AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: 39th Musique Actuelle Festival – Fred Frith, Dave Rempis Shine

VICTORIAVILLE, QUE. – The nonet assembled by Canadian drummer Joe Sorbera and German pianist Matthias Mainz was intended as a tribute to Canadian wordsmith Paul Dutton.

He specializes in clever poems but also has made his mark performing vocal pyrotechnics – using the human voice like an instrument and developing unusual sounds with vocal contortions.

That was the essence of the first evening show Friday, an all-acoustic outing featuring Canadian vocalists Christine Duncan and Laura Swankey as Dutton chanted from poems that feature irony and word play. The band included Canadians Lino Allemano (trumpet) and Tom Richards (trombone), and Germans Albrecht Maurer (violin) and Emily Anine Wittbrodt (cello).

The music was carefully constructed, arranged, and directed, often by Christine Duncan, though some festival goers felt it lacked dramatic impact.

For Michel Levasseur, festival artistic director and general manager, the 10 pm show by the Fred Frith Trio had special meaning – Frith performed in the first concert in 1982 by Levasseur’s Production Platforme.

With Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva playing some beautiful improv and Heike Liss improvising visuals with her computer projected on a huge screen behind the stage, the band proceeded with an exciting, dramatic display of mainly improvised creation. American bassist Jason Hoopes and drummer Jordan Glenn, of the Fred Frith Trio, were in perfect sync with Frith.

The performance garnered the first encore call of this festival and Frith dedicated it to Levasseur saying: “He changed all our lives and everyone else who worked here: What a great team!”

The midnight show was a loud and boisterous Noise Rock outing led by the electric bass virtuoso, Simon Hanes with Anthony Coleman (electric piano, Hammond B-3), Calvin Weston (drums), and Aliya Ultam (cello).

It was wild and high-energy for this quartet. At one point, bassist Hanes put his guitar on the ground and stomped on the strings with his shoe while Ultam used up to three bows to develop unusual timbres from her cello. For many festival goers, the show was an engaging highlight although Coleman’s piano was not always audible. Needless to say, the skin-tight, silver lamé bodysuit Ultam wore was an attention grabber. The music was so infectious that three or four head-bangers approached the stage to dance wildly and cheer encouragement to the band.

In a similar vein, Saturday’s midnight show featured the boisterous vocalizing of Eugene Robinson with his current band Buñuel and its heavy, post-punk sound. Based in Italy, its members are Xabier Iriondo (electric guitar), Andrea Lobardini (electric bass), and Francesco Valente (drums). The music was so loud that some regulars donned earplugs. As for trying to decipher the words? Forget it. As the energy level rose, Robinson began removing his clothes until he was left with an open black vest, revealing his tattooed body with a big Star of David around his neck, and his black underwear, shoes and socks. The audience demanded and got an encore!

Saturday’s early afternoon show was in stark contrast: It began with slight crunching, clicking, creaks, distant wind-like sounds, bird-like whistles, and a drone canvass generated by a computer. This was the project of the Canadian group called Noorg – Loïc Guénin (objects, percussion) and Éric Brochard (electroacoustics). They began a minimalist exploration of sound and silence, gradually developing into a more intense, dense and varied soundscape, before reverting to their initial outlook, and total silence.

A spirited concert from Montreal-based drummer Guy Thouin – a free jazz pioneer in his home town – and the nine-member Ensemble Infini, which he nurtured, was next on the agenda and among its features four tenor sax players with ensemble direction during much of the concert by saxophonist Elyze Venne-Deshaies. It was a solid big-band outing, with remarkable solos by saxophonist Félix-Antoine Hamel and trombonist Scott Thomson.

Alto saxophonist Dave Rempis, who first played here with the Vandermark Five, teamed up with Bhutan-born improvising guitarist Tashi Dorji for the 5 pm show, and as they began feeling each other out they gradually developed a deep exchange of ideas. With his beautiful tone and facility in upper and lower registers, Rempis remained the dominant voice while Dorji seemed to underpin the conversation, loosening and tightening his guitar strings and bending notes until he found his voice. This evolved into passionate combinations with Rempis, and they ended the concert in an abrupt halt.

Bass clarinetist Lori Freedman, based in Montreal, followed with her Being Five group including Yourgos Demitriadis (drums, electronics), Axel Dörmer (adapted slide trumpet with live sampling device), Andrea Parkins (electronics), and Chirstopher A. Williams (acoustic bass). It started as a minimalist exchange with Freedman improvising on clarinet delivering notes as fellow musicians responded with sounds that fit the perceived scheme of things. The music demanded deep concentration and control from each musician and similar involvement from the audience. They developed the concept with more volume and density seeming to play with space and time with Freedman delivering almost human sounds from the bass clarinet she masters. A thoughtful and totally original show.

The 10 pm show grew out of a project by Australian percussionist Peyton MacDonald (marimba and vibraphone) who during the COVID pandemic sent recordings and got Colin Stetson (bass and also saxophones), Billy Martin (drums, percussion) and Elliott Sharp (electric guitar, electronics) to play from a distance into the album called Void Patrol. MacDonald also played the Ghanian xylophone called Gyil. It was a rich and exciting show performed by virtuosic players who delivered a musically fascinating group experience.

Irwin Block  

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