by carl wilson

Great Hoser Music, Ancient to the Future!

scottthomson.jpg
Scott Thomson.

In today's Globe, I've got a piece about members of the Toronto improv-music scene's new initiative, the Association of Improvising Musicians [of] Toronto, or AIMT, an outgrowth of the Leftover Daylight series (which is on tonight) and its Interface project. The organization is launched with a series of concerts next week.

Will we look back upon this as a turning point, when the city's own AACM or LMT - or at least its NOW/Coastal Jazz - got its start? Might it have the long-lasting effects of CCMC and the Music Gallery, and eventually lead to Toronto gaining its own version of the Casa del Popolo and Sala Rossa in Montreal? Just mebbe. I'm also interested in the educational role of the organization, in schools and in public - the AACM's outreach to urban youth could be a model; in the long run the improv scene in turn would gain, with a (needed) increase in cultural diversity.

What I like best about AIMT is its intention to be outward-looking in a city that is too often self-enclosed, which can sap the urgency and demandingness out of the art made here (improv music included). It's better when the stakes are high. AIMT member Rob Clutton has some interesting reflections on this syndrome within Canadian culture. What matters is to keep kicking at that can, eh? Get the inside story. [...]

Mavericks unite

By Carl Wilson
The Globe & Mail
Friday, January 7, 2005

It's enough to summon up the bad old political joke: "Uh-oh, the anarchists are getting organized."

Improvisers are the libertine faction of the musical world, demolishing the familiar buttresses of time signatures, chords and melodies and daring to reinvent music itself on the spot. At first an outgrowth of the free-form jazz solo la John Coltrane, in the past half-century improv has become its own global genre, boasting as many styles as there are musicians to play them, from screaming chaos to near-silence and from politicized earnestness to zany slapstick. It's difficult listening but, at its best, unrivalled in suspense and surprise.

Toronto improv has blossomed particularly in the past half-decade, with creators in their 20s and 30s running shows in bar backspaces and art galleries, and events such as the annual 416 Festival. Now, these mavericks are taking a different kind of risk: They're amalgamating in the Association of Improvising Musicians, Toronto (AIMT), a non-profit organization complete with a mission statement and board of directors.

AIMT is being launched with a series of fundraising concerts this coming week, showcasing more than two dozen musicians in the new generation of Toronto spontaneous-music makers the association is mandated to promote.

"There didn't seem to be many organizations doing what we've set out to do," says guitarist Ken Aldcroft, a founding board member of AIMT. "There are new-music organizations and a good infrastructure for straight-ahead jazz. The opera and the symphony have people who get money for them. We're trying to get a little piece of that pie to stimulate our scene."

Mostly excluded from mainstream clubs and festivals, the phases of improv in Toronto tend to be governed by series such as the defunct Ulterior and Rat-drifting nights, the sessions at the Idler Pub in the mid-1990s, and currently the Leftover Daylight series run by Aldcroft and fellow board member Joe Sorbara at Arraymusic in Liberty Village on alternate Fridays, tonight included. (The other room of choice these days is the Tranzac Club on Brunswick Avenue below Bloor Street, where, for example, drummer Jean Martin and vocalist Christine Duncan present the debut of their seven-piece Barnyard Drama Orchestra this evening.)

AIMT will create continuity between these series, whose survival often hangs on the tolerance and goodwill of landlords and bar managers.

It's far from unprecedented. The milestone in Toronto free-improv history was the founding of the radical performance group CCMC (slogan: "No Tunes Allowed"), which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2004 with a current membership of composer John Oswald, poet Paul Dutton and artists Michael Snow and Nobuo Kubota. In 1976, CCMC members took a pragmatic leap of their own and founded the Music Gallery, still (despite difficulty holding on to venues) the city's chief presenter of undomesticated sounds.

Yet changing fashions and fickle funders have pushed the Music Gallery away from jazz and improv, toward formal composition and, lately, experimental indie-pop. The younger crowd has a healthy relationship with its elders -- Joust, with Oswald on sax and AIMT board member Scott Thomson on trombone, plays the York University Art Gallery on Wednesday -- but past structures have sagged.

Internationally, too, collective organizations have played a vital role. Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (usually called the AACM) was founded amid the 1960s Black Power movement, incubated the Art Ensemble of Chicago and is still an important provider of youth education and artist development. The London Musicians' Collective (LMC) began in 1975 and currently sustains an annual festival, a magazine, year-round concerts and "the world's best radio station," ResonanceFM.

Canada's most successful take on that model directly inspired AIMT. Founded in 1977, the artist-run NOW Orchestra has set the course of Vancouver jazz so strongly that the city's biggest festival is packed with homegrown improvisers, who get to match wits with the best foreign talent. When NOW guitarist Ron Samworth visited Toronto as part of Leftover Daylight's Interface series in April, he encouraged players here to follow suit.

"I think the main goal is to interact with the world," says bassist Rob Clutton, the AIMT board member best established in the jazz, improv and even folk music communities of Toronto. (Percussionist Nick Fraser rounds out the board.) "This scene can seem kind of isolated. We want to raise awareness of what's going on outside here, and of what's going on here for the outside."

The first priority is to expand the Interface program, which brings high-profile improvisers from elsewhere to play with Torontonians, to spur artistic development and connections. AIMT also plans outreach programs in Toronto schools, as well as public workshops. Other goals (a new venue?) can wait. "Anybody who wants to be a member, is a member," says Clutton, but there are no general meetings -- which could cause tensions over representation, but does bar the sort of factional warfare that once hobbled the Marxist-leaning LMC.

On a deeper level, AIMT could help to dispel "the notion (or reality) that to exist as an improvising musician in Toronto is to be a dabbler, a hobbyist," Clutton says.

He cites E.K. Brown's classic 1943 essay "The Problem of a Canadian Literature," which said "a colony lacks the spiritual energy to rise above routine . . . because it does not adequately believe in itself. . . . A great art is fostered by artists and audience possessing in common a passionate and peculiar interest in the kind of life that exists in the [place] where they live."

Toronto still fails too often to muster that "passionate and peculiar interest." What to do? AIMT suggests we improvise.

The AIMT concerts are Jan. 13 at 319 Spadina Ave., and Jan. 14 and 15 at the Arraymusic studio, 60 Atlantic Ave. $15. For more details: AIMT.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, January 07 at 1:58 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

COMMENTS

i'd like to add.. that Maury Coles was my real introduction to the improv scene and held a regular monday night improv pool @ the cameron house that brought so many of us together. it was like church. thanks for the continued support for the scene Carl!

Posted by colin on January 11, 2005 9:36 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson