by IRWIN BLOCK (firstname.lastname@example.org)
VICTORIAVILLE, Que – When a loved one dies, the loss can open doors to creative rebirth, which is what happened to avant cellist Erik Friedlander. The death of his beloved, dancer / choreographer Lynn Shapiro in 2011, re-kindled his creative juices and resulted in the poignant and luminous CD, Claws and Wings (Skipstone Records), his eight-part lament to her life. It is a work of beauty and memory – tender sketches that stirred emotions, never descending into melancholy as Friedlander, pianist Sylvie Courvousier, and laptop artist Ikue Mori played music from the CD Sunday afternoon. They rendered such pieces as Frails as a Breeze, Dreams of Your Leaving, and Dancer with subtlety and tenderness.
A mainly scored concert, with some free improv, it was an unusual start for the last day of the 19-concert Festival International de Musique Actuelle here, which focuses on experimental and improvised music. Friedlander was at his lyrical best, while Courvoisier added delicate notes by playing in the highest octave and Mori’s enhanced the mood with bell-like sounds from her laptop.
Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams discovered the unique, banjo-like sound of the three-stringed guimbri – a favourite of Morocco’s Gnawan musicians – and made it his main axe. With African style rhythmic and melodic repetition, he played that instrument as he led a septet through a program of originals that had a mesmerizing effect on the rapt audience. He calls it Natural Information Society. Master percussionist Hamid Drake was a special guest, playing alongside two drummers and some unusual instrumentation – Lisa Alvarado on harmonium and gong and Ben Boye, playing autoharp and electronic keyboard. They injected some welcome melodic variety into the mix.
On the more experimental side, Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda played with silences, common objects and toys to create a unique and unusual soundscape to a small audience seated in a circle. The musicians did it by scraping, rubbing, striking, dripping, sawing, dragging, whirring, buzzing, and scratching in a darkened room. It was a sound experience, unique.
The follow-up was easier to love – Kaze combines the veteran free jazz duo of pianist/composer Satoko Fujii and her life’s partner, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, with the French team of trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orrins. The trumpeters played in unison and harmonic combinations also in more experimental modes, coaxing sounds from the horn with such unusual techniques as Pruvost blowing into it using a rubber tube. Not to be outdone, Tamura at one point set aside his horn and simulated its sound with cupped hands. I was most impressed by Fujii’s roaming technique as she emulated Cecil-Taylor and Don Pullen with freely expressive and percussive piano bursts, and her using a mallet to coax unusual sounds and textures by hitting the strings inside the baby grand.
The final concert, by Magma, the French prog-rock super group, attracted a different audience and helped boost ticket sales to about 4,000 over four days. Though the music sounded dated and formulaic, a crowd of several hundred called for an encore after a two-hour show at the larger of two halls in the converted hockey coliseum where the major concerts were held.
Festival head honcho, artistic and general manager Michel Levasseur, declared the festival an artistic and commercial success – the quality and variety were outstanding – but he expressed concern for the future in the current climate of government funding cutbacks. He offered no hints as to plans for next year.