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Artists Ratchet Orchestra

Ratchet Orchestra

Montréal (Québec)

  • Performer

Group Members

On the Web

 Ratchet Orchestra in concert at FIMAV, 2014 edition, photo: Martin Morissette, Victoriaville (Québec), May 13, 2014
Ratchet Orchestra in concert at FIMAV, 2014 edition, photo: Martin Morissette, Victoriaville (Québec), May 13, 2014
  • Ratchet Orchestra, photo: Herb Greenslade, 2008

Main Releases

Mode Records / MODE 291 / 2016
Drip Audio / DA 00820 / 2012
[Independent] / CAL 2008 / 2008

In the Press

30th Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville

Stuart Broomer, Musicworks, October 21, 2014

The Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV) celebrated a milestone this year, presenting its 30th festival of musique actuelle — that unique French descriptor covering improvised music, chance, electronica, the avant edges of jazz, rock, folk, and world, and any other genre that has challenged expectations over the past few decades. That durability might seem unlikely for a festival of marginal music presented in a rural hamlet 160 kilometres from a major city, but FIMAV is persistent testimony to the vision and energy of its founder and artistic director Michel Levasseur, who has tirelessly maintained the festival in his hometown. (…)

A transcendent community was apparent in a concert by Montreal’s nineteen-member Ratchet Orchestra, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Sun Ra’s birth with special guest Marshall Allen — the long-time saxophonist with the Sun Ra Arkestra and that band’s current leader — nine days short of his 90th birthday. Begun as a Sun Ra tribute band twenty years ago, the Ratchet Orchestra has gone far beyond that, evident in the eighty-minute suite that merged Sun Ra themes with Ratchet leader, bassist, and arranger Nicolas Caloia’s own ideas. The music moved like a slow majestic blues, highlighted by contrasting explosions of instrumental colour (bass reeds, shouting brass, strings, electronic keyboards, and percussion), often surmounted by the explosive fury of Allen’s saxophone or the exotic flute of fellow Arkestra veteran Danny Thompson, and hitting its climax in Allen’s extended passage of orchestral conduction.

That sense of orchestra as community also came across strongly with GGRIL (Grand groupe régional d’improvisation libérée), a fourteen-member collective from Rimouski. GGRIL is a kind of poststructuralist village band. During a program that included works by Robert Marcel Lepage and Jean Derome, leader and bassist Éric Normand and violinist Raphaël Arsenault engaged in a coconduction, in which the two exchanged orchestra halves and seemed to compete comically for authority and sound, taking the conductor’s role to the level of professional wrestling. (…)

The music moved like a slow majestic blues, highlighted by contrasting explosions of instrumental colour…

Listening Diary

François Couture, Monsieur Délire, June 17, 2014

I have been going to FIMAV for 17 years now and I owned only one FIMAV-related bootleg (Art Bears Songbook, recorded by an audience member). To see a FIMAv bootleg circulate is exceptional — the festival has a very strict policy on photos/recordings. So to see a SOUNDBOARD being published on soundcloud is a dream come true. Don’t worry, the festival did not officially record the concert, there was no plan to release it on CD, so no one is getting hurt. And what a concert my friends, what a concert! The Montreal ensemble led by Nicolas Caloia conjured the spirit of Sun Ra for an hour of segued pieces with guests Marshall Allen and Pekoe’s flute. You won’t see Pekoe’s little dance number. You won’t see the smile on Allen’s face. But you will be able to hear a phenomenal celebration of Sun Ra’s music. Use the link below. Download this recording now before it’s too late. https://soundcloud.com/user119499001/ratchet-orchestra-fimav-15-mai-2014

What a concert my friends, what a concert!

The 30th Annual Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville

Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery, June 11, 2014

[…] The second set of the night featured the Ratchet Orchestra with special guest Saturnian space-traveler Marshall Allen. The Ratchet Orchestra are a 19-piece avant/jazz orchestra from Canada who are led by bassist Nicolas Caloia and who’ve played a great set at the 2011 Victo Fest. Reeds master, Marshall Allen who is currently 89, became a member of the Sun Ra Arkestra in the late fifties and has been their leader since the passing of Sun Ra in 1993. This year is the 100 anniversary of Sun Ra’s birth on the planet earth. Considering that the Ratchet Orchestra has nearly twenty members for this concert, their sound is rarely too chaotic as Mr. Caloia is a strong leader. The orchestra sounds as if they are playing some of Sun Ra’s charts yet the music is often spacious and rarely held down to the gravity of Earth. I recognize the occasional Sun Ra melody although there are section which float in space sounding unsure of where they are going or will end up. Another Arkestra member named Pico is next to Mr. Allen and plays flute. He gets several chances to solo and is an exceptional flute player. Mr. Allen takes his time and finally solos on alto sax and an electronic wind instrument which sounds like it was being played by Sun Ra himself. There is an amazing duet between Allen on alto and Joshua Zubot on violin, free and intense as well as a couple of spirited solos from the great Lori Freedman on clarinets. Although there were several sections where the orchestra sounded a bit tentative, there were also a number of cosmic interludes when it all came together lifted off to parts unknown, most likely Saturn Sun Ra’s homeworld. […]

[…] Day Two started off up at the Pavillon with a small orchestra (13 piece) from Quebec called GGRIL (Large Regional Group of Liberated Improvisation). I had known about this group of younger Quebecois players since their leader, Éric Normand, sent me some of their discs. GGRIL have collaborated and recorded with Evan Parker and Jean Derome in the past. Their instrumentation is unique: 3 strings, 3 electric guitars, trumpet, reeds player, accordion, electric & acoustic bass and a percussionist who doubles on vibes. Each piece they performed involved different strategies or directions, some involved one or two conductors. The first piece utilized two conductors, each of whom directed half of the ensemble and occasionally trying to take the reins from each other. The players sat in a semi-circle and exchanged ideas carefully. There were always several layers going on simultaneously but it never got too dense or chaotic. The short, spirited solos seemed to fit just right. The second piece involved using a set of playing cards to direct or inspire some of the improvisations. The third piece was conducted & composed by Robert M. Lepage, Ambiances Magnétiques composer & clarinet player. I dug the way the players would repeat certain riffs with assorted shifting drones as the tempo slowly increased. There is now a long history of conducted improvisations to draw from. I could hear elements of a Butch Morris conduction or even the early John Zorn-like approach to small sound sparsity. Considering that the (Quebec-based) Ambiances Magnétiques label has been around for some thirty-plus years, great younger groups like GGRIL are pointing the way for the next generation of experimental musicians. […]

[…] The next set was a sort of Quebecois all-star quartet which featured Michel Faubert on vocals, Pierre Labbé on tenor & soprano sax, electronics & compositions, Bernard Falaise on guitar and Pierre Tanguay on drums. Aside from the vocalist, the other three musicians have long been involved in numerous bands/projects mainly for the Ambiances Magnétiques label: Labbé (solo & band-led discs, Les Projectionnistes), Falaise (Miriodor, Klaxon Gueule, solo CDs) and Tanguay (more than two dozen discs with Jean Derome, Joan Hétu & René Lussier). I wasn’t familiar with Michel Faubert who is a storyteller/vocalist and has worked with a traditional folk/a cappella bands. Mr. Labbé was the central figure here and talked or sang throughout consistently in French. Since my French speaking is minimal, I missed out on the various stories and observations that Mr. Faubert did. The response from the mostly French-speaking audience was most often giggles and laughter. So, I concentrated on the sound of his voice, his gestures and the music which was charming, quirky and consistently inventive. The music started out softly with Tanguay on a jawharp stomping his feet. The other three musicians did occasional backup vocals and there was a certain fun-loving charm that ran throughout the entire set. Each song or piece seemed to create a different mood. I liked the way the musicians used subtle gestures to evoke certain vibes, Falaise played his guitar in his lap and rubbed a cloth on it while Labbé played odd sax sounds & electronics without soloing very much to serve the story. I would’ve no doubt enjoyed the set more if I understood French but this was not the case. […]

There is now a long history of conducted improvisations to draw from.

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