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.