Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 1 - May 17, 2007
The Dutch scene is rife with cross-pollination, with half the members of Corkestra also participants in the equally multi-disciplinary Joost Buis' Astronotes, who delivered a stellar performance at the 2006 Ottawa International Jazz Festival. While the absurdity prevalent in much of the music coming from that scene was on generous display in Corkestra's FIMAV performance, their music on this occasion was also umistakably more serious in overall tone than either ICP or Astronotes.
Credit the aforementioned busy and dizzy Dutch scene for coming up with some of the most interesting and unconventional of instrumental lineups. Corkestra's front-line of two reeds and a flautist, along with a piano-bass-drums rhythm section, might initially seem conventional enough. But when you add percussionist Michael Vatcher's singing saw and hammered dulcimer, you know you're about to leave familiar territory behind. Propulsive rhythms were many to be found, but equally the octet explored more open-ended structures which, despite offering considerable freedom throughout, were still underscored by formalbeit of an often-fragmented nature.
Led by pianist Cor Fuhler (also an Astronotes member), Corkestra's FIMAV performance, though in the past featuring some explorative integration of electronics, was all-acoustic, making especially clear the textural diversity that can be derived through arrangement and orchestration alone. Corkestra's performance was largely as an octet, though the group did break down into smaller units at times. One high point of the set was a woodwind trio featuring Ab Baars and Tobias Delius on clarinets and flautist Anne La Berge, the resulting music of this combination sounding like Ligeti on steroids. The harmonics and microtonality exhibited a dynamic range from soft to shrill. Throughout, La Berge was a constant surprise, as much a weaver of texture as a creator of melody. On a variety of flutes she combined breathy multiphonics with sonorous melodic lines, at one point getting an uncharacteristically deep and guttural tone out of the normally high-register piccolo.
Astronotes bassist Wilbert de Joode was no less compelling. Extracting all manner of slapped, percussive tones from his bass, he was a lithe contrapuntal equal when the writing called for it but seemed just as content to lay down a visceral groove when the opportunity presented itself. The combination of Vatcher (another Astronotes member) and drummer Tony Buck became a more expansive, potent rhythm section with the addition of de Joode; but even when the music devolved into seeming anarchy, the percussion was never overbearing in rhythmic textures or dynamic levels.
While he rarely took clearly delineated solos, elected to leave the stage on numerous occasions and seemed content to drive the group rather than be its dominant instrumental voice, Fuhler did take a couple of solos demonstrating the encompassing breadth of his own improvisational acumen. At times spare and ethereal, at others hard-edged and Cecil Taylor-esque, he proved himself a versatile player capable of projecting resonant sounds along with a wealth of ideas.
It was, in fact, the marvelous arrangements of the largely episodic and, at times, almost cartoonish material that made the set such a resounding success. With so many instrumental possibilities in what might be considered, under normal circumstances, a relatively limited palette given the group's size, Corkestra's performance was as boundary-busting as fans of the vibrant Dutch scene have come to expect.