AMN Reviews: FIMAV 2019 Day 3

By IRWIN BLOCK (irblock@hotmail.com)

Photo credit: Martin Morissette

VICTORIAVILLE, Que. – In the third day of the 35th Festival International de Musique Actuelle, a minimalist spirit prevailed at the set of early concerts.

Konus Quartet, the Swiss-based saxophone ensemble, slowly and quietly launched into the first of two pieces with long tones and some distortion as Tomas Korber processed sounds at his electronics table. The quartet’s breathy approach was all about sound, rather than fully developed notes and harmonies. The second piece had a drone-like quality to it, with few variations, and the performance overall had a meditative effect.

The mid-afternoon show was a septet led by Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr, with three other guitarists and three percussionists. After laying out a kinetic soundscape of muted colors, the density of the music increased, the cross-rhythms became more complex. The cumulative effect was mesmerizing.

The musical pace picked up in late afternoon when Montreal-based improviser Philippe Lauzier (bass clarinet and electronics) performed with fellow Quebecer Éric Normand (electric bass) in what they called a “Not the Music” show. It was, in fact, a well planned and executed sonic exploration – a workshop on developing and manipulating sound in unconventional ways

Anticipation was high for the early evening concert featuring saxophonist-composer Roscoe Mitchell, co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, sharing the gig with Camae Ayewa, the Philadelphia-based interdisciplinary artist and poet who performs as Moor Mother. Standing behind a microphone, Mitchell improvised effectively on soprano saxophone while Moor Mother, seated beside an effects table, recited a stream of poetic mantras that in tone and words protested the social condition of Black America, and its roots in slavery and discrimination. “Muddy waters, no more, no more … I can’t be satisfied, with all you’ve done to us: not now, no more,” are typical of the refrain she repeated. For whatever reasons, she made scant use of the electronics and sampling that contribute to her growing reputation. In contrast to her restraint, Mitchell sounded inventive and energetic, at 78 able to hyperventilate and maintain a long string of improvised lines. There was hardly any interplay with Moor Mother and the pairing left a lot to be desired.

Jazz featuring the sextet led by pianist Vijay Iyer was next – not of the avant-garde variety, per se, but music that is inventive and original and pulsating and beautifully performed, coordinated, and delivered. This was easily the most satisfying concert of the day, with a front line that energetically and skillfully played in unison and soloed with confidence and vision: Steve Lehman (alto sax), Mark Shim (tenor sax), and Graham Haynes (cornet and flugelhorn), with drummer Tyshawn Sorey and the big voice and enthusiastic floor provided by bassist Stephan Crump. The music included pieces from the group’s ECM album called Far from Over. As Iyer remarked in closing the concert, the title underlines that “the struggle against white supremacy, hatred, and intolerance is far from over.”

The midnight show featured a French trio led by electric guitarist Julien Desprez, with Jean-François Riffaud on electric bass, and German-Polish power drummer Max Andrzejewski. It could fairly be described as “math rock on speed.” The music, in essence, amounted to an intensely played series of repeated guitar chords, propelled by the drummer’s almost mathematical rapid-fire pulse. With the guitarists flashing a set of lights, on and off, to accentuate rhythmic shifts, it was a visceral experience, much appreciated by an enthusiastic audience, including several head bangers.

AMN Reviews: Philipp Gropper’s Philm – Consequences (2019; Why Play jazz)

If I am counting correctly, this is the fifth release of Philm, the quartet led by Berlin-based saxophonist Philipp Gropper. Last year’s Live at Bimhaus was an AMN Album of the Year, so expectations were high. And Consequences, a studio effort, does not disappoint.

The group maintains the same lineup: Philipp Gropper on sax, Elias Stemeseder on piano and synth, Robert Landfermann on bass, and Oliver Steidle on drums. While Gropper as group namesake contributes his share and then some, this is a truly collective effort. In particular, Stemeseder, Landfermann, and Steidle play Gropper’s labyrinthine compositions with gusto and an eye for detail.

Gropper’s charts exhibit complex patterns with multiple disjoint rhythms and themes often being produced simultaneously. His writing has a number of characteristic qualities, including a strong sense of unpredictability, and varied influences. Clearly, Gropper is well-versed in jazz, free improv, classical, and non-Western genres. The unsung hero of Consequences, however, is Steidle, who provides non-stop, driving explorations that often juxtapose stylistically with what his bandmates are outputting. Stemeseder also stands out with his percussive chording. Landfermann, a bit lower in the mix, nonetheless is remarkably active, adding flourishes and runs where others might stick to repetition.

As just one example, Consequences Part 2 features Gropper running through staccato lines and pulses over a three-part rhythm that never quite syncs. From there, Gropper explores a set of themes and variations while Steidle stays effortlessly busy. In and between all of this, Stemeseder and Landfermann explore a set of shifting patterns. Thinking From The Future (Are You Privileged?) explores another aspect of their capabilities with an introduction that is reminiscent of 20th-century chamber music. This morphs into complex modern jazz with runs from Stemeseder and a staggered start / stop set of rhythms. Stemeseder switches to synths and Gropper shimmers through a series of angular leads to close the piece.

Consequences is a primal exercise in barely-contained tension. Gropper and company could easily explode and blow their way through the 50-some-odd minutes of the album. But this is not a group that is explicitly outside. Unconventional and creative, yes, but on their own terms.

Another brilliant release.

AMN Reviews: Monocube – Substratum (2019; Cyclic Law / Malignant Records)

Substratum is a fitting title to this set of eight haunted ambient pieces from Ukranian act Monocube. Instrumentation consists of modular synth and plucked string instruments (mostly guitar, it seems), with a clear emphasis on the former.  But deep drones dominate the recording – bass-heavy echoings of lost chambers, unlit passages, and windswept ice-scapes. Tectonic shiftings accompany chant-like voicings. Dissonant static and found-object noises accentuate these dark layers.

The overall result is an album that cannot be ignored or played in the background. While undoubtedly atmospheric, Substratum demands the listener’s attention. The ambiance includes a sense of growing anxiety that ultimately filters into your consciousness.

As the drone genre goes, it can be hard to break new ground. Monocube does so by acknowledging the formula but choosing to build on rather than rely on it. Listen at high volume for the full wall-shaking effect. You may be unnerved but will not be disappointed.