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BRUCE LEE GALLANTER REVIEW of the 25th ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL MUSIQUE ACTUELLE VICTORIAVILLE!
This was the 25th Anniversary of the Victoriaville International New Music Festival and it was indeed a wonderful event! This was also my 20th Victo Fest and it was one of the best Victo's that I can remember. Michel Levasseur promised something special for this year and he and his crew delivered the goods. Composer, musician, bandleaders & label-heads, Fred Frith and John Zorn, two of the most influential and popular of those icons who return to Victo time and again, were involved in two sets a piece and attracted bigger crowds than usual. Fred Frith unveiled his new rock band, Cosa Brava on day 2 and closed the fest with the much-anticipated return of The Art Bears (Songbook). John Zorn played on day one with 'The Dreamers' project and unveiled the explosive 'Moonchild', a North American debut that still hasn't been performed in NY. And that's just 4 of the 24 mostly incredible shows that Victo featured this year. More passports (a festival pass for all of the concerts) were sold than any other year. Hence, the Art Bears, Frith's debut band and both Zorn projects, as well as a wealth of other challenging sets, seems to inspire some folks to come out of the woodwork. Friends that haven't been to Victo in many years, as well as lots of newcomers showed up for this special event.
This year our six-man crew included the usual suspects like Len Seigfried, Jason Roth & Eric Stern plus two newcomers, Mike Panico from BMG and Caleb Rush from Oakland, CA. Our long journey (10+ hours) in a mini-van was often hilarious and dealt with male-bonding subjects like the recent You-tube item referred to as 'two women & a cup', as well as taking turns playing CD's on the van player and turning each other to some new sounds. We didn't get held up at the border for too long for a change and had a great meal up in Montreal before getting to Victo after midnight. Another great thing about this fest was that rain was predicted for the entire week and it ended up being cool but sunny every day but the last. After getting some fresh air on Thursday afternoon, we had our ritual dinner at Mykonos, that excellent Greek restaurant that we go to as often as is possible. Word is that the Art Bears were rehearsing every day at the Victorin (formerly the Colibri) Hotel and a few of us got a chance to hear them doing just that. It is always a blast to meet our musical heroes at the Victorin's breakfast tables. After our hardy dinner at Mykonos, we went to an opening reception at Cegep (the local college) with free wine & sushi and speeches from local politicians in French plus a short set from the wandering circus minstrels of the Friendly Rich Show, scheduled to play later at midnite.
The Victo fest began with Jean Derome & Et Les Dangereuz Zhoms at the cinema. It seemed only appropriate that one of Quebec's most creative composers, musicians and multi-bandleaders, would open this great fest in Victoriaville, a small town in the center of Quebec. Jean Derome is reeds wizard and a most successful and diverse composer and one of the reasons we go keep going back to the Victo Fest every year. Mr. Derome brought his dynamic 5-piece all-star ensemble plus another seven musicians were added. Derome and his 12-piece small orchestra performed two new long pieces called "Traquenards" and "Plates-Forms". The musicians included Derome (alto sax & flutes), Lori Freedman (clarinets), Tom Walsh (trombone), Martin Tetreault (turntables) & Joane Hetu (vocals). The rhythm team of Pierre Cartier (el. bass) and Pierre Tanguay (drums) was in especially fine form as they played their cosmic throb undertow while the clarinet and strings played a lovely repeating theme on top. Joane Hetu did a good deal of odd bird-like vocal sounds that blended well with Martin Tetreault's turntables effects. Jean Derome's composing continues to get better and better, I dug the way he interspersed more melodic sections with directed freer parts. This piece seemed darker than anything I've heard from Jean Derome previously, yet it was quite successful on a variety of levels. Bravo!
The next set was another highly anticipated Canadian premiere, John Zorn's 'The Dreamers' project. It was presented at the colosseum and seemed to be sold-out. 'The Dreamers' follows in the same vein as an earlier Zorn work called 'The Gift' from 2001, one of the most popular and melodic of all of Zorn's vast catalogue. 'The Dreamers' band features mostly the line-up of Electric Masada with Marc Ribot on guitar, Jamie Saft on keyboards, Trevor Dunn on bass, Kenny Wollesen on vibes, Cyro Baptista on percussion, Joey Baron drums and John Zorn, conducting and occasionally playing sax. The CD version of this music was released just a few months ago and is already a hit amongst those in the know. 'The Dreamers' features the incredible twangy, post-surf and exotica guitar of Marc Ribot at his best. While the CD is relatively tame yet enchanting, hearing it live is something else. Zorn pushes the music even further into deeper and darker regions. Zorn has hand-picked each member of this sextet and they sound perfectly matched. Everyone gets a chance to shine in this band, from Kenny's mysterious vibes swirls to Jamie's intense organ flourishes to Trevor's ever-shifting bass to Joey's incredibly resourceful drums. There is one piece where Cyro evokes an entire jungle-like sound with bird-sounds, exotic percussion and his distinctive echoed vocals. Still, the real magic occurs when Zorn points to Ribot and pushes him higher and higher, with Ribot ripping out some unbelievably god-like guitar solos. The band earned two encores and seems intent to please by playing some favorites from 'The Gift' and stretching them out even further.
The midnight show on the first day was called The Friendly Rich Show and it was an odd, yet unexpected treat. The FRS featured The Lollipop People, some eight musicians (bassoon, accordion, banjo, harp, acoustic bass, trombone, keyboard & drums) plus Friendly Rich on vocals and David Hannan as a weird clown. Everyone was dressed in a circus costumes, sort of like avant-garde vaudeville show. I feared for the worst but ended up being mostly delighted. Friendly Rich had a twisted voice and a hilarious stage presence and reminded most of the attendees of Tom Waits in more ways than one. Mr. Rich sang and poked fun at many appropriate topics like the current war in the Middle East, the seriousness of those in the audience, having sex with your mother, farting and even mentioned the hot topic of "two girls & a cup". The music was often pretty adventurous and well-played with some inspired solos from the trombone & keyboards. There were a number of surprising bits like a puppet show and assorted lunacy from Rich and his sidekick, the ever-frowning dark clown, who both amused and frightened the crowd and got us involved in some (unwanted?) audience participation. There was a small live fish on the stage in a blender with water that Hannan kept acting like he was about to turn on and blend the poor fish. Turns out that the blender wasn't even plugged in. We should've known.
The second day began with Montreal-based guitarist and composer Tim Brady with the video artist Martin Messier and the Bradyworks Ensemble. Brady opened with a piece for solo guitar with video. The guitar part was a Frippish quick-strumming work with a video of orange clouds and lines of words at the bottom of the screen. Interesting, it reminded me of some early space-rock. The second piece was called "Switch" and was in five parts. Some sections reminded me of Nick Didkovsky's prog/rock guitar sound with some slowed down bent-string weirdness elsewhere. "57 Ways of Playing Guitar" displayed some constantly shifting ways to play the guitar with electronic sounds and beats inserted at certain points. The best piece was last, a Shoshtakovich tribute with (a sort-of) double quartet featuring guitar, piano, sax, percussion and a sampled string quartet. The writing recalled some Zappa-like complexities and layers of images of old St. Petersberg with current images of the same city worked very well with the music.
The Glenn Hall Ear/Cam ensemble from Toronto was next and seemed to polarize the audience: folks either loved it or disliked it. This disparity of opinion seemed to be a thread that ran through this entire fest, as we often discussed each set and argued about what we dug or didn't enjoy. Glenn had a 7-piece electro-acoustic ensemble with the instrumentation of (Hall on) tenor sax & bass clarinet, trumpet or EWI (electronic wind instrument), a female vocalist, turntables, guitar, bass and drums, plus added electronics & amplified objects. The first piece turned out to be a version of Stockhausen's "Japan" and was filled with Erstwhile-like space and suspense. The vocalist (Tena Palmer) used her voice in a variety of weird ways and I dug what she added to the blend. The second piece was called, "The Last Time I Saw Dutch (Schultz)", the infamous Jewish gangster from Newark, NJ. Both Glenn and Tena read passages from Dutch Schultz' s final words as he lay dying after being shot. It was truly nightmarish and most affective, with layers of voices, electronic sounds and some twisted music floating ominously around the room. "Terminal Beach" was the final piece and dedicated to all of the places where man has tested nuclear weapons. Again, the strange sounds and ghost-like voices did a great job of reminding us that the residue of this nuclear testing will not leave these areas for thousands of years to come.
One of the most-anticipated highlights of this years fest was the Canadian debut of Fred Frith's new band Cosa Brava. I recall talking with Fred when he played at The DMG Stone Fest in December of 2006 and he was telling me about being pleased to get tenure at Mills College in the next year. He said that he was going to take a sabbatical, so he could write some new music and put a new band together. Cosa Brava is that new band and they feature Fred on guitar, bass & vocals, Carla Kihlstedt on violin & vocal, Zeena Parkins on piano & accordion and Matthias Bossi on drums with The Norman Conquest doing their sound. The band recently toured Europe, did some 16 dates and were primed for Victo. What is interesting is this: Fred started out in (progressive) rock bands like Henry Cow and the Art Bears in the 70's and later formed other "rock" bands like Massacre, Skeleton Crew and Keep the Dog, in the 80's. Since then (about 20 years), Fred hasn't led a band where writes and even sings his own songs. Hence, many of us had to be there to see/hear what he had come up with. In the early 80's, Fred recorded three albums for Ralph Records, 'Gravity', 'Speechless' & 'Cheaper at Half Price'. These were Fred's adventures in doing his own versions of rock or pop songs and these were many folks' favorite Frith records. Cosa Brava seems to be an extension of what Fred started so many years ago. Fred's songs have a unique blend of European folk melodies with quirky arrangements. Both Fred and Carla sang and both have distinctive, charming voices. Carla is also an incredible violinist and someone who Fred admires and loves working with. Zeena Parkins, who is a gifted harpist and composer, actually played just accordion and electric keyboards. Matthias Bossi is also the drummer in Sleepytime Gorilla Museum with Carla. For this band, Fred has gotten Matthias to lay back and play more skeletal drums, thus making the songs the central part of the magic. What I dug about this set was how inventive it was while still keeping the essence of memorable pop music in mind. At one point Fred played this great bass-line and then looped it so that he could also play an astonishing guitar solo later in that song. There were too many great moments, ideas and songs to mention here, so I can hardly wait until Cosa Brava records and we get a chance to listen to their songs at length.
Another highly anticipated and controversial set was Canadian debut of John Zorn's 'Moonchild'. 'Moonchild' is the first part of Zorn's ongoing song cycle or opera. Since it was released, Zorn has released two more related works, 'Astronome' and 'The Six Litanies for Heliogabalus', with a fourth part to be released later this year. Zorn considers 'Moonchild' a serious work and it has only been performed a handful of times, but never in New York. 'Moonchild' was performed by a trio featuring Mike Patton on extreme vocals, Trevor Dunn on electric bass and Joey Baron on drums. For Victo, this piece was presented on the large stage of the colosseum to an enthusiastic crowd, with Zorn at the sound-board, directing the sound. This piece is extremely intense and highly focused. Trevor Dunn, Joey Baron and Mike Patton are all strong musicians and performers, but here the demands are even more extreme. With just an electric bass and a (larger than usual) drum kit, Trevor and Joey whipped up a storm of immense and tight proportions. This music was beyond heavy, it blended punk, heavy metal, doom and gloom into an epic powerhouse of sound. It pushed all three players beyond their normal tendencies into a colossal, symphonic, epic nightmare. I've come to appreciate Mike Patton's vocal talents over the past few years, but for this piece, Patton really had to dig deep and handle the tightly written and demanding material that Zorn has provided and he did a most astonishing job. Zorn came out for the encore looked pleased at the performance that his collaborators had given. It was a performance that none of us will soon forget.
The midnight set was by an under-recognized trio from Brooklyn called Peeesseye. Although they had an article in Signal to Noise, most folks in attendance had no clue who they were. Peeesseye feature Chris Forsythe on guitars, Jaime Fennelly on keyboards, electronics & percussion and Fritz Welch on vocals and percussion. I know Chris from numerous improv situations and Jaime from when he used to play acoustic bass. Both have played here at DMG on occasion. Their set was often scary and occasionally disturbing. The first long part had Fritz playing a large gong and Jaime on a big bass drum pounding ritualistically over and over while Chris played bizarre guitar sounds. Eventually Chris would insert occasional melodic fragments into the mutant throbbing sound-mass, giving us a bit of relief from some of the over-the-top sounds that made some of us feel uncomfortable. The second long piece was easier to deal with as a collection of drones and long tones waves. Still, it was a bit hard to endure at the end of a long day of demanding music or sounds.
The third day was a day of extremes, from quiet sounds to immensely loud noise. A day to pay our Victo dues by asking the eternal questions: What is noise and what is music and how much can we really take in? The first set was a multi-dimensional quartet from Vancouver at the cinema. It featured a singer (Viviane Houle), a dancer (Noam Gagnon), a laptop & viola player (Stefan Smulovitz) and a video manipulator (Jamie Griffiths). I dug the vocalist who did many of interesting things with her voice. I also liked the quiet viola playing, but not so much the laptop playing. I didn't care for the dancer who reminded me of the way most modern dancers are too predictable. I did enjoy the way the video artist filmed and manipulated the images of the dancer into some surprising sights. Interesting on occasion, but disappointing overall.
Next up was the ridiculous Nihilist Spasm Band from Toronto working with Sun Plexus 2 from France. The Nihilist Spasm Band has been around for more than 40 years, yet they still haven't learned how to play their instruments, or so it would seem. I've caught them live on a few occasions in NY and at Victo and do have a fondness for their seriously amateurish brand of noise. They play mostly handmade instruments like the electric kazoo and a bass thing, except for their guitarist and drummer. Their MC and spoken word vocalist, Bill Exley, is often hilarious in the things that he says. One "song" dealt with the joy of eating meat and dolphins. Sun Plexus 2 are/is a trio from France that play noisy guitar, electronics and percussion. The program claims that they play "anal-core." but I probably don't want to know any more than that. The music was extremely noisy, chaotic and often one-dimensional. When I concentrated, I could hear moments when things connected and there was some music in there somewhere. I believe that the jury remains undecided about this ensemble.
There are only two flutists that I know of who can do amazing things with extended techniques and with custom-made flutes: Robert Dick and Matthias Ziegler. I've seen Robert Dick on many occasions, but this was only the second time I've seen the amazing Matthias Ziegler. Matthias performed in a duo with experimental vocalist Franziska Baumann, who also utilized a "cyber-glove." What was interesting was the way that Matthias' flutes and Ms. Baumann's electronically enhanced voice often worked with similar textures and sounds. Matthias had a large, oddly shaped, custom-made mutant flute with a pick-up that made some completely unique sounds. For one piece, the voice and flute turned into strange drones that were exotic sounding and were panned across the stage in different directions. On another piece, Franziska did some fine jazzy scatting while Matthias played tight phrases right along with her. This duo has a fine CD out on Leo, but witnessing it live was even better.
Another highly anticipated set was from the Norwegian quartet called Spunk. Spunk features the consistently creative Maja Ratke on vocals, electronics & theremin, Hild Sofie Tafjord on French horn & flutes, Kristin Andersen on trumpet & violin and Lene Grenager on cello. Although both Maja and Hild play mostly electronics in their duo Fe-Mail (one of best noise sets at Victo last year), this quartet was mostly acoustic. It began very quietly with soft yet highly focused improv from all four musicians. Maja's voice is often stunning and she did an amazing job of looping and playing a small tape recorder into her microphone and then manipulating the sounds carefully. Spunk's entire set was one long, slowly evolving piece that built into a more intense and twisted conclusion. I dug how the cellist repeated the same phrase over and over, very slowly altering it until it became something else later on. Huguette said that this set was one of her favorite surprises of the entire festival.
The real beginning of the extreme noise segment was next with a double bill of KTL and OM. KTL features Stephen O'Malley of Sunn O))) and Peter Rehberg, a/k/a Pita of the Editions Mego label. KTL dealt with one long loud intense drone that seemed to envelope all who were brave enough to endure their set. While O'Malley played that heavily distorted guitar chord over and over, Pita slowly inserted high-pitched synth drones on top. It reminded of the undeniable and unrelenting cosmic sludge of bands like Blue Cheer. The sound grew more ominous and oppressive as it slowly evolved and bore down on us like a vat of molten molasses. It was almost too much but at least it wasn't too long. OM were next and were another duo, this time of just electric bass (w/ vocals) and drums. It was more of that throbbing, endless repetition with vocals that didn't do much for me. I couldn't take it after a while and decided to split early, which felt great as soon as I went outside to the cool night air. What is interesting is that some folks liked this set and some folks didn't. My group of traveling companions often had much different opinions of each set. After a long and often grueling day of challenging music, I decided not to attend the midnight set of Nadja. I heard mixed things about their set, but the one thing that everyone agreed upon was that they were very loud.
The fourth day at Victo looked great on paper and turned out even better. The first set was a unique trans-Atlantic trio featuring Joe Morris on guitar, Simon F. Fell on contrabass and Alex Ward on clarinet. This was only the second time that formerly Boston-based guitarist, Joe Morris, work with British double bass giant, Simon F. Fell. Both Morris and Fell were part of a quartet with Paul Hession and Alan Wilkinson, which toured briefly and recorded a disc for Incus. Another Incus recording artist is Alex Ward, who has collaborated with Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne & Steve Noble. Alex also plays guitar, but here just concentrated on his clarinet. Joe Morris played mostly acoustic guitar for the first long piece. This trio was marvelous, focused, intense and exciting on a more restrained level. Besides being a fine composer and label-head (Bruce's Fingers), Simon Fell is an incredible bassist. The trio sounded like an ongoing three-way conversation in which there was a stream ideas that flowed back and forth between each member. Alex's clarinet created fractured sounds that fit well with Joe's nimble, free-wheeling guitar and Simon's ever-evolving stream of plucked and bowed bass explorations. This set was a perfect way to open this fine day of challenging and diverse music-making.
Another highly anticipated set from our friend, Nick Didkovsky, leader of Dr. Nerve, downtown's greatest and most long-running progressive/rock band. Since Dr. Nerve perform and record on rare occasion nowadays, Nick has been concentrating on composing and improvising with some of downtown's best players: Kevin Norton, Gerry Hemingway, Michael Lytle & Paul Rogers (a Brit actually). For this concert, a Canadian premier, Nick performed his latest work for New World, "Ice Cream Time" with the Arte Sax Quartett (from Switzerland) and Thomas Dimuzio on sampler & electronics. Nick played guitar, sampler and also directed the work. The Arte Sax Quartett have worked with Tim Berne and are one of the finest new music sax quartets to emerge from Europe. The piece begins with a sample of Nick's young son singing the title's words. The music is some of Nick's best with the guitar and saxes playing these quirky contrapuntal melodies, adding a layers one at a time. Nick's Frippish sustained guitar tone and playing always makes me smile and it fit perfectly with the layered sax harmonies. I dug the way Dimuzio took snippets of the guitar and saxes and slowly mutated them, inserting them into the mix in where you would've least expected it. The sax players would switch between different saxes throughout the piece. At once point, there were three baritones and a tenor see-sawing back and forth like waves in the ocean with Dimuzio slowly altering the saxes carefully. The last part of this piece features a long, drifting, slowly building drone that had the saxes and guitar sounding like a big organ. It took some patience and reflection in order to appreciate this section of the piece. When I finally let go my unnecessary expectations, I bathed in the sound and was mesmerized by the results. Huguette felt that this piece was quite extraordinary and I had to agree.
The next set featured the duo of Gunda Gottschalk (from Germany) on violin & vocals and Xu Fengxia (from China) on guzheng & vocals and it turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire fest. I knew of Ms. Gottschalk from her work with Peter Kowald and Peter Jacquemyn and she once played a fine solo set at the old DMG space. I've heard Ms. Fengxia from her collaborations with Joe Fonda and Peter Kowald's Global Village project. This duo once played at an earlier Vision Fest and Ms. Fengxia also played a great solo set at Victo a couple of years ago. The guzheng is a koto-like instrument from China and both women are master improvisers. This concert took place at the college and the sound was just perfect. Starting with fragile yet exotic folk-like melodies, both women would bend their strings in similar ways that was always quietly intense. It took a little while for the duo to warm up to the level where they were able to combine forces and blend their strings into a most mesmerizing whole. Their entire set seemed to build in intensity with sections that were almost too much. In one part, Xu bowed the strings of her guzheng, making some truly strange, alien sounds while Gunda let out some scary screams. Their two worlds seemed to collide at times, yet they were not afraid to dig deep and let it all out. Towards the end of the set, Xu kept pushing her voice into darker and more explosive areas that were frightening at times. By the end of the set the audience was exhilarated and many were astonished by the level of intensity that these two women provided. Word is that this set was recorded and will hopefully see a release on the Victo label.
It is always a treat to hear that world-traveling musician and multi-horn player, Joe McPhee, and the next set was another delight. It featured a quartet with Joe on pocket trumpet, flugel & soprano sax, Daunik Lazro on baritone sax, Raymond Boni on electric guitar and Claude Tchamitchian on acoustic bass. Although, Joe McPhee hails from upstate NY, the other three musicians are from France. Joe has been playing in France since the seventies and has been working with Raymond Boni & Daunik Lazro since the eighties. I was not very familiar with their bassist before this, except for a recording with Jimmy Giuffre. What I dug about this quartet was that they sounded like they came from an older style of free (jazz?) improvisation that combined inspired playing with well selected melodic fragments. Raymond Boni had an old hollow-body guitar and reminded me of early John McLaughlin, circa 'Extrapolation.' He had a unique way of bending notes that sounded like he was using some delay, but probably wasn't. Both Joe and Daunik did a fine job of emitting soft shrieks and odd sounds on their horns, building together and tossing ideas back and forth. Their bassist, Mr. Tchamitchian turned out to be one of the unexpected delights of this set. His playing was endlessly inventive, often powerful and he held the quartet together at times, when all four players were involved at once. It was rare when all musicians played at the same time, hence it was often duos and trios. Another unexpected delight was when Raymon pulled out a chromatic harmonica and played a fine solo while Claude played his bass like a quick strumming mandolin. What always amazes me is the way Joe McPhee has continued to find kindred spirits (gifted improvisers) from around the world and unite them to make a special/spiritual music that is without borders.
Roscoe Mitchell & The Note Factory have been around for more than a decade with four fine discs on different labels. The Note Factory is a mostly a double band with two pianists, two bassists, two drummers and a two horn front-line. The personnel and approach changes with each performance and/or recording. The version for Victo featured Vijay Iyer & Steve Rush (a new name for me) on pianos, Harrison Bankhead & Jaribu Shahid on basses, Tani Tabbal & Vincent Davis on drums and Roscoe (reeds) & Corey Wilkes on trumpet. I recall when another version of this band played at the Knitting Factory Jazz Fest and they were very explosive and occasionally unrelenting. This was another version entirely. The first piece was very quiet, ultra subtle, with a few notes at a time, very tense and closer to modern chamber music than jazz. For the next piece, Roscoe (on alto sax) & Corey (on trumpet), played some odd harmonies, while the rest of the band added layers of intersecting lines, building higher and higher. Roscoe took off on a mind-blowing alto solo while both rhythm sections escalate. Corey's smokin' trumpet solo concludes this piece perfectly. The third piece was again hushed and closer to modern classical in sound with soft flute and ghost-like muted trumpet. This piece again builds in layers with two powerful rhythm teams, while Roscoe rides on top of the waves with his soprano sax, Corey plays a Miles-like wah-wah trumpet solo. Outstanding! The last piece is a sort of an old-school ballad with Roscoe introducing the band, short and sweet. They play a much-deserved encore that is a sumptuous, spacious and slow moving piece that feels like a perfect conclusion to this wonderful set.
The final set that night was from Michel Cote's (Juste) Claudette. This was an odd band with two drummers, an organist, electric guitar, trumpet and contrabass. By this time at midnight, after five other sets, I was a bit tired. The music was pretty loud and rambunctious and even funky at times. The band played their warped jazz/funk grooves well, but it was too distorted and over-the-top for me. I like to have fun as much as the next guy, but enough is enough. Michel Levasseur jokingly called me an "old man" as I left after a few songs. What can I say? I have to draw the line somewhere and protect my ears and bow out when I've heard enough for one day. Overall the fourth day was a great day, but five fine sets was more than enough.
The fifth and final day of Victo 2008 began with a mighty fine trio that hadn't played together previously: Otomo Yoshihide on turntable & guitar, Rene Lussier on guitars and Martin Tetreault on turntables. It is true that Otomo and Martin have recorded previously as have Rene & Martin, but this was their first meeting as a trio. It seemed obvious to me that these musicians have played together before since they worked so well together here. Starting quietly with soft turntable sounds, somber guitar fragments and eerie electronic sounds, building into a restrained yet quietly exciting sound. The next piece began with Rene and Otomo playing a thick double feedback guitar storm, howling notes erupting together just right, eventually calming down to hushed drones, humming noises and static. A perfect combination of odd sounds. Both guitars erupted once more into an intense rave-up with Martin's turntable noise as a great accompaniment. Both Martin and Otomo played soft, haunting sounds on the turntables together at times sounding like some radiators hissing. One of the best things about this set is the way Rene alters the sound of his guitar on each piece to evoke a wide variety of guitar led sounds and episodes. Otomo is also most selective musician whether playing turntables & manipulating their sounds or playing the guitar that rests in his lap. Martin Tetreault also plays turntables differently than anyone else, rarely using records and often just manipulating the turntable itself. This was a most magical set that will hopefully be released in the future.
Over the past few years, Elliott Sharp, has had a handful of strong solo guitar offerings released. In the last couple of months there were two great discs, 'Concert in Dachau' (Intakt) and 'Octal' (Clean Feed) put out. Nobody plays the guitar quite like Mr. Sharp, so I was pleased to hear him play for the demanding Victo audience at the college with excellent sound. It is not easy to describe Elliott's unique approach, but I will try. Sharp has a way of tapping on the strings to get harmonics, as well as muting the strings to get certain odd sounds from the strings. Elliott also uses an e-bow, a device that coaxing the strings into feeding back quietly, on his acoustic guitar, something which is not that common. There is a continuous flow of ideas that runs through whatever direction that he chooses and Sharp draws from a wealth of streams: ethnic, blues, jazz, rock, classical, noise and other avant-garde directions are explored. I am most often dazzled by the wealth ideas and the ongoing sense that he is reaching deeper all the time to unleash a variety of ideas. Sometimes we have to listen closely to hear the "music" inside of the powerful waterfall of tributaries, but once you find it or them, you can enjoy the rollercoaster ride of new sounds.
The most highly anticipated set of this great festival was for many folks, The Art Bears Songbook, the final set of Victo's 25th year. Anyone who knows me well, knows that my three favorite bands of all time are: The Mothers of Invention, Soft Machine and Henry Cow. Three bands that influenced me and so many others in many ways. I was most fortunate to have seen the original Mothers at the Atlantic City Rock Fest in August of 1969 and to have caught a later but still amazing of version of Soft Machine (w/ Holdsworth) in 1974 (NYC) and 1975 (London). I did an exchange program and attended college in London (Sept '75 - Jan '76), but didn't get the opportunity to catch Henry Cow. I did get a chance to hear members of Henry Cow (Frith, Cutler, Blegvad & Greaves) in NY in 1978 and became friends with Fred & Chris during the eighties & nineties. The Art Bears arose from the ashes of Henry Cow and featured Dagmar Krause, Fred Frith & Chris Cutler. I loved their three albums, but sadly they never made their way to our shores. Since Dagmar never played in NY, I was so glad to hear her at Victo a number of years back in a duo with Marie Goyette. So, when it was announced that the Art Bears would reunite for this fest, many folks from around the world were overwhelmed with joy! The only unfortunate part of this tale is that Dagmar decided not to do this concert. This did not stop this concert from being a complete triumph! The possibility of this gig was mentioned as far back as December of 2006, when yours truly organized a concert of the inspired improvisations from three former members of Henry Cow: Fred Frith, Tim Hodgkinson & Chris Cutler.
The Art Bears Songbook featured Fred Frith on electric guitar, bass, piano & arrangements, Chris Cutler on drums & texts, Zeena Parkins on piano & electric keyboards, Carla Kihlstedt on violin & lead vocals, Jewlia Eisenberg & Kristin Slipp on lead vocals with The Norman Conquest doing the live sound. As soon as the concert began, I was overwhelmed with sense that everyone in attendance was lucky to be able to hear these songs performed in concert on a large stage with great sound. Chris Cutler mentioned in a press conference earlier that week, that he viewed the Art Bears' songs to be part of the mainstream of popular songs. For many of us, it was so much more. These songs are powerful to hear and in concert, the performance was especially riveting. Watching these three women sing those words once performed by Dagmar was an incredible experience. I realized that Dagmar had used her own voice to evoke a wealth of feelings, ideas and separate voices, throughout the three fine albums that the Art Bears released. Jewlia Eisenberg (from Charming Hostess) belted out a few songs with such power and passion, that I was nearly brought to tears. Each of these women brought something special, something unique to these songs. What especially knocked me out was when all three sung three part harmonies, making these songs even more powerful. There were a number of magical moments that I doubt that I will ever forget: first watching Chris Cutler play the drums in his own distinctive way, something he hasn't done in a long while and hearing Fred Frith play a guitar solo that was so intense I felt that our collective heads would soon explode. Carla often played lead on her violin and did an astonishing job. When Carla sang the classic "Rats & Monkeys," it was with that punk-like energy that is impossible to deny. Zeena Parkins played just keyboards and no harp. She also did a phenomenal job and seemed to be having a great time, especially when she and Fred both played piano together on one tune. What this concert did for me is that is showed that art/rock or progressive music is not dead and has never really gone away. It is just an important, dynamic, vital and transformative as it ever was. This incredible performance was recorded on multitrack by ReR and will hopefully be released in the not too distant future. I felt that everyone in attendance knew that they had witnessed something quite special. Rumor has it that Fred Frith was so pleased with the results that there might just be a future for the Art Bears Songbook to continue with new material.
So, let us raise our glasses to Michel Levasseur and his mighty crew for a wonderful 25th Anniversary Victoriaville New Music Festival! You all have done an incredible job of organizing one of the best new music festivals ever! This one will be especially hard to top, so you have another challenge for next year. I know that it has been a difficult year for both Michel and his friends here at DMG, but this festival made it all the more worthwhile. - BLG
Here's my wish list for next year's Victo fest:
1.Globe Unity Orchestra
2.Barry Guy New Orchestra
3.Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Orchestra
4.Julie Tippett or Couple in Spirit (w/ Keith Tippett)
6.Soft Machine Legacy
7.Vinny Golia/Nels Cline Quintet
8.Gianluca Petrella Quartet
9.Kazutko Umezu/Kiki Band
10.Paul Dunmall Deep Joy Trio