Grand groupe régional d’improvisation libérée (GGRIL)

It will keep your body warm and your mind beguiled for many hours, through many days. Touching Extremes, Italy

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Pour cette nouvelle sortie sur l’étiquette Tour de bars, le groupe revisite la musique de leur riche histoire, interprétant des compositions d’un mélange de compositeurs canadiens et internationaux écrites spécifiquement pour l’ensemble entre 2012 et 2020.

Produit et mixé par Michel F Côté sous le direction musicale de Guido Del Fabbro, et enregistré par Bernard Grenon à la Coopérative de solidarité Paradis à Rimouski en septembre 2020, Sommes représente le GGRIL au sommet de sa puissance créatrice. C’est vraiment de la nouvelle musique, spontanée et vivante, créée par un ensemble improbable et passionnant.

3 × CD (TDB 9051 / MICROCIDI 024)

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In the press


Lawrence Joseph, Musicworks, no. 140, December 1, 2021

Montréal’s Ratchet Orchestra, Vancouver’s New Orchestra Workshop, and Toronto’s Association of Improvising Musicians are evidence that Canada’s largest cities have robust improvisation scenes whose participants occasionally coalesce to play works composed for larger ensembles. It is perhaps even more impressive when smaller communities pull off similar feats. Rimouski, a town with a population of 50,000, located 315 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, has Le Grand Groupe Régional d’Improvisation Libérée (GGRIL), led by bassist Éric Normand. Covering music created from 2013 to 2021, this sprawling three-CD set is a retrospective of Le GGRIL’s collaborations with twelve renowned composer-improvisers from Canada, the U.K., and France. Compared to the aforementioned ensembles, Le GGRIL tends to place less emphasis on individual virtuosity and detailed notated scores, and more on group direction and interaction. The works here display the orchestra’s flexibility in adapting to a variety of improvisational approaches.

Each CD is centred on a different theme, the first being “long and intense pieces.” Frédéric Blondy contributes the minimalistic drone of Îlots Turgescents, consisting of slowly shifting textures that build to a dense climax near the twenty-minute mark, followed by a few minutes of sparser rattles and clatters. Robert Marcel Lepage’s Alice has the orchestra trading rapid-fire short bursts of sound reminiscent of the musique actuelle genre that the composer helped originate in the 1980s. Lisa Cay Miller’s To Love That Well–Ruined Choirs is more orchestral, with small fragments of melody weaving around bubbling bass rumbles. The second CD is meditative, typified by the brief sound gestures that combine to realize Malcolm Goldstein’s Rivers and Mountains Remain, the atmosphere evoking the peaceful nature surrounding the group’s hometown. Allison Cameron’s In Memorium (Robert Ashley) is appropriately contemplative and respectful, while Martin Arnold’s Éistphéist spotlights the extended string techniques of the Bozzini Quartet. The third CD focuses on the power that a group of twenty-one improvisers can conjure, although there are moments of tranquility interspersed between the orchestral summits. Sprinkled amongst the longer improvisations on each CD is a series of short solos excerpted from Alice. Comparing these with the full version and contrasting the two takes of Caroline Kraabel’s Une note n’écoutant qu’elle même, demonstrates how different two improvisations of the same work can be.

The above outlines do not convey the improvisational details contained within each of the seventeen tracks, where much of the interest lies. Perhaps this collection will inspire other towns to form their own collectives, especially since this music must have been at least as satisfying to perform as it is to listen to.


Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes, November 23, 2021

Every now and then it’s OK to reiterate a well-worn refrain, at the risk of sounding boorish. Low-quality music can make you sick, especially when improvisation is in the picture. Hiding behind an often unjustifiable freedom of artistic expression, a lot of people, unable to behave inside the sound beyond mere technical skills, can’t stop releasing useless stuff that weighs down a reviewer’s mailbox. Things get worse when the flag-bearers of fraudulent creativity gather in collectives. Disorganized chaos and compositional shallowness melt into arrogance, causing the auditory system to go on strike. Not to mention the irritation for having wasted our dwindling time.

But Quebec’s Le GGRIL (Grand groupe régional d’improvisation libérée), founded 14 years ago by Tour De Bras honcho Éric Normand, are different. They engage the audience, yet don’t steal their oxygen; entice the ear subtly, never crassly; spur one’s curiosity without self-aggrandizement. Above all, they show respect for stillness and silence. Much of the sounds in Sommes seems to arise from there, willingly returning to that origin even during livelier sections. This is a commendable attitude by the group. Talent is important, but knowing how to listen before filling the room with pitches is essential. In short, if these musicians demand your attention, they do so with good reason and sensitive restraint.

The substance of this triple CD — don’t be frightened, it’s the blink of an eye — comprises outstanding renditions of scores crafted for Le GGRIL by renowned composers, with noticeable open spaces for clever liberality. Plus, a handful of minutes reserved for individual interpretations of a piece by Robert Lepage named Chat de Cheshire. Quite frequently the brain gets wired to spiritual dimensions of in-depth interplay; check Îlots turgescents to see what this writer means. Talking in “scattered examples” mode, unintentional references emerge to “calm” orchestral Zappa circa The Yellow Shark, principally throughout Allison Cameron’s In Memoriam Robert Ashley. Or — rather inevitably, given the provenance of most members — to pages from the long and varied book of René Lussier and his associates, some of whom actively contributed to this project.

But those are fleeting mnemonic crumbles, in the midst of mutable scenarios from which a substantial acoustic homogeneity materializes. Magnificent resonant combinations; tones that clash in adjacency, or greet each other from opposite poles; mischievous melodic smithereens; serendipitous evocations of ancient cultures. With a pinch of unofficial theatricality when necessary, and several surprises waiting for the unsuspecting listener around the corner. An anarchically cohesive chamber orchestra with plenty of resources, unfazed by the difficulties of a performance, endowed in equal measure with technique, irony and soul. It will keep your body warm and your mind beguiled for many hours, through many days.

It will keep your body warm and your mind beguiled for many hours, through many days.