiling, twisting guitars, stirring arco bass reflections and vivacious drumplay. II for instance contains scratchy, abrasive guitar tones that eventually resolve into a mechanized industrialist motif. Distortion and guitar trickery have a role as well and eventually, Shalabi’s Arabic-tinged single note lines come to the fore. On the other hand, both IV and VI employ blustery and spirited bursts of energy, sometimes drawing upon repetitive patterns. While melodic content is distant and elusive, the explorative nature is intriguing.
Disc two features the duo of ’Gypt Gore comprised of saxophonist Philémon and the ubiquitous guitarist Sam Shalabi both of whom appear later with Balai Mechanique. The duo invites two guests to expand their sound on four separate tracks, bassist Thierry Amar (of GY!BE and several other ensembles) on two and guitarist Andrew Dickson on two. As for duo pieces like Angular Momentum, And everything that looks like you, and Chair à canon, the duo follows one methodology, that of full-tilt, mercurial force without much of an intermission. Shalabi’s craggy, angular guitar lines continually joust with Philémon’s abrasive, impassioned alto sax in a percussive maelstrom that seldom subsides. While they avoid stepping on each other’s toes a sense of sameness does tend to set in as the torrential intensity doesn’t leave much breathing room for the listener. Shalabi demonstrates his diverse talents throughout, interestingly enough, even hinting at an almost jazzy sensibility on occasion. The guests have the effect of essentially reigning in the frenzy of the duo explorations, where more spacious, if even, ballad-like approaches are revealed. Navigation pacifique, an interaction with Dickson, is a strong point, suggesting a boat navigating through murky, unknown waters.
The trio heard on disc three explores the art of using and filling space, rather than blowing the house down. Bassist Nicolas Caloia is perhaps the linchpin of this operation as he lightly coaxes the collective to follow new courses of action or drives the ensemble with his alternating rhythmic or broken tones. His arco work in particular, is striking, perhaps best evidenced in tandem with guitarist Chris Burns on presence #7. Drummer John Heward is supportive throughout, as he plinks, clinks and shuffles around his kit, carefully crafting his lines, like a painter choosing his colors and textures in a thoughtful manner (coincidentally, Heward is also known for his visual art). Burns demonstrates an impressive proclivity for interesting sounds and accents, particularly seen through his 12-string guitar work on presence #2 and presence #4. His lines evoke a slippery sensibility, like a slinky tumbling down the stairs. All in all this is a group focused on the depths of sound and intertwining lines that resuit from a combination of curious souls.
The final chapter of this set comes from the “supergroup of the Montréal free improv scene” Balai Mécanique, a sextet consisting of saxophonist Philémon, trombonist Jacques Gravel, keyboardist Jesse Levine, guitarist Sam Shalabi, bassist Thierry Amar and drummer Will Glass. From the first notes, this is a balls to the wall affair that recalls the spirit of European free improv, and certainly, it is the fiercest of the groups heard on this set. The program itself contains seven tracks, four being lengthy explorations and three being brief interludes. The lengthy tracks encourage the interactions of each musician and contain a mix of waves of contrasting intensity and brief lulls before the impending tempest. Both Philémon and Shalabi follow similar paths that they explored on the ’Gypt Core sessions with extroverted, austere saxisms and the rumble tumble of jagged guitar lines. Of particular interest is Levine, who employs a host of sounds both on keyboard and piano. At times, he reminds one of enigmatic, spacey universes the other funky organ interludes (Cashel Boyle) and the next, flights of piano prowess. Most of the lengthier pieces swell and subside with brief breaks from the thunder only to eventually rise again in a final detonation of rugged, sinuous interplay. Ultimately, this is ambitious and demanding music that should put some hair on your chest.
Taken as a whole then this four-disc set will prove a boon to fans of free improv and especially those curious about Montréal’s improvised music scene. While there may be some difficult moments the rewards can be significant.
Le label canadien passe à l’offensive, se décidant à construire un système d’irrigation complexe, chenaux d’alimentation pour les marais bosselés du free-jazz, les réseaux méandriques de l’improvisation, les plans d’eau infinis de la folk et du post-rock pastoral. En fédérant la quintessence de ces courants, No Type se fait l’écho d’un travail de terrain entamé par la Casa del Popolo (lieu de concerts, de rencontres humaines, initié par Mauro Pezzente, GSY!BE). L’occasion de croiser et de retrouver les étoiles naissantes, les étoiles filantes, naines noires et autre supernovas de la scène montréalaise, parmi lesquels Sam Shalabi et Alexandre St-Onge, de Shalabi Effect (les amateurs de rock spectral type FSA-Roy Mongomery et les habitués de Kranky ou Drunken fish rec apprécieront ce retour), mais également Thierry Amar (God Speed), etc. Une corrélation de talents, répartis tels des points cardinaux entre: Po, ’Gypt Gore, C. Burns/N. Caloria/J. Heward et Balai Mécanique. Quatre introspections dans le free et l’improvisation qu’il convient de développer.
Po avec sa Provocative Operations (à ne pas confondre avec Tô, le jeune improvisateur de chez Savoir-Faire 53) et la rencontre de deux couples mythiques de la scène improvisée et atmosphérique. Deux trajectoires pour deux «générations» de musiciens. John Heward et Rainer Wiens, anciens brisquards et pionniers des musiques indépendantes sur la scène montréalaise; Sam Shalabi et Alexandre St-Onge, plus connus sous le pseudonyme de Shalabi Effect, groupe mythique pour tout amateur de FSA ou Kranky qui se respecte, et auteurs d’albums miraculeux. Ils délivrent à quatre des pistes plus que des voies pavées, des interrogations davantage que des affirmations autour du rapprochement d’une pratique free et d’une approche «préparée» de l’instrumentation. Un questionnement constant, fluet et ondulant qui laisse beaucoup d’intéressantes interrogations à l’auditeur (attentif). Un ouvrage incertain, lapidaire, cyclothymique…
’Gypt Gore, c’est davantage l’école Naked City-Borbotemagus-Painkiller que les clairières lumineuses de Po. Une énergie de la destruction, et de l’improvisation qui a pour paradoxe d’être complexe et construite dans ses schémas «d’attaques». Une ondée sonique, étincelante et féroce qui ravage beaucoup de choses sur son passage, y compris nos oreilles. Les oto-rhinos ne leur disent pas merci. Une approche radicale pour une écoute fructueuse mais éreintante dont on sort anéanti, mais en paix avec soi-même, comme d’avoir vécu une expérience hors du commun. Entre parcours du combattant et attentat sonore. Le sax de Philémon virevolte et les guitares de Dickson et Shalabi viennent en écho de ce tourbillon. Des terroristes à guitares.
Le Trio Burns/Caloia/Heward a longtemps été un duo construit autour de Heward/Caloia auquel est venu s’adjoindre la guitare exaltée et combative de Burns. Une modification de tracé qui opère de nouvelles voies de réflexion et de création dans leurs jeux respectifs. Sans doute moins d’intimité, mais comment les chuchotements d’un trio pourraient-ils rivaliser avec les susurrements d’un ménage à deux?! Plus liée et mélodique, la partition s’autorise quelque fois des chemins défendus. Ce trio guitare-basse-batterie impose un rythme pondéreux à la composition, installant un climat lourd avant d’introduire de petites déclivités arpèges, incertitudes frottées. Puissant.
Enfin, Balai Mécanique, le boys band le plus prisé de la côte est du Canada, comptant pas moins de six piliers de bars (La Casa del Popolo) mais surtout, éminences grises de la scène moderne montréalaise, parmi lesquels Philémon (de Napalm Jazz, ’Gypt Gore), Thierry Amar, Sam Shalabi (Po, Shalabi Effect…), Jacques Gravel et Will Glass. À première vue, au regard du line-up, on pourrait imaginer une compression sonore entre les différents groupes pré-cités, comme si la nature n’opérait que par addition. Or, il n’en est rien, les lois de la physique ont leurs raisons que la raison ne connaît pas. Balai Mécanique dépeint au contraire un univers très en retrait des autres, plus expansif et aérien, plus prompt à régénérer notre attractivité pour la matière. On sent que chaque intervenant, en plus de se faire plaisir, trouve ici un terrain de jeu exaltant, une occasion de mettre en pratique avec passion, ingéniosité et complicité son savoir-faire respectif. Par phénomène de vases communicants, on trouve un plaisir équivalent à écouter leurs divagations. Extraverti et énervé.
This box set should include a warning sticker — something along the lines of “Caution: if you’re already on the verge of giving up your career to bask in the glow of Montréal’s music scene, proceed with caution.” It’s already too late for me. Consider yourselves warned.
Perhaps you’ve dismissed it as a bunch of perpetual wrong notes, compensation for poor technique or just a glorified warm-up, but free improvisation is not leaving our universe any time soon. It’s a “style” that demands your attention, as it can be beautiful, brash, cold, confusing, spiritual, frightening and soothing all at once — and regardless of whether he likes it or not, every self-respecting jazz musician must react to its gulf at some point in his life.
This four-disc collection from Montréal label No Type is a beyond-stellar example of the “genre” — there’s that attempt at description once again. Culled from the work of regular performers at Montréal’s Casa del Popolo (managed by Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Mauro Pezzente and Kiva Stimac), the discs represent four different experimental ensembles — each of whom, though they generally adhere to an acoustic instrumentation and aesthetic, explore the furthest possible reaches of their instruments, essentially eschewing any bit of history and tradition that existed before the first note hits the practice space. Oh, it’s obvious that everyone involved knows his theory and exactly what he should play, but they’ve rid their systems of conformity and convention and replaced them with instinct.
To the uninitiated, this music may sound similar; you have to experience all four discs back-to-back in order to really appreciate, understand and experience each act’s subtlety, sublime nature and uniqueness. That might seem like lethal hazing, but if you don’t suffer a psychotic episode, you’re officially in the club.
The first disc introduces PO (“Provocative Operations”), a quartet of drums, contrabass, electric guitar and (!) prepared guitars (i.e. putting screws in the strings, tuning down to C with rubber shoved under the nut, soaking them in turpentine then throwing them down a hill into a swamp, etc.), who offer a minimalistic performance and a focus on color. I sounds as if everyone were given a bow and told to not play his instrument in any previously-established manner. A semblance of style becomes evident on the bluesy III: there is an actual developing rhythmic ostinato and fixed tempi for a great deal of the tune, but it’s dark jazz in the vein of… no, it’s too skewed for even a David Lynch film. VII presents a complex weaving of strong gamelan overtones, including windchime-like sounds and microtonal string squeaks and melodies — a la something out of George Crumb’s Black Angels.
Duo ’Gypt Gore (also featuring Godspeed’s Thierry Amar and guitarist Andrew Dickson) open disc two with Angular Momentum, a complete shift from the previous disc; a duet of sax and guitar skitters in a series of scales that become increasingly busy and intricate over the course of eight and a half minutes. As with a number of tracks on this collection, Flakes combines and parodies several elements of what we’ve heard from the past: Wes Montgomery style octaves with hyperactive-and-hopped-up-on-smack Coltrane performances. ’Gypt Gore’s lack of skinned percussion is a bit unnerving at first, but after a spell seems natural — you’ll find yourself wondering why more artists don’t ditch their drummers.
The Chris Burns, Nicolas Caloia, John Heward trio is like nothing you’d expect from a guitar/bass/drums trio outfit — even after submitting to the previous discs. There are shades of rockabilly, Joe Pass’s legacy, Bossa, rock and funk that emerge, disappear within seconds and repeat over the course of tracks such as presence #2. presence #3 and presence #4 present themselves in a sly, unassuming sort of way: it’s as if the band wants to fool you into thinking they’re not actually playing, but simply tinkering in the studio. Both tracks have the power to send you into a trance. After fifteen minutes you might not have noticed the sparse bass bowing or occasional plucked guitar swirling around your skull, but you’ll remember that it was a good experience, and one that you want to repeat.
The honor of ending this set goes to Balai Méchanique, and what a bombastic finish it is. This sextet is heavy on actual fixed rhythms and locked grooves, blasting pure noise over the top in a very aggressive manner. Les élephants n’oublient jamais borrows twenty minutes of your life and returns the favor with a history of 20th century performance techniques — Stravinsky through Carter through Cage through Varèse through Nono and so on. Racines, the disc’s climax, builds with the elegance of a football team in a swirl of horn splats, otherworldly electronics, distorted guitars and manipulated pianos, then gradually exits in a cloud of ether.
A conclusion for the masses: Admittedly, a box set of this type of material is daunting. The lack of boundaries and anything concrete to grasp, as far as such traditional elements as harmony and meter are concerned, can be intimidating for even five minutes — and you have 228 minutes here. But isn’t music supposed to be a new experience that challenges your way of thinking? Hopefully indie rock and The Beatles and the melting pot of music you’ve sampled through the years has prepared you to handle it.
A conclusion for the converted: Buy it. I mean it. I’ve said enough and hopefully pushed the right buttons so you’ll understand that this is the shit. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more talented and knowledgeable group of musicians in the field of free improv — guys who live and breathe this stuff. And yes, you’ll wish there was more time in the day to listen to it while you daydream about eking out a living as part of Montréal’s glorious improv scene…
This is a hefty slab of free improvising from Montréal, and electric guitarist and arch-catalyst Sam Shalabi is in the thick of it. It’s less a compilation sampler than an archive of what’s current, featuring four groups, each occupying an entire CD. Shalabi plays on three discs and, although vestiges of his psychedelic excursions and modal flights with the group Shalabi Effect linger, it’s the metallic resilience, the non-porous, non-absorbent attack of his rock improvising that transfers most tellingly into these freer forms.
The name Po stands for “provocative operations.” It alludes presumably to psychologist Edward de Bono’s concept of calculated jolts delivered to unsettle habitual ways of thinking and perceiving. As jolts go, these seven improvisations by Shalabi, fellow guitarist Rainer Wiens, double bassist Alexandre St-Onge and drummer John Heward are easy to take. The guitarists chip away, flecking the music’s surface with stuttering staccato sounds, or unwinding coiled lines in taut spirals. St-Onge slackens strings and works with springiness and the ebb and flow of tension. Heward scours his kit for complementary timbres. Wiens prepares his instrument for added metal edge. Typically the music proceeds with a kind of collective tumbling roll, a revolving mesh of curiously coordinated sounds.
’Gypt Gore is Shalabi with Napalm Jazz saxophonist Philémon. Double bassist Thierry Amar joins them on two tracks; Andrew Dickson adds second guitar to two others. As a duo they specialise in agitation, marking out parallel trails of nervous energy as they scuttle along without any audible goal. Amar and Dickson are more inclined to pause for reflection and ’Gypt Gore allow them that without any hint of introspection on their part. It’s easy to surrender to the pull of the duo’s slipstream but it has to be said that the presence of guests supplies necessary variety to their headlong extrovert chatter.
Chris Burns plays electric guitar in a trio with bassist Nicolas Caloia and drummer John Heward. His sound is more yielding and expressive than Shalabi’s, referencing blues intermittently, and the music here is more open, unhurried and loose textured. Caloia’s accompaniment is subdued yet effective, attentively throbbing and loping or bowing with an ear to the grain. Heward again demonstrates his ability to fit in, to add percussive fibre and colouring that matches the overall feel. Their improvisation, in seven sections, bears the name Presence. At times it slows to a crawl. In the context of Montréal Free as a whole, that pace is welcome. Gentle friction between the instruments at such moments produces some of the most satisfying music in the entire set.
Balai Mecanique put the seal on the collection, ostensibly a churning powerhouse ensemble in which Shalabi, Philemon and Amar are joined by Jesse Levine on keyboards, trombonist Jacques Gravel and drummer Will Glass. The horns relive free jazz memories and periodically stir up maybem. But Levine, using ring modulation and other electronic effects, edges out into the abstract and the group, subsiding from a boil to a simmer, repeatedly goes with him, sometimes for long stretches. The result is variegated music, shifting alignments of instruments, gradations of mood, carrying the threat of eruption even when most sedate. As with Po,’Gypt Gore and Burns/Caloia/Heward, this is improvising in which internal tension between contrasts and correspondences has a cohesive effect and simultaneously generates momentum, binding and driving the music. Shalabi’s sound is well integrated, although still hardboiled and unrelenting.
For once I have split the label reviews — there are two other No Types in here — because of the variety. Recap the story — web label (with host of wonderful free music) mentioned often times in &etc went ’real’ last year in conjunction with DIFFUSION i MéDIA (purveyors of the empreintes DIGITALes electroacoustic label, also seen across the issues, most recently the last). The first batch of releases were reviewed here (2002_3, 7 and 8), and now we see the next fruits.
The first release (number 1&2) was the double compilation ’Freest of Radicals’ that introduced us to some of the people featured on the ’web — but with new tracks. In an even more extensive production, here we are presented with four studio albums from improv groups representative of the new sound of Montréal, particularly centring on the Casa del Popolo, featuring a slightly overlapping membership. So into it.
First, this is improvised free jazz — furious, complex, intricate, dense and frenzied. To buy it you would have to be interested in the music — 220 minutes is not for the faint hearted. I find that I listen to it somewhat like the music — in bursts. And in the right mood — my first encounter with Po was fairly negative as I was a bit tense — not relaxing music. And finally it is also hard to describe — so these reviews will be more overviews rather than the usual detailed description. I will also work through in a non-sequential order on the basis of accessibility (to me).
The Trio is Chris Burns, Nicolas Caloia and John Heward on guitar, bass and drums, and that more traditional lineup delivers the most accessible album. While the instruments are all given fairly equal value in the mix, the guitar predominates, probably because you can do more with it in sonic terms — even more as we’ll see on the other albums. The first six tracks, titled ’Presence #X’ are relatively short, between 3 to 8 minutes, shift through relaxed twangy guitar and a solo in #1, through the faster #2 with some sliding-ping guitar, to the bass driven #3 in which the instruments gradually coalesce but remain tentative. Strange creaks twangs and scratches on #4 develops a western guitar and buzzy bass, while #5 opens with a melodic guitar/bass set, becoming scratchy and edgy before a short drum solo that presages a more extended solo in #6 with light bass and guitar behind out of which some bendy guitar builds. The final track is a more extended 20 minutes and sees the group work through moods which have been presented individually in the shorter pieces, building from a very soft scrape through some buzzing to a drum pushed noise guitar solo, dropping to a brief drum solo joined by restrained guitar and bass, then almost silence before another gradual development to a shimmeringly percussive climax then fading. The instrumentation is well balanced and the approach never gets too harsh on this disk which makes it the easiest listening — though none are easy.
Next to Belan Mecanique, the superest-group here — six members on sax, trombone, bass, keyboards, guitar and drums. This was my second choice — I initially had favourite, but this set is too diverse for favourites — because while the size of the group tends for a full explosive sound, the diversity of instrumentation provides a broad sound palette which offers the most variation. The group offer a mixture of three short pieces — basically 1 or 2 minute full on aural explosions, and four much longer pieces which allow them to explore their dynamic. The tracks tend to be precipitous rolling sound works where each member is driving away, separately but somehow providing some cohesion, easing back at times. The ear either picks out particular instruments or the engineers place people at different places in the mix at different times. ’Gypt Gore use the idea of action painting in one of their titles, but it works for this too. ’Les elephants n’oublient jamais’ for instance turns through fast honking sax with drums and sliding trombone added, keyboards whizz almost sci fi. A quieter period before the drifting vortex gets bigger and bigger, easing to allow the piano to be heard, then the trombone moves forward, gtr sax and xylophone into a restrained minimal section, piano sax and rim drums swinging in to a soft end. There is a mysterious mood throughout ’Rouages’ that builds to a choppy quacking centre before drifting back to a lighter touch via some descending guitar and trombone laughter. Some more ambient periods (in relative terms) through ’Brule-pourpoint’ emphasise the range that the group can work in while the final ’Racines’ has some nice sax swing and even beer house piano. While there is more democracy in this group, the wind instruments probably are more distinct in the wall of sound with the guitar playing a more supportive role. The keyboards — which include some electronica — provide interesting shading while the rhythm section keeps things moving. The dynamism seen here, and the variations, make this disk very re-approachable.
’Gypt Gore is primarily Philemon (sax) and Sam Shalabi (guitar) who were also in Balai. They carry the energy from that group, but the music is constrained by the instrumentation. The music is exciting — they are like a perpetual motion machine as the sax blows wildly and the guitar picks and plays short fast and furious. Luckily there are periods where the playing is slower or more restrained — the slow and sensuous opening to ’Flakes’ for example or ’Narcoma action painting’ which has the speed but seems somehow more relaxed. On a couple of tracks Thierry Amar (bass on Balai) joins and the playing becomes more relaxed: in ’Corridors tresses’ it adds a depth and the solos are gentler and then ’Blue soon’ has a slow bass entry and the sax and guitar are gentler and there is a sensuous sax solo — perhaps having the rhythm instrument gave the group a more grounded approach. An additional guitar (Andrew Dickson) appears on two tracks and again there seems more restraint on ’Flakes’ and there are drones and some nice duets in ’Navigation pacifique’. The full intensity and focus of this album are what make it less easily absorbed, but it is absorbing and dramatic.
Po present seven ’Provocative Operations’ that combine drums, two guitars (including prepared) and double bass in what was for me the most difficult album. It may be that the instruments have been most removed from their ’natural’ sounds here making it more demanding or the more oblique attacks. It opens with brief warming up before a bubbling machine of sound — scrapey guitar mumbles as the music drives on, and there appears to be some bowing as the music get quieter. In the second part scratching and squeaks with a slow percussion, sounds like violin and piano, building puttery, then ringing prepared guitar, strong bass stepping, a sort of static momentum of sound; lots of short notes with a Chinese feel; growls purrs and plitterplatter to a big climax. The third part has squeaks and growls (of wind?) that dialogue with twangy guitar into a dense web of notes (that sounds like some multitracking but the suggestion is these recordings mirror the live experience). An uncertain rhythm builds through the fourth, the maelstrom of sound including some sitar-guitar, and a rolling drum keeps a couple of guitars in chop. With the fifth piece Po show they can create atmospheric filmic moods, subtle with a Theremin or bowed-saw sound from the guitar. In six things hot up again, the band futzing along as a melodic guitar plays, then paralleled by a fast guitar in a duel/t, softening and rebuilding before some motor-bowed guitar. Finally another more contemplative piece, tinkling, strumming, a hollow percussion (prepared guitar), building a little but held back. This album takes the sounds further and generally brings the listener along with them, if the ears are open and clear.
This is a daring product for No Type to come out with — people who know the Montréal scene will be drawn to it, but in the wider world there may be more uncertainty. While I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone (in fact I wouldn’t for most things I review — we all have such different tastes and preferences) I would suggest that people who are interested in improvised music, tending to the jazz end, seriously consider it whether as an introduction to the form or an addition to their collection. I enjoyed these disks more than I thought I would — improv is an area I am developing my listening skills in. The variety between and within the performances means that there is much that will interest most people, and it offers a great opportunity (at a good price) to listen to some mainly intense music (though there is some light and shade which allow you to recover) which may stretch your expectations, and should definitely excite you.
(I don’t generally do this, but I looked on site and this set costs $40 (can) and had a 10% discount when I was there. As a single album costs $25 (can), this is great value.)
No Type records is a Montréal based record label that puts out on-line mp3, proper CD & vinyl recordings of some of the most outside music emanating from the fringes of Montréal & around the world. The label was founded in Quebec City in October of 1998 by David Turgeon, but the label relocated to Montréal 3 months later & has been there ever since. No Type has established itself as an important outlet for the bourgeoning Montréal free improv music scène releasing music often ignored by most in the music industry.
The label was started because, as Turgeon describes, “we had music to release & no money to make CD’s with” & when pressed to divulge what exactly the label’s vision & mission are, Turgeon notes, “when I try to define it I always fail… I like things that are strange, fun, exciting, damning or preferably all of the above.” In its relatively short existence No Type has earned a reputation for being a beautiful disaster of many “different” styles of music created by artists from all over the map of today’s contemporary music. “I don’t think it makes sense to restrain ourselves to one style,” Turgeon explains, “& besides, the label has always been about not really caring about the musical genre, so long as the music sounds good…”
No Type came into existence at an opportune moment in time & they’ve managed to capitalize on the increased popularity & availability of the mp3 format. But rather than devise a way to exploit the technology for immediate gain, No Type has opted to employ the “online-format” as a means to expose creative musicians whose undeniable talent & originality No Type has been among the first to acknowledge.
No Type’s web site hosts over 70 on-line releases (free with no strings attached) from such now-notables as Napalm Jazz, Books on Tape, Octopus Inc., Dick Richards, morceaux_de_machines, Philémon, GIJoe Killaz & the list goes on & on & on. And the onslaught of No Type releases shows no signs of stopping anytime soon with mp3 & traditional media releases by Coin Gutter, N.Kra, Click Tracy, Claudia Bonarelli & Headphone Science scheduled for release in 2003!
No Type’s biggest success to date has been the recent release of the landmark Montréal Freeimprov 4CD box set. This impressive document featuring the best of the Montréal Free improv scene has been in the making for a long time & this release offers a persistent snapshot of what it must be like spending time in many of the city of sin’s finer free improv venues with beer in hand. The set contains 4 different CD’s of spontaneous constructions by 4 different groups: (1) Po - “provocative operations", (2) ’Gypt Gore, (3) Chris Burns, Nicolas Caloia, John Heward Trio - “presence" & (4) Balai Mécanique. The set is compiled in some pretty impressive packaging with original artwork by some of the performers & liner notes by Mathieu Bélanger. This box set is a gotta have for any fan of the Canadian Free improv landscape.
Visit the web site at www.notype.com for all the details & all the downloads. This site requires a couple of hits because there’s just so much to see, & hear & figure out.
Depuis son ouverture en 2000, la Casa del Popolo donne aux artistes d’ici la chance d’expérimenter. Un laboratoire en quelque sorte, il s’y fomente une nouvelle musique improvisée aux caractères encore mouvants mais fortement montréalais: ce n’est pas Chicago, Londres ou New York. Malgré la vivacité de cette nouvelle culture, les documents sur disque demeurent trop rares. L’étiquette No Type a décidé de combler le manque avec ce coffret de quatre disques. Il ne s’agit pas d’une compilation, mais plutôt du regroupement stratégique de quatre nouveaux albums par autant de formations. La guitare électrique domine, les électroniques sont absentes et au centre de ce cortège on trouve le guitariste Sam Shalabi. Avec le saxophoniste Philémon, il forme le duo ’Gypt Gore, dont la musique a le tonus de la Fire Music afro-américaine. Avec Rainer Wiens (guitare), Alexandre St-Onge (contrebasse) et John Heward (batterie), il adopte le nom de Po et une attitude plus londonnienne, bien que métissée avec le rock improvisé américain et un quelque chose de «cheu nous» dans l’ambiguïté des échanges. Shalabi et Philémon réapparaissent au sein du sextuor Balai mécanique, avec Thierry Amar (Godspeed…), Will Glass, Jacques Gravel et Jesse Levine, pour une séance excessive et follement désordonnée. Un trio beaucoup plus nuancé du guitariste Chris Burns avec le bassiste Nicolas Caloia et Heward complète la matière de ce superbe coffret, que dis-je? de ce Nouveau Testament! Espérons que ceci saura évangéliser les amateurs d’impro libre d’ici et d’ailleurs. 9/10
Montréal Free is an ambitious box set. It wants to push a new scene to the forefront and at the same time make a point: the free improvisation developing in Montréal is different from Chicago, London or Berlin. Granted, it is not as extreme and characteristic as the Tokyo scene that has been documented in the Improvised Music from Japan box set, but that’s not a loss. Not a compilation album, this quadruple CD set packs together four separate albums by four improv groups revolving around the Casa del Popolo, a small café that has fostered a growing leftfield music scene since 2000. All these groups are making their debut on record. Three of them feature guitarist Sam Shalabi (of Shalabi Effect), the most active and dedicated member of this scene. His playing, heavily informed by both Derek Bailey and the noise/lo-fi American scene (think Loren MazzaCane Connors and Thurston Moore) provides an Ariane’s thread through the albums, but the music by itself proves Montréal’s unique character. The musicians draw from Afro-American Free Jazz, Chicago avant-garde jazz and the Berlin and London schools of free improvisation to come up with a powerful, gutsy-yet-tempered form of improv they can call their own. The Po CD, titled Provocative Operations, features drummer John Heward, bassist Alexandre St-Onge, guitarist Rainer Wiens and Shalabi in a stunning studio set full of experienced interplay. ‘Gypt Gore is Shalabi’s duo with saxophonist Philémon, here joined by bassist Thierry Amar and Andrew Dickson on two tracks each. The duo itself also takes part to the sextet Balai Mécanique, along with Amar, drummer Will Glass, trombonist Jacques Gravel and keyboardist Jesse Levine. This group makes up in power and action what it lacks a bit in listening and sharing — it still provides some of the most flooring moments. The fourth CD is a trio session by guitarist Chris Burns, bassist Nicolas Caloia and drummer John Heward, whose artwork provides the visual elements of the box. Whether you care or not about what’s happening in the Montréal underground, Montréal Free remains a very strong set, highly recommended.
Osama est un objet solo non identifiable qui explore l’arabophobie
Il est toujours fort agréable de discuter avec Sam Shalabi. L’homme sait de quoi il parle. Lorsqu’il ne se range pas avec le quatuor Shalabi Effect, l’improvisateur-compositeur mène de front une bonne douzaine de projets: du jazz libre de Balai Mécanique à la chanson déraillée au sein de Molasses. Vers la fin de 2001, Shalabi entreprend l’écriture de pièces autobiographiques et dissidentes à propos des attentats du 11 septembre. Après six mois de travail acharné, une certaine confusion s’empare toutefois du processus créatif.
«Je voulais absolument me prononcer en tant que musicien, explique-t-il, puisque la plupart des artistes semblaient mal à l’aise de dire quoi que ce soit. Personne ne réagissait. Avec l’aide d’Éric des Donkeys, j’ai d’abord eu envie de quelque chose de très prosaïque et d’organisé. Mais, peu à peu, je me suis demandé si la protestation n’était pas finalement un leurre en soi.» L’aventure aura duré plus d’un an, mais Osama (sur Alien8 Recordings) en valait sans doute la peine. Comptant sur l’apport d’une trentaine de musiciens de la scène locale (des membres de GY!BE à un chœur soufi), les cinq morceaux vont du rock lourd à la narration la plus absurde. Toutefois, Shalabi insiste pour dire qu’il a voulu atteindre le plus grand nombre d’auditeurs. «Contrairement à On Hashish, ces pièces sont jouées live. J’ai ainsi tenté de faire un album rock dans la plus pure tradition. Une sorte de documentaire mis en musique où l’on passe d’un extrême à l’autre. Je crois avoir obtenu le reflet d’un certain état d’esprit durant cette période, plutôt qu’un message politique quelconque.»
Moins hermétique que son premier effort, Osama déstabilise, inquiète et dérange celui qui s’attend à une trame familière. On découvre plutôt un album où l’imprévisible est à l’honneur: de la construction minutieuse au chaos le plus élégiaque. Encore une fois, Shalabi prêche par l’excès. La paranoïa, la crainte, la joie, la révolte, de même que l’humour se retrouvent dans un même souffle tentaculaire. L’idée reste, sans doute, de pervertir la culture au sens le plus large. Comme le signale Shalabi à l’autre bout du fil, «je n’ai pas eu l’intention de produire un truc cynique. J’imagine plutôt une sorte de polyphonie étrange avec l’apport des nombreux collaborateurs sur cet enregistrement, sans avoir à rendre compte d’un message universel. Bien sûr, je m’oppose à la guerre ou à la haine raciale. Cela va de soi, mais il m’est impossible de penser en fonction d’un agenda artistique».
Alors que paraît cet album sans la moindre concession, Shalabi se distingue aussi sur trois des quatre CD (chez No Type) qui documentent la très active scène d’improvisation free montréalaise. Justement intitulé Montréal Free, ce coffret réunit les groupes Po, ’Gypt Gore, Burns/Caloia/Heward, ainsi que Balai Mécanique pour une confrontation pure et dure. «Cet autre versant de ma recherche musicale me stimule et me passionne plus que jamais», confie Shalabi. Pour entendre le guitariste d’origine anglophone avec une dizaine d’improvisateurs sur scène, vous pouvez assister aux concerts-lancements, qui se tiendront les 25 (à La Sala Rossa) et 26 mars (au Va-et-Vient), pour coïncider avec la sortie officielle de l’imposant coffret. Par ailleurs, Shalabi a également d’autres projets en vue. «On termine présentement le troisième album de Shalabi Effect avec une sortie éventuelle cet automne. Ensuite, j’aimerais entreprendre une séance d’improvisation avec des chanteurs tout comme des field recordings en suspens. Il y a aussi un projet de transcription des musiques de Morton Feldman pour guitares.» Beaucoup de boulot en perspective, donc.
La compilation Montréal Free vise à documenter l’émergence d’une scène d’improvisation radicale dont les artisans sont fréquemment aperçus sur la scène de la Casa del Popolo. Avec quatre formations sur autant de disques, le coffret offre de la matière à l’amateur. On y trouve le quatuor PO (Provocative Operations), le duo ’Gypt Gore, le trio Presence et le sextuor Balai mécanique. S’y croisent Philémon (sax), Jacques Gravel (trombone), Jesse Levine (claviers), John Heward, et Will Glass (batterie), Alexandre St-Onge, Thierry Amar et Nicolas Caloia (contrebasse), Sam Shalabi, Rainer Wiens, Chris Burns et Andrew Dixon (guitare). Toute la joyeuse bande procédera au lancement de la chose le 25 mars à La Sala Rossa.
Cette semaine, l’étiquette No Type organise deux concerts-lancements gratuits pour souligner la parution du coffret Montréal Free. Ce monstre documente la scène d’improvisationlibre de la Casa del Popolo en consacrant un disque à chacun des groupes ’Gypt Gore, Po, Balai Mécanique et au duo Chris Burns/Nicolas Caloia/John Heward. «Ce coffret définit éloquemment un son qui est unique à cette ville», explique David Turgeon, directeur artistique du projet. «Ce n’est pas Chicago, ce n’est pas New York. C’est Montréal et pas ailleurs!»