by IRWIN BLOCK (irblock@hotmailcom)
Read our review of Victoriaville Day 1.
VICTORIAVILLE, Que. – With its first gig outside of New York City, Hans Tammen’s Third Eye Orchestra on Saturday took this town’s annual Festival de Musique Actuelle to that higher creative level. After an evening that featured three rock-oriented shows – from surf, to quasi subversive to mini metal – the cream of New York avant scene delivered the musical goods in a thrilling 75-minute display that combined individual virtuosity in a cohesive and fun-filled framework.
Celebrating his 10th year as the group’s conceptual father, composer, and director, Tammen flashed lettered cue cards, leaping, Zorn-style, into sections of the 15-member band and gesticulating enthusiastically to charge up his crew. From sections that resembled classical contemporary, to avant jazz, blues, rock and electronica, this ensemble swung with life-affirming collective energy and solo contributions that served the director’s overall objective – creating a unique, immediate, visceral and engaging musical experience. Most impressive were Shelley Hirsch, injecting an operatic element with avant vocalizing, a mesmerizing string section, Denman Maroney with his Cecil-Tayloresque pianism, Robert Dick’s brilliant flute microtones, and the powerful rhythm team of drummer Satoshi Takeishi and electric bassist Stomu Takeishi, central to driving the ensemble forward.
Guitarist Nels Cline’s seven-member Singers Unlimited also impressed with its first ever performance, offering covers and originals and a sound that recalled Zorn’s Electric Masada. That is no coincidence since core members of the group – percussionist Cyro Baptista, guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist Trevor Dunn – are veteran Zornites who fit well into Cline’s groove. Percussionist Scott Amendola, keyboardist Brian Marsella and Zeena Parkins on electric harp completed the roster. While the group could be faulted for a certain melodic timidity – there were times when it sounded like a jam band – Cline as leader must be admired for his building tension to glorious climax on this first outing.
Ribot led his own Ceramic Dog group in an earlier concert, with bassist Shahzad Ismaily and the dazzling percussion work of Ches Smith, playing rock and blues, including a touching tribute to the late B.B. King. On The Thrill is Gone, Ribot made his guitar weep, much the King did. Ribot also led the group through a take off on Brubeck’s Take Five and sang, with Dylanesque flat delivery, a coupe of tunes, including on Serge Ginsbourg’s La Noyé.
On a much quieter note – the lights, air conditioning and sound amplification system were turned off – the German clarinet duo of Michael Thieke and Kai Fagaschinski worked the sounds and silences of a percussion-less set with slow precision and unison playing of original music. For this group, calling itself The International Nothing, less was definitely more.
The gig titled “where is the sun” paired two turntablists with a clarinetist and trumpeter who explored the instruments’ sonic possibilities beyond whole notes. In fact, French clarinetist Isabelle Duthoit was more engaged in vocal acrobatics than playing her clarinet – even hitting it on the ground at one point. She exploded toward the concert’s end with primal screams. More often than not, however, the drama was missing.
Friday night opened with Deerhoof, the surf-rock quartet featuring the diminutive and effervescent Satomi Matsuzaki and her childlike Voice, electric bass and prancing on stage, with the powerful dynamics of drummer Greg Saunier, guitarist John Dietrich and bassist Ed Rodriguez – a fun and friendly gig.
The Slovenian duo Laibach presented a highly polished supershow – with polished videos and impressive lighting – that could be labeled techno pop or arena rock. The spectacle, including calling for “hands in the air” and “make some f—ing noise,” begged the question: is it calling for blind obedience or presenting satire? In keeping with the mystique of “a collective,” the performers’ names were not revealed.
The Italian duo OVO, featuring vocalist/guitarist Stefania Pedretti and drummer Bruno Dorella delivered a hard-hitting metal-like show, but late into the midnight hour, the songs were sounding much alike.
The four-day festival wraps up today with the final five of 19 concerts.