By Bruce Gallanter
Photos by Martin Morissette
For the past two years, our car crew has dwindled to Bob N, Darren B and myself plus three more recent veterans of the Victo Fest, Don W from Texas, Paul K from Salem, MA and Bill F from Centreville, Virginia. Darren, Bob & I decided to get an earlier start than usual so Bob & I crashed at Darren’s house in NJ the night before we journeyed up north. My friends got me up earlier than usual so we actually got to Albany by noon for a light lunch. Usually we are there a couple of hours later due to having to go into NY to pick up Bob in the morning and dealing with traffic in NYC which is often a drag to deal with. I love traveling up the NY Thruway since the trees and mountains and fresh air, help to clear my mind. Darren had rented the car a day earlier and did all of the driving, a relief for yours truly, who has gotten a couple of speeding tickets over the last few years. We always dread crossing the border since we never know if the border folks will be nice. When we did get to the border (before 6pm, much earlier than ever before), there was no line plus the two border guards were actually friendly and joked with us about the type of music fest we were going to attend. We made it into Montreal earlier than usual and decided to do some record shopping before heading over to L’Oblique Records on Rivard which is still run by an old friend of mine named Luc. I met Luc around 1988 at Manny Maris’ store, Lunch For Yor Ears, where I worked for 2 years before founding DMG. Luc put me & two friends up for New Music America in Montreal in 1990 and we’ve been good friends ever since. I’ve always felt that Luc was a kindred spirit since he has a positive attitude and thirst for discovering music plus his store has been around for 35 years (2nd longest record store in Montreal), even longer than DMG (founded in May of 1991). Our annual ritual is to visit Luc at L’Oblique before we head up to Victoriaville. It is inspiring to me that Luc’s store continues to make strides as he sells more independent rock, more vinyl and stereo equipment than DMG does. We met our pal, Don White, from Houston, Texas at Luc’s, after not seeing him since before then pandemic. Don became a grandfather over the last few years and decided to be extra-careful and didn’t attend Victo last year. It is also great to see and hang with Don, a Zappa fanatic like myself, who wears mainly Zappa/Mothers t-shirts throughout the entire fest. All of us including Luc and his girlfriend went out for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant (on St. Denis) and had a splendid meal, the food and conversation both worth savoring. After dinner we made our way up to Victoriaville, around 2 hours, and got to the hotel, Le Victorin, way before midnight, another first for our Victo crew.
The next day, we had breakfast at Pom Verte and then headed to the Plateform (Victo office) to get our festival passes and buy some used CD’s. I went back and spoke with Michel Levasseur, the founder of FIMAV (since 1983!), who is an old friend of mine. It was announced that Michel and his wife Joanne, would be stepping down as the heads of the fest after this year’s edition. I had read an interview with Michel and Mike Chamberlin, Montreal music journalist and teacher, earlier that week where Michel discussed about the stress of running this fest. Considering how important this fest is to Creative Musicians worldwide as well as the attendees, I asked Michel about the future of the fest. Michel did say that he was becoming more stressed by running the fest over the past few years. The FIMAV Board is searching for someone to take Mr. Levasseur’s place and this will not be an easy task. Mr. Levasseur is the guiding light for this fest and a true friend to many Creative Musicians, which is why so many musicians and attendees keep coming back, year after year. Michel said that he was very stressed out about the recent history of the fest (closed in 2020, only Canadian musicians & audience in 2021), dealing with the city government, who have often been not very supportive of a festival that features mostly experimental/avant-garde music, although it does bring in well over 1,000 folks to town for the festival’s duration. There are around 10 installations outdoors in the center of town near the library, which were attended by the townspeople and visitors as well. The installations are always interesting, occasionally engaging and a good way to spend some times outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. Since our longtime favorite restaurant, Mykonos closed last year, we went to different restaurants each night: a microbrewery, a Thai place, a great Italian place plus stopping at The Shad for some great coffee & snacks in between the sets.
After dinner on Thursday (5/18/23), we went to the first set which was at Le Carre, a fine performance place with two theaters, which used to be the local cinema. The majority of the fest took place here or at Centre des Congres, a convention hall which was next to our hotel, the main place the musicians and many of the attendees stay at. At the first set I started to see a number of the usual attendees, folks I just see once a year, mostly familiar faces that I am glad to see and speak with. The first set was PoiL Ueda, which featured a Japanese vocalist named Junko Ueda backed by PoiL, an experimental band (4 piece) from Lyon, France. Ms. Ueda sings and plays a biwa (a Japanese plucked lute). I hadn’t heard of Ms. Ueda or the band before now, although Ms. Ueda has four discs out (1990-2014) plus a disc by the combined group PoiL Ueda. The biwa is played with a large, flat triangular pic and it is rare to see this instrument used. Ms. Ueda sang/spoke in Japanese and her voice sounded better as a storyteller than a singer. The music went from mysterious stripped down drones and plucks to some moderately intense Acid Mother Temple-like space rock. The band was tight, focused and thoughtfully paced, from slower to moderate tempos. It was an interesting and completely unique blend of different cultures and genres.
The next set featured Ikue Mori’s ‘Tracing the Magic’ sextet which featured Ikue on sampler/electronics, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Ned Rothenberg on alto sax, clarinet & shakuhachi, David Watson on bagpipes, Charmaine Lee on vocals & electronics and Ches Smith on drums & percussion. Ikue’s disc, ‘Tracing the Magic’, was released in June of 2022, around a year ago on Tzadik. The disc/piece was inspired by seven different creative women artists and the personnel had 11 musicians involved. This version of the piece was performed by six musicians. Ikue Mori is an early Downtown pioneer who used to play drums with the No Wave band DNA around 1980. After DNA ended, Ms. Mori switched to drum machine or sampler with percussive sounds. Ms. Mori soon became of the most in-demand improvisers for the entire Downtown network, often working with John Zorn, Fred Frith and Zeena Parkins. Ms. Mori’s playing and composing has evolved over forty years with more than a dozen unique discs out on the Tzadik label under her name. Ms. Mori has also designed albums covers for many Downtown artists plus creatung visual art for her DVD on Tzadik. ‘Tracing the Magic’ is a concept piece and this set was one of the first highlights of Victo 39. The stage at Le Carre 150 is the larger space in this theatre complex, the stage large, stark and often mysterious looking with superb sightlines and sound. Ms. Mori chose a great sextet with some older Downtowners like Ned Rothenberg, Sylvie Courvoisier & David Watson (an old friends of hers for several decades) plus another in-demand percussionist Ches Smith and newcomer Charmaine Lee, who worked for DMG during the pandemic. Ms. Mori obviously put a good time of time in composing and rehearsing this piece as it was consistently engaging and flowed just right. The piece evolved slowly with Ms. Mori & Ms. Lee using electronics to those spacey, lush, mystical sounds. Ms. Courviosier is a master of playing inside the piano with objects and muting the strings. The sounds she makes work well with the electronics, adding another layer of mystery to the proceedings. Both Rothenberg and Courvoisier are gifted improvisers and both got some extended solo space, their solos often being the high points of this set. David Watson is known for playing bagpipes and electric guitar. The bagpipes are often an unloved instrument due to their loud, piercing stream of circular notes. Here, Mr. Watson was an integral part of the sextet, playing a circular stream at a softer volume, providing a cosmic drone at times and never stepping on anyone else’s toes. Charmaine Lee is also a gifted player and new to town over the past few years. She was occasionally reading text, singing odd sounds and playing electronics. I am not sure where the text came from but certain phrases stood out and adding some humor to the set. Ches Smith is also a master percussionist who plays marimba, small percussion as well as drums. He always sounds well-prepared for each gig and recording. He also stood out, placing percussive punctuation in the right places. A superb and oft sublime set throughout. Ikue Mori who rarely talks on stage thanked Victo founder, Michel Levasseur for his commitment to keep FIMAV going for so long.
The final set of Day 1 took place at Le Carre 150, the somewhat smaller theatre on the first floor. The set was Zoh Amba’s ‘Bhakti’ quartet. Her quartet included Ms. Amba on tenor sax, Micah Thomas on piano, Thomas Morgan on contrabass and Miguel Marcel Russell on drums. Considering that Ms. Amba is only 23 and recently moved to NY from her native Tennessee, she already has four discs as a leader. She has gotten quite a bit of good press in the past year or so, which some folks (musicians mostly) feel is undeserved, but I don’t think this is true. Her debut disc on Mahakala (spiritual jazz label), called ‘Bhakti’, featured Matt Hollenberg on el guitar and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, but this was not the same quartet that played on that disc, especially since Tyshawn Sorey keeps quite busy composing, teaching and working with a number of different projects. Both versions of Bhakti featured pianist Micah Thomas, another new name for me, but a truly fine pianist with spiritual sounding roots. Contrabassist Thomas Morgan, a shy young man who has worked with Bill Frisell, Joey Baron and Jim Black, doesn’t usually work in freer situations but sounded wonderful here, stretching out, a couple of his solos were true gems. I hadn’t heard of the drummer here, Miguel Marcel Russell, but also sounded like the right person for this band. The set was mostly continuous and all four members of the quartet listened closely and built upon a uplifting inner stream or cosmic flow. Ms. Amba looks small, shy and aloof from the outside but she has an inner flame which uses to burn when she plays. Her tone on tenor is rather Albert Ayler-like, no small feat for her young age. The entire set flowed freely throughout with each member being integral to the group sound. Pianist Micah Thomas is a man to watch with few discs out yet as a leader. Mr. Thomas took a few solos, whipping some torrents of Cecil Taylor-like crashing waves. With each solo, Ms. Amba kept pushing herself further out, riding the waves that she and the rest of the quartet created and soloing with more fire and abandon each time. Zoh Amba is still pretty young and will hopefully be around a long time, growing and evolving. She’s played at DMG twice already with different musician each time, showing different sides to he sonic palette. She will playing a duo here with an electronic musician known as Wobbly this summer so stay tuned. Plus she is a member my Monday Night Deadhead Dance Class, but don’t tell anyone that you heard it from me.
Friday, May 19th started off with two duos. The first duo featured Emilie Skrijelj on accordion & electronics and Tom Malmendier on drums & objects. I hadn’t heard of either of these French/Belgian musicians, although both have played with musicians I do know of: Michael Thieke and Mike Ladd. Ms. Skrijelj played mostly electronics for the first half of the set with Mr. Malmendier on drums, later switching to accordion which she used in a most unorthodox way. I like the subtle ways that Mr. Malmendier played drums & percussive objects but the subtle electronics were not very interesting for me and the set went on for too long. One of the main problems I have with this fest is that every set went on over an hour, as much as 90 minutes plus. Hence I think that some of the sets needed so editing or focusing instead of pushing the envelope of patience.
The next set was another duo: Camille Brisson on flute, effects & objects and Isabelle Clermont on el harp, effects, objects & electronics. The set took place at the Centre des Cogres and the stage looked pretty different from any other sets that week. There was a large table top filled with kitchen utensils, pots, pans and hanging above the stage were more pots, pans and other cooking items. Both women wore chiffon, pastel, prom dresses and looked like like they were about to cook something. There was also a comfy chair and a harp on stage, giving it a more homey vibe. Basically both women played the many assorted cooking utensils, pots, pans, etc in percussive ways, adding some effects and/or electronics as they went. The piece they played took a long time to develop, building in layers, adding effects like sonic seasoning. One of my (male) friends mentioned the cleavage of the one of the women was one of the highlights of the set, but I often closed my eyes and just listened to the sounds. The music itself was often interesting, the visuals less so. There is a longtime performance place in NY called The Kitchen. This duo would be a perfect group to play there since the set seemed like we were in a large kitchen.
I thought the next set would be another duo since it was called Joe Sorbara/Matthias Mainz, but it turned it out to be nine piece band from Toronto. I recognized a few of the names here like: drummer Joe Sorbara (recent duo CD w/ Francois Houle), Paul Dutton (vocalist for CCMC), Christine Duncan (singer for Barnyard Drama & Element Choir), Lina Allemano (trumpeter for Nick Fraser & Michael Vlatkovich) and Albrecht Maurer (German violinist for Renaissance ensembles & a Mat Maneri & Kent Carter collaborator). This is a mixed ensemble with members from Toronto and Germany. Well regarded vocalist, Christine Duncan, who leads the great Element Choir, was often up front, cueing the other singers and other bandmembers. Even with eight members on stage, the ensemble was focused, streamlined and the pieces unfolded organically. All eight members of the octet were part of the group sound which rarely sounded too free. Paul Dutton used to sing with the CCMC (with Michael Snow & John Oswald) as well as with the wild Five Men Singing, whose live disc on the Victo label is a hoot!). All three vocalists were used and/or cued, each singing or speaking together or apart as one spirit/force. Although no one took long solos, each solo (by Lina Allemano, Albert Maurer & Matthias Mainz) was a modest gem. Although sections sounded freely improvised at times, there was some sort of spiritual glue or direction involved. I thought this set was marvelous, an unexpected delight.
The next set featured the Fred Frith Trio with Susana Santos Silva on trumpet and Heike Liss (Fred’s wife) on visuals. As you probably know, Fred Frith was a founding member of Henry Cow (in my top three progressive bands of all), the Art Bears, Skeleton Crew, Keep the Dog & Naked City. Mr. Frith lived in NYC from 1979 thru 1983 and he introduced me the other members of the early Downtown Scene like John Zorn, Eugene Chadbourne, Tom Cora & Zeena Parkins in the early 1980’s. We are longtime good friends and I’ve caught Mr. Frith live on hundreds of occasions, rarely missing an opportunity to check him out in performance. The Fred Frith Trio features Jason Hoopes on el bass and Jordan Glenn on drums started at Mills College in 2013, where Mr. Frith taught for many years and is now retired. The Fred Frith Trio now has three discs out on the Intakt label included a double live CD from last year called ‘Road’. Portuguese trumpeter, Susana Santos Silva (currently living in Stockholm, Sweden), was one of the guests on that double disc and has a recent duo CD out with Mr. Frith on Rogue Art. I’ve heard her playing on several discs over the past decade but didn’t realize that she aooears on some two dozens discs so far! Heike Liss is a renown visual artist and Mr. Frith’s wife. I hadn’t seen her work until now but I was mightily impressed. The Fred Frith Trio has been around for a decade, touring Europe several times and they’ve developed their own sound. The set that night was mostly continuous and it flowed magically from one section to the next. Mr. Frith sat is chair, stage left in bare feet, guitar held in his lap, surrounded by a number of different effects pedals. The music started out quietly with the trio slowly creating sparse drones. Ms. Santos Silva often took her time to come in, often matching and adding to the sounds that Frith was making on his guitar. The interaction between all of the musicians was organic, free-flowing and cerebral. The rhythm team would often set the pace and build lines underneath while Frith and Santos added superb sonic spice on top, everyone taking their time to as they created a cosmic flow. The visual from Ms. Liss were projected on a large screen behind the band, scenes of trees, outdoor scenery, the wind and other natural phenomena were projected and it felt like were were all in car or on a train watching this images pass us by. Ms. Liss added a variety of abstract lines/art which she manipulated, making it larger or smaller, more or less dense as it flowed. I noticed the pace of the music often fit the visuals perfectly, hence taking us on a wonderful journey. This was an outstanding set, perhaps the best or second best of the fest. Thanks to my old pal Fred Frith, he still blows my mind in performance.
Simon Hanes is the electric bassist for a post-punk, power trio called Trigger, who have a disc out playing John Zorn’s Bagatelles songbook. Mr. Hanes also leads several of his own projects and has a wicked sense of humor. For this fest, Hanes organized a new quartet with Anthony Coleman (a former professor of Haynes’) on organ, Aliya Ultan on cello, Haynes on el bass & guitar and Calvin Weston on drums. I’ve caught Trigger playing the music of John Zorn several times and they are a powerful oft brutal trio. I’ve caught Mr. Haynes wacky comedy band, Tredici Bacci, a couple of times (at The Stone) and dug their version of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town”. The set was a midnight set at the Centre des Congres and I knew I was in store for some laughs. This was a quartet of unlikely members from varied backgrounds. Anthony Coleman is one of original downtowners who has been a good friend & collaborator with John Zorn for several decades. He has a vast knowledge of many music genres/styles and is a film buff. Turns out that he is a great organ player as well. Aliya Ultan is another newcomer to the Downtown Scene and was wearing a skin tight silver jumpsuit similar to the one worn by (sex symbol) 7 of 9 (her Borg name) from the Star Trek Voyager series. Calvin Weston is a powerhouse drummer who has worked with Blood Ulmer and was a member of Ornette’s Prime Time band. They were quite a bit of silly shenanigans going on like Simon not being able to get his bass to work at the beginning of the set and Ms. Ultan, dancing around while playing her cello in odd ways. When the hijinks stopped, there was quite a bit of engaging jamming going on. There was a member of the audience, a knucklehead in red overalls who danced, whooped and applauded some of the least interesting excesses throughout the fest. He seemed to love this set and goaded the band to keep their wackiness up front. Mr. Weston got some chances to show off his power drumming and double bass drum pedal fury. Overall it was a fun set and had some great moments but some folks do question the seriousness of your endeavor when there is so much comedy going on. I thought it was a good great from the more serious side of the music making here.
Noorg are an electronics duo from France featuring Loic Guenin on percussion and Eric Brouchard electro-acoustic sounds/devices. This set started out quietly with subtle sand-like percussive and restrained electronic sounds. The duo had a tabletop filled percussive objects and electronic devices. They took their time and continued to build their sounds together. Often, it was hard to tell the electronics from the percussion sounds, the interweaving was mostly a seamless stream which slowly became more dense at the set evolved. Overall, I did enjoy many of the sounds that the duo made but the pattern of building from quieter to more dense or intense sounds become somewhat predictable before the set came to an end. One of the problems I had with a number of the sets this year was that each one was over an hour and some as long as 90 minutes. A tight, more streamlined set (45 or so minutes) would’ve worked for me more than a 90 minute set which I felt like it was often way too long.
The next set featured Guy Thouin & L’Ensemble Infini. Drummer & bandleader, Guy Thouin, is in his eighties and was once a member of L’infonie, a legendary/little known Quebecois avant/experimental band whose debut album from 1969 is considered to be a rare gem late 1960’s weirdness, a sort of Mothers of Invention-like tribe from Montreal. I own and really enjoy that record. Mr. Thouin was later in Le Quatuor Du Nouveau Jazz Libre Du Québec, who made two obscure records that I will have to find. For this concert, Mr. Thouin organized a 10 piece ensemble with members from Quebec, Toronto, Columbia and Argentina. The only musician with whom I knew of previously is/was trombonist Scott Thomson from Toronto, who I’ve heard play on several occasions at the Guelph & Victo fests. The ensemble features four saxes, harp, piano, trombone, bass & drums with a couple of folks doubling on electronics. The music was based on several repeating riffs which reminded me of the Brotherhood of Breath, the South African/British spiritual jazz orchestra that made a half dozen great records from 1970 to 1976. I dug the way Mr. Thouin organized and directed this band, often having the saxes & trombone playing certain lines together while the other members playing a foundation underneath. Each of the saxes and trombone got a chance to solo at some point while the rest of the band added sonic spice, woven with subtle electronics or short solos from the harp, guitar and piano, all part of one ongoing tapestry. I could tell that this ensemble had rehearsed at length since there were several lines which all seemed to connected, we had to listen closely to hear the way there was web holding it all together. This was one of the great surprises of this fest, especially I knew so little about most of the musicians involved.
Dave Rempis was the other frontline saxist for the Vandermark Five, one of the best & most influential bands from Chicago during the late 90’s and early aughts. The Vandermark 5 broke up in 2010 and Mr. Rempis has kept busy touring & recording with more than a dozen different mostly small ensembles, recording more than 30 discs for his oen Aerophonic label. One of those bands is called Kuzu which features Tashi Dorji on guitar, Tyler Damon on drums & Rempis on saxes. Kuzu has five discs out and I am a big fan of each one. Tashi Dorji was born in Bhutan and currently lives in Ashville, North Carolina. I first heard of Mr. Dorji from DMG manager Frank Meadows, who is a friend of and has recorded with Mr. Dorji. Dorji appears to have more than 45 releases out, often working with other more extreme improvisers. He has a duo album out with Susie Ibarra from last year (2022) which I thought was pretty amazing, showing that he can lay back at times. Not so here. Instead of the Kuzu trio, whose discs I think are pretty great, this concert featured just the duo with Rempis & Dorji. The duo started off together, playing quieter, more nuanced improv with Rempis on alto sax and Dorji cradling his guitar on his lap, slowly, organically building more intensely as the set evolves. The sax or guitar would start repeating a riff, while the other member would double or add to the repeating riff. Mr. Dorji has a distinctive sound on guitar, sometimes brittle, sometimes noisy and often somewhat brutal. The playing and set got more intense, more dense as it went with a number of fractured lines from both the sax(es) and the guitar. It eventually rose to some scary, over-the-top, noisy eruptions which I’m sure were a bit too much for some of the members of the audience. I myself dug most of the set. I do feel that a trio like Kuzu would’ve been a better choice than the duo who were a bit too intense at times for old man like myself.
I have long dug the clarinet playing of Lori Freedman, having heard her many times at Victo, Guelph and the Vision Festivals. Ms. Freedman did a residency in Berlin recently and organized a quintet of musicians, all of whom live there now: Andrea Parkins (electronics), Axel Dorner (custom-made trumpet), Christopher Williams (contrabass), Yorgos Dimitriadas on drums & electronics and Ms. Freedman on clarinets. Andrea Parkins is an early Downtown player & an old friend of mine, who moved to Berlin and is doing well there keeping busy on a variety of different projects. I’ve long admired the work os Axel Dorner, a restless trumpeter who has played in Schlippenbach’s Monk’ Casino band, as well as with the lower case contingent of eastern Europe. Ms. Freedman and Mr. Dorner were at either end of the quintet on stage and were often the main soloists while Parkins, Williams & Dimitriadas all wove an ongoing flow of subtle electronics and rhythm team interaction. The piece started with all the members taking out some visual illustrations which were placed on the stage and were meant to inspire some (all?) of the improvisations. Instead of what we think to be a set of completely free music, there was more of a directed energy which held this together. This was one of the better sets this week and it showed that Lori Freedman continues to mature and expand her playing/vision with each project that she presents.
Void Patrol features Payton MacDonald from Australia on vibes, marimbas & compositions, Elliott Sharp on guitar, Colin Stetson on bari sax and Billy Martin on drums & percussion. Australian percussionist Payton MacDonald played in Alarm Will Sound and has some 3 dozen records, mostly playing marimba and working with composers/musicians like Anthony Braxton, Weasel Walter and Elliott Sharp. During the pandemic, MacDonald, organized a quartet with Elliott Sharp, Colin Stetson & Billy Martin. He sent each member his own percussion parts and the written music that each member then recorded with. Each member of the quartet recorded separately and sent back their parts to MacDonald who assembled the parts into a quartet recording. A CD was released on the Infrequent Seams label and released last year. The quartet had never actually played together live until now. Each of the four members are masters at what they do and draw from a variety of styles, disciplines and back grounds. The concert was present in the larger room at Le Carre with a big stage, the quartet each had a good amount of stage space to use. Mr. MacDonald often started a piece at his marimba or vibes by playing a simple repeating pattern, while the other members would slowly join in. Each piece would evolve as each member would become part of the united groove and eventually solo. Both Elliott Sharp on a custom-made guitar and Colin Stetson on several saxes would play and/or solo, yet they sounded different from what either usually does in the own projects. Unlike the Void Patrol CD, the quartet sounded like they had been working together for many years. Everyone got to solo and stretch out at some point and all four members shined at different times. This was a near perfect set and one of highlights of this fest. This quartet were fabulous and should have a live recording out.
The final set that night was by a metal band called Bunuel. Their singer is Eugene Robinson who is also in Oxbow, a band that played at Victo in 2013 and were one of the highlights of the fest that year. The rest of the band is a power trio with Xabier Iriondo on guitar, Andrea Lombardini on bass and Francesco Valente on drums. Outside of a few of the more extreme/loud sets at Victo (like Sunn O)))), Merzbow & Haino Keiji), I haven’t been to very few heavy metal or hardcore shows gigs since the 1990’s when Naked City were still around. Hence, I am not used to hearing and experiencing music like this although I still am searching for intelligent or Creative metal music when I get the opportunity. Bunuel were stripped down to a lead singer, lead guitar, el bass & drums, full frontal assault on the senses. The music at times reminded me of the Stooges, the Ramones and the Butthole Surfers. Lead singer, Eugene Robinson, who is also a boxer, is a strong singer with an obvious sense of humor, not taking himself too seriously. The words he sings are more down to earth, rarely discussing the darker topics that many metal band deal with. The music is powerful hard rock, pounding, rocking hard and intense. For me, this was a good thing, a break from the more challenging or difficult avant/experimental sounds which many of these sets explored.
Fuji]]]]]]ta/EYE was the first set of the day on March 21st and it featured EYE, singer & noise-maker from the legendary Japanese hardcore band the Boredoms with Yosuke Fujita, both doing electronics in their own way. I recall seeing/hearing Eye singing/screaming with the Boredoms & Naked City back in the 1990’s and hearing Eye playing electronics with John Zorn at Tonic for Zorn’s 50th birthday celebration. This set also took its time to build with both Eye and Fujita playing different electronics sounds, blending their sounds into a pulsating stream. It wasn’t until midway before Eye switched to vocals also adding some electronic devices to his voice.There were some interesting moments going on during this set but I felt that it went on for too long.
Sunday, May 17th, was the last day of FIMAV 39. One of the more interesting things that happen at FIMAV is when a group of musicians is put together for the first time on stage. The following set was one of these well-selected trios of musicians/bandleaders/
The next set featured another duo: Nina Garcia on guitar and Arnaud Riviere on electronics. Earlier in the week during a press conference, Fred Frith mentioned that he was regretting have to miss the set by guitarist Nina Garcia, so I was intrigued to hear why, considering the Mr. Frith is one of the finest experimental guitarists around. Ms. Garcia is definitely an odd, unique guitarist, allegedly influenced by Sonic Youth & other punk/noise bands. This duo was pretty intense, even brutal at times. Noisy, throbbing brittle guitar with equally noisy electronics. Ms. Garcia was often coaxing feedback from her guitar with Mr. Riviere also adding layers of dense electronic sounds to the flow. I did enjoy parts of this set and look forward to hearing more music from Nina Garcia but it went on for too long, a problem I had with around a half dozen of the sets at Victo this year.
The last three concerts featured the music of John Zorn and took place in the larger theatre at Le Carre. FIMAV founder introduced Mr. Zorn and born seemed very happy to be there on stage acknowledging each’s importance to the history of FIMAV. Michel mentioned that Zorn had played at the festival on 12 different occasions, his popularity growing more every year. Mr. Zorn currently has more than a dozen different ensembles which perform his music from different songbooks, the Masada and the Bagatelles large book of songs. The first trio was an all acoustic piano trio featuring Brian Marsella on piano, Jorge Roeder on acoustic bass and Ches Smith on drums. All three members have been in different Zorn projects throughout the last decade. Brian Marsella is an extraordinary keyboardist who plays piano, organ & other keyboards. Zorn’s writing for a piano trio is quirky and unpredictable. The trio played mostly songs from a recent CD called, ‘The Fourth Way’, which is dedicated to the Russian mystic philosopher named Georges Gurdjieff. The title of the CD comes from a great book based on the writings about Gurdjieff. After composing 650 Masada songs (in three books) which feature mostly Jewish melodies, Mr. Zorn has continued to expand his vision of writing music with memorable musical themes. Like most of the songs that Zorn has composed, these songs hover between haunting, melodic piano trio embellishments with Zorn’s quirky, stopping on dime time or tempo shifting fragments. This is an incredible trio who seem to know no bounds, shifting dynamics, written & improvised line, all swirling tightly together. Both bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Ches Smith are also young masters who deliver the goods no matter what. The is challenging music for a piano trio especially one that must keep jumping through hoops throughout the set, switching & shifting midstream. The second trio was Simulacrum which features Joh Medeski on organ, John Hollenbeck on electric guitar and Kenny Grohowski on drums. Both Hollenbeck (in Cleric) and Grohowski (in Titans to Tachyons) play in metal bands while Medeski is well known for the great jazz/rock/jam band - Medeski, Martin & Wood. The Simulacrum trio have some 10 discs out on Tzadik so it seems that Zorn hasn’t yet exhausted the abilities of this trio. Simulacrum can be brutal and intense yet are always tight and powerful. I used to think that many of the early Simulacrum CD’s sounded similar but as time goes on, Zorn keeps coming up with some unexpected charts for the trio to shine with. Over the past year, guitarist Matt Hollenbeck has played at DMG several times in improv bands playing more free/jazz than metal so his playing has opened up more to other influences. This was also strong, powerful and unsettling in its intensity/spirit. Although all of the songs played here were composed by John Zorn, both of these trios sound alike in many ways. Both were phenomenal in their own distinctive way.
They cleared the room after the two trio sets so they could reset the stage for the final concert, the New Masada Quartet. This quartet has been around for the past two years and features Mr. Zorn on alto sax, Julian Lage on guitar, Jorge Roeder on contrabass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Before the quartet played, Zorn brought out Mr. Levassuer once again, thanking him for founding and running this festival for 40 years (1983-2023). As Mr. Zorn and Mr. Levasseur embraced, it seemed obvious that there was immense respect and love between these two old men. Many of those in the audience were touched by this gesture. I had seen the New Masada Quartet play to a sold out show at Roulette just two months ago and that show pretty great! This time they played to a full house of more 800 ecstatic fans so the vibe was even more dramatic. The original Masada Quartet played their first set in September of 1993 for Zorn’s 40th birthday celebration (30 days straight at the Old Knitting Factory). The original quartet has long since broken up as each member have moved away, their careers evolving through different bands and phases. In a few months, this September, Mr. Zorn will turn 70 with the Masada songbook turning 30. There are some 650 Masada songs which are kept in three books. The current band plays song mostly from the original Masada songbook, many of which haven’t been played live in many years. Mr. Zorn has again organized an extraordinary quartet in which each member is integral to their group magic/sound. Guitarist Julian Lage is only 36, half of Zorn’s age and already he seems unstoppable, doing things on guitar that seem impossible for even older jazz guitarists to pull off. The set started off with a great old Masada song that most fans would remember well. After the opening theme or head (where Zorn points when he wants it come in), Zorn and Lage start trading licks, back and forth, a marvel to watch and listen to both. Mr. Zorn is a longtime master of the alto sax, having learned every bebop lick in the late seventies and then tackling a variety of multiphonics, tongue-twisting and unique sounds from his sax that no one can do. Mr. Zorn takes the first long solo, peppering his solo with a number of licks that he created, pulling off marvelous bursts of bent notes, fragmented melodies and his own lightning licks. He winks at Mr. Lage when he finishes soloing and then Lage takes over with his own solo. The first thing I notice when Mr. Lage takes his solo is this: he was listening closely to Zorn’s solo and taking several of Zorn difficult licks and starting his solo by quoting Zorn and then improvising an astonishing solo of his own based on what Zorn had played. Zorn himself is smiling, radiating good vibes as he watches Mr. Lage keep going higher and higher, reaching for the stars with his own masterful solo. As far as I can tell Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder must’ve moved to town around 2010 and starting to play with Julian Lage around the same time. I hadn’t noticed his playing until I heard him with Julian’s Trio and the New Masada Quartet. He is also a marvelous contrabassist and Zorn keeps pushing him in this quartet. Mr. Roeder takes several bass solos throughout this set, egged on by Zorn who wants him to keep going. Each of those bass solos is better than the last one, bringing the audience to its feet twice during this set, no easy feat for a bass solo. Kenny Wollesen is also a longtime Zorn collaborator and was a substitute drummer for the original Masada Quartet (no east feat), a member of the expanded version of Electric Masada and the Gnostic Trio (where Kenny plays vibes). What makes this quartet so astonishing is a number of things: Zorn picks many of our favorite older Masada songs, which have memorable, smile-inducing melodies plus Zorn knows how to push his sidemen to their the limits of their playing. Hence, the inner flame/vibe keeps ascending throughout the set, bringing the audience to their feet on several occasions. The set was more than hour long, making those in attendance very happy to be there. I could feel that positive glee throughout the room. This was the best set of this year’s FIMAV Fest and I thought a perfect way to bring the fest to a grand close. Thanks to John Zorn, Julian Lage, Jorge Roeder and Kenny Wollesen! It doesn’t get any better than this!
My friends and myself went back to the hotel afterwards, the good vibes were still flowing. A few of us hung in the hotel’s bar to talk and drink some Canadian beer. The New Masada Quartet showed up and were also hanging out so I got a chance to talk to each of them and give them each a hug, thanking them for making music which inspired and uplifted all of festival goers.
Bob N, Darren B, Don W and myself spent the next day in Montreal going record shopping and hanging out, thinking and talking about our great experience at the Victo Fest. We had dinner once again with Luc from L’Oblique and his lovely girlfriend. Later that night I had a conversion with my good pal Bob Nirkind about the positive aspects of what we shared at this and previous Victo fests, a bonding experience for my friends and those of us who attend year after year. The big question remains with all of us: Will FIMAV continue without being run by Michael Levasseur?!? No one knows for sure what will happen, although Michel tells us that 5 folks have already offered their services. So, we will see what happens next year. To all of you who attended this year’s festivities or have been to any of the FIMAV’s of the past, a special toast to Michel Levasseur, his wife Joanne and his daughter Jordie and the staff of the Production Plateform. I am sipping some wine now and hoping that this most important annual fest continues. We know it will not be the same in the future but we still need a festival like to to inspire us each year and help us through these often treacherous times. Peace and Love Always, Bruce Lee Gallanter at DMG