By IRWIN BLOCK (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.