Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival 2006
The annual Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival took place in Montréal from Jun. 1st-25th. The philosophy behind this key event of the city's musical life is to present liberated music, that which questions the status quo and pushes the boundaries. This stance sends any hierarchy among genres to the background in so far as liberated music would be the result of genuine acts of creation and freedom. Consequently, even though free jazz and improvised music constitute the focus point, audiences are also exposed to aesthetics as diversified as folk, noise, etc. The core of this sixth edition was a 13-day marathon during which all but two of the improvisational events took place.
This marathon featured mainly well-established international and Montréal-based projects such as Fire Into Music, FME, Klaxon Gueule and the Derome/Guilbeault/Tanguay trio. Listening to their performance(s), it became obvious that these musicians deserve their reputations: the music was consistently of a very high level of quality. It started on the 11th with a concert by FReC, a trio composed of Lori Freedman on bass clarinet and clarinet, Nicolas Caloia on double bass and Danielle Palardy Roger on percussion. There was a charming delicacy to the music as they carefully avoided extremes without falling into banality. Later that week, Joe McPhee played on two successive nights, first in duo with bassist Dominic Duval and then as part of Trio X with drummer Jay Rosen joining them. There was a fabulous clarity to McPhee's ideas. Whether he played an introspective melody such as "Here Comes That Rainy Day or overblew stridently into his tenor saxophone, no sound was superfluous and every artifice was fully required by the development of the music. On the 17th, CINC - Ken Vandermark's trio with Phillip Wachsmann and Paul Lytton - played two excellent sets. It featured subtle, tightly-knit and fascinating playing reminiscent of what is sometimes referred to as 'insect music'.
No matter how good these concerts might have been, the absolute highlight of the Suoni Per Il Popolo was The Thing with Joe McPhee. While powerful, explosive and visceral are adjectives often - and rightfully! - associated with this Scandinavian trio composed of Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love, joined by Joe McPhee for the occasion, these words can at least give an idea of the sheer ferocity of their performance. However, there is much more than volume and energy to The Thing. For one, pure loudness would be vain without dynamics and both play a crucial role in the impact of The Thing's performance. Second, even though the logic underlying The Thing's live performances is of an improvisational nature, the musicians can launch into a piece taken from the band's repertoire of free jazz classics and rock songs at any time without interrupting the continuity of the ongoing musical process. Indeed, the results were long coherent improvisations, not mere medleys. For example, their Montréal concert featured Mongezi Feza's "You Think You Know Me , Lightning Bolt's "Ride the Sky and PJ Harvey's "To Bring You My Love among many others. This context posed an extra demand on the interplay, especially considering the physicality inherent to the playing and brought to the fore the impressive listening skills of all four musicians.
In contrast, if a disappointment were to be identified, it would have to be Fire Into Music, Steve Swell's quartet with Jemeel Moondoc, William Parker and Hamid Drake. The main problem was independent of the musicians involved who all fulfilled their roles and delivered great solos, but instead appeared related to the internal structure shared by each composition. Every single piece would start with a theme and then transform into a long succession of solos played over a constant melodic and rhythmic pattern maintained by Parker and Drake before the theme was played again. Over six pieces, two sets and around two hours of music, it became predictable and, by the end, frankly tedious.
The predominance of such sure values tends to leave less room for forms of improvised music disconnected from jazz. In this respect, Tetuzi Akiyama and Thomas Ankersmit were exciting inclusions to the festival's program even though the Japanese guitarist's performance might not have been totally conclusive. Hopefully their visit to the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival will lead the way to the exploration of these new directions within this already stimulating event.