by carl wilson

Guelph Jazzblog 3.i

hamidhead.jpg
Hamid Drake

The Supersilent set only got better, locking on a horizon of fixed intensities and heading towards it not so much by forward motion but by stretching and spreading laterally, becoming large enough to envelop all it surveyed. I spent much of it leaning on the stage, both to observe more closely and to get away from the jabbering further back in the room. At one point singer/trumpeter/drummer Arve Henrikson was provoked into singing (in his high choirboy tones) a song that began, "Why are all these people talking? Why did they come if what they wanted was to talk?" and proceeded to speculate, "Perhaps they are very lonely/ So they desperately need to socialize/ Why are these people so sad and lonely?" while keyboardist Ståle Storløkken played funereal chords, a good performance lesson in making lemons into lemon daiquiris. In any case, a really involving set of ambient-style improv; I'm looking forward to investigating their recordings.

Now, to return to the earlier AACM concert: Both parts had their strengths, but without question I got more out of the first set, by Douglas Ewart, Wadada Leo Smith, Hamid Drake and Jeff Parker. [... more after the jump ...]

Parker, on electric guitar, was the weakest link - he was fine, but I've never found him an inspired improvisor. But the rest of the quartet was superb, and not (generally) by undertaking heroic-style soloing, but by creating a series of passages from one sonic space to another in a way that left me with that transfigured feeling that is the highest mark of creative improvisation. Drake is never less than stunning, of course - a great exemplar of a musician who defies the mind-body split, seeming at once athletic and intellectual in his every gesture. Smith fulfilled expectations, restrained but canny in his awareness of where his trumpet lines would have maximum effect. And Ewart, whom I don't think I've seen before, was a revelation, confidently leading and evolving the improvisation from strength to strength, wittily deploying the instruments of his own creation - most memorably a slide didgeridu, a brilliant solution to the monotony of most didgeridu playing that allows a player to really dig in and explore its amazing harmonic potentials. His bassoon work was also incredible - a difficult jazz instrument that he made agile and sardonic. I also particuarly remember a section when all four players were playing handheld chiming tubes, sounding like a rainstorm of bells, with Drake somehow finding a way to solo by rolling the ballbearings (if that's what they were) around inside the canister, tapping its sides, sustaining the rhythm in a superconscious way.

The Art Ensemble part of the evening was a more ambivalent experience. I found new trumpeter Corey Wilkes an unfortunately tepid presence - he seemed timid, as though he were perpetually waiting for permission to have an idea; his part of the sound always seemed a drag on the interstellar energies of the group during the open improvisations, and his solos fell into well-carved paths, with an almost painful feeling of blockage. Maybe he was just having an off night for some reason? That was definitively not the case for Roscoe Mitchell - my first time seeing him, and I certainly regret that. He left me breathless with the empathic and assertive quality of his saxophone lines, never predictable but always keyed in to some overlooked essence of the music that was happening at the moment. Joseph Jarman was his usual eccentric but graceful self, a bit prey to his own cliches but a pleasure to hear. (He was originally supposed to play the first set rather than Parker, which would probably have made that set even better, but understandably he preferred not to do double duty.) New bassist Jaribu Shahid is no Malachi Favors, but he held his own handsomely, and Famadou Don Moyes provided a rhythmic foundation that likely would have been easier to appreciate if he hadn't had to follow Hamid Drake. For whatever reason the ensemble feeling last night was lacking - there was little cohesion of intent in the improvised sections, and as a result they often seemed to get stuck in neutral, locked into a textural or rhythmic idea (or anti-idea) for too long, except when Roscoe took the lead. But mostly I just felt grateful to have a chance to hear the Art Ensemble in person at last, as the AACM marks its 40th anniversary - it still retains its charisma, and sadly I can only imagine what it must have been like when Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors were in the band.

It's funny how the positive-thinking vibe of the Guelph festival affects things. As David Dacks and I were discussing during my CIUT interview, the 'niceness' of this festival can be a bit oppressive - it makes it difficult to feel entitled to more polarized emotional responses. To be even mildly critical, as in this entry or as I was about the Fujii quartet yesterday, feels a bit like you're going to find the village turn upon and shun you - as compared to Victoriaville, with its much more professional-listener audience base and its Montreal edge (because a far smaller proportion of the audience there is from the town), where it's almost like a competition to find fault with the music and I very much feel the contrary impulse to champion what was valuable about each concert. But I do keep returning to something Eric Lewis said during Friday's panel discussion (more about that in the final wrapup entry later today) - that he feels a responsibility as a listener to improvised music always to interrogate his own reactions, particularly when he doesn't like something - to wonder if he is being reactionary or misunderstanding the intents of the musicians, missing what is being said. For instance, "If Archie Shepp gets up and plays standards, and you're disappointed because he didn't play 'fire music,' you want to think about why he might have done that." It's a good encapsulation of one of the challenges of this art form, and I think it will stick with me - it's left grains of doubt within my assessments of the music I've heard this weekend, and right now I'm savouring the quiet friction of that sceptical grit against my instinctive (?) reactions. More later. Thanks for reading, if you've been reading, so far.

Read More | Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, September 11 at 11:57 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)

 

COMMENTS

Having attended both festivals. I can totally see your point on airing criticisms and the clear difference between the audiences in both smallish places. Your assessment seems accurate. There is a preciousness about the Guelph folks that appears absent in Victoriaville. I would say that there is a defensiveness in southern Ontario about these things, largely attributable to an inferiority complex that usually hits folks who live in the shadow of the big smoke. Yes, that can unfortunately hinder lively and constructive debate about the music. But it is important that the climate is understood and embraced, not seen as problem of having these kinds of festivals in backwater places...right? After all, these festivals aren't supposed to really be for "professional listeners" they are supposed to be for everyone. The critical discussions are for critics, not the people just looking for something interesting to do on a weekend.

Posted by Phil on September 13, 2005 3:37 PM

 

 

Great story about Supersilent's retaliation for crowd noise (although I find Zorn's approach more viscerally satisfying)...the same thing happened here in Amsterdam but I just assumed that it was the venue (no one is ever quiet at Paradiso).

As for recordings, my two cents: for me, the most compelling music they've made (tracks I return to regularly) is on their 1-3 collection, but there are some formless dead spots there too...I'd go for 4. 6 has too many distractingly bland keyboard textures for this ear.

Posted by Mark on September 11, 2005 11:49 PM

 

 

Plus, you can't fail with Hamid at the helm. Fantastic man.

Posted by Chris on September 11, 2005 1:34 PM

 

 

I'd go for their fourth, though others might say you should try their sixth. Happy listening, pal.

Posted by Chris on September 11, 2005 1:29 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson