From Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six to Vancouver’s NOW Orchestra, despite the economics, Canadians have somehow produced highly creative big bands. Montréal’s Ratchet Orchestra was a quintet in 1993; today its founder-composer-bassist-conductor Nic Caloia leads a 19-member ensemble with the breadth and force of Sun Ra’s Arkestra or a Charles Mingus big band. Like them, it invokes Duke Ellington’s legacy of rich textures and intense turbulence while emphasizing distinctive solo voices. It has a traditional big band’s power, with five reeds and five brass, but expands its palette with violin, two violas and the eerie profundity of bass reeds and tuba.
Caloia’s compositions range from the traditionally modernist to the avant-garde, with a band composed of individuals who define Montréal’s free-jazz community. The opening Tub features the brilliant alto saxophonist Yves Charuest, as abstractly evasive as Lee Konitz. The rousing Raise Static Backstage, fuelled by Isaiah Ciccarelli’s rampaging drum solo, might appeal to any fan of Dizzy Gillespie’s legendary bebop big band, while Blood, an atmospheric setting for Sam Shalabi’s distorted guitar, touches on the later works of Gil Evans.
Caloia’s most personal and ambitious work is saved for the conclusion, the six-part Before Is After, a weave of compound rhythms and evasive fragments knit together with unlikely matchings of instruments and forceful soloists, including violinist Joshua Zubot and bass saxophonist Jason Sharp. Ratchet Orchestra is both a distinctive Montréal institution and national standard bearer for a creative tradition.
Saxophonist/composer Jean Derome’s work ranges from explorations of modernist masters like Monk and Mingus to his own conceptual epics like Résistances, his orchestral homage to the North American electrical grid. Here he explores the work of Steve Lacy (1934-2004), a key influence on Derome who advocated strongly for Thelonious Monk’s compositions and developed the foundations of free jazz with Cecil Taylor. Lacy also created a large body of art songs unique in modern jazz. Derome explores the range of them here, including settings of works from ancient China to the Beat Generation.
Derome brings his regular trio partners to the project, bassist Normand Guilbeault and drummer Pierre Tanguay, masters of propulsive and varied grooves. They’re joined by pianist Alexandre Grogg and the singer Karen Young, whose eclectic background matches the varied demands of Lacy’s music. The text settings include surprising authors like Lao Tzu, Thomas Gainsborough and Herman Melville; the latter’s Art initiates the program with a minimalist setting that suggests Japanese court music.
While those lyricists are as famous as they are unlikely, several of the highlights here come from Lacy’s association with the relatively little-known Canadian expatriate Brion Gysin, a literary collaborator with William S. Burroughs. Gysin’s playful, vibrant, hipster verses fall naturally on modern jazz inflections: when Derome joins his voice with Young’s on Blue Baboon, the group creates a witty update on the scat vocal group of the 1950s who rarely found lyrics this germane.
While electronics are now accepted as instruments, some musicians have accelerated the search for innovative sounds further, creating programs from collages of already existing material. For instance, Martin Tétreault’s Plus de Snipettes!!, is a sprawling 77-minute program in which the Montréaler constructs a wholly original recital from audio cassettes, tape reels, short-wave static, radio soundchecks and excerpts of untouched or cut-up vinyl. With each of the 31 [!] tracks lasting from about seven seconds to around seven minutes, the collages captivate with sheer audacity. Entertaining while sometimes making sardonic comments, this homage and burlesque of recorded sound is satire mixed with love. Not adverse to snipping French or English narrations from educational or instructional discs to foreshadow subsequent noises, Tétreault’s mashups are free of cant. Snippets of a Varèse or Boulez composition are slotted next to a flute improvisation, a snatch of disco sounds or a piano picking out Polly Wolly Doodle. Crunching noises created by train movement can fuse into a drum instruction record and then the flanges of backwards-running tape. At point his manipulations make succinct inferences, as when Dave Holland’s bass solo on Emerald Tears is juxtaposed with the sounds of a man crying. Other times connection leads to spoof, as when a ponderous lecturer’s voice outlining a complex phrase with the word “basis” in it is cut to become “bass” and later “mace” and repeated numerous times, becoming an electronic-dance rhythm in the process. Manipulations in speed and pitch turn juxtaposition of Sidney Bechet’s soprano saxophone and a Dixieland drum solo into frantic microtones. And if that isn’t enough, Tétreault creates abstract sound collages by cutting several LPs into many sections, gluing together the parts and recording the results so that a chorus of Soviet military singers fades into jazz piano chording and unknown speechifying, with the entire exercise surmounted by the crackles from divided and sutured vinyl.
Ça y est, le Suoni Per Il Popolo s’entame officiellement demain à Montréal et il s’étendra jusqu’au 23 juin prochain. Afin de réellement débuter notre couverture de ce très éclectique événement, nous croyons qu’une sortie à l’extérieur de notre ligne éditoriale s’impose pour refléter la richesse de la programmation qui nous est offerte. C’est en vous présentant la plus récente parution du Quatuor Bozzini que nous espérons vous donner l’envie d’assister aux premiers jours du festival. La raison derrière cette sélection est bien simple, nous avons adoré l’écoute de leur album Phil Niblock: Baobab paru en début d’année et avons très hâte de les voir à l’œuvre lors de la semaine de lancement du Suoni. Même si ce que nous analyserons dans les prochaines lignes ne correspond pas à ce qui sera reproduit sur scène, nous espérons vous mettre l’eau à la bouche et surtout piquer votre curiosité.
Avec cette ambitieuse création du compositeur Simon Martin, l’imprévisibilité et la fragilité du son jongleront avec votre perception. Très confrontant par moments, le quatuor est particulièrement fascinant sur Musique d’art pour quintette à cordes: B. Cette fresque auditive de haute voltige nous chavire aux quatre coins de notre corps, jouant avec notre confort, tiraillant nos méninges. La suite nous propose une certaine forme d’accalmie, se voulant toutefois inquiétante et sournoise. Les sonorités virevoltent avec méfiance dans la pièce, s’appropriant instantanément le lieu d’écoute. Nous faisons face à un album absorbant qui nous attrape dans sa toile et nous observe sans empressement. Cette musique vivante est empreinte d’un trait incontestablement dramatique, penchant plutôt vers le cauchemar que le rêve inoffensif. La dernière composition en est le parfait exemple avec ses pulsions rythmiques déroutantes. Musique d’art est une escapade sonore intransigeante, défiant son public à plonger au plus profond de lui-même.
Si l’écoute de cette pépite vous a aussi chaviré que moi, alors n’hésitez aucunement à répéter l’expérience les 4 et 5 juin prochain dans le cadre du festival. Vous aurez l’opportunité de voir le Quatuor Bozzini collaborer avec la talentueuse Andrea Young lors de la soirée d’ouverture et de les voir présenter la composition Agréable, désagréable, neutre d’André Cormier le lendemain.
Whim Ensemble is Ofer Pelz (prepared piano, percussion) and Preston Beebe (percussion). Both are new to me. Beebe is a composer and percussionist with a strong interest in using technology, live as well in the studio. Preston studied composition, electronic music, and percussion at several institutes. For example from 2014-2015, he studied at IRCAM and composed a work for baritone saxophone & electronics, performed in the Centre G. Pompidou in Paris. As a duo, they debuted in 2016 with a release for the Montréal-based Kohlenstoff label. The music keeps the middle between improvised and modern composed music and moves within abstract territories. They have a very varied sound palette to their disposal, using prepared piano and a variety of percussive objects and gadgets. Some of their improvisations are very intense and dramatic, like the opening one Four Zero, that sounded like an abstracted version of a Morricone-theme. In other improvisations, I missed however something. Lovely sounds, but a bit too much sounds only, missing an idea, focus or direction. Just dwelling around. But in contrast, there are also some dazzling perspectives opened up by them. The rich sound spectrum built from scraping and percussive sounds, lead up fascinating timbres and textures full of details.
Not The Music is a duo of bassist Eric Norman and bass clarinettist Philippe Lauzier, both Montréal-based musicians. English saxophonist John Butcher joined them for concerts in Ottawa and Montréal. First five improvisations — En conséquence — were recorded live on April 27th 2018 in Ottawa. The second set of five improvisations — par interruption — were recorded live on April 26th in Montréal. Lauzier is a composer, improviser, instrumentalist (clarinet & saxophone) and sound artist. Normand is likewise working on many fronts as a composer, improviser, bassist, instrument designer, composer, songwriter, singer and record and concert producer. Earlier the duo released an album for Tour de Bras. Here in the company of John Butcher, they give way to very concentrated set with a lot happening. All three of them are experienced improvisers, each one with its distinctive style and technique. They interact and communicate with full force and concentration, although sounding sometimes a bit hesitant and modest. Strongly focused they demonstrate a concentrated interaction with sometimes diverging sometimes-converging manœuvres of emotional impact. Often repetition of motives and gestures is an important strategy of building up tension and drama. Excellent work.