Guelph Jazz Festival & Colloquium 2009
Jean Derome, one of the prominent figures within AM, appeared three timesduring an outdoor street festival with an expanded version of his Monk-heavy Evidence, during a decentralized downtown parade organized by Toronto trombonist Scott Thomson and, most notably, with a 12-tet version of his Les Dangereux Zhoms. Derome can always be counted upon for well-crafted pieces that lie squarely within jazz, yet blur the line between composition and improvisation. His pieces are exquisitely sculpted, relying on a core of musicians who can create something that feels spontaneous when it isn't and retains coherence when it is.
The ensemble presented two long suites, the first feeling something like a street scene played out primarily by Derome and Freedman's reeds, Joane Hétu's wordless vocals and Martin Tetrault's soft turntable scratches. The second piece was lighter and was an excellent spotlight for trombonist Tom Walsh and included a beautiful (if pretty) solo by pianist Guillaume Dostaler built around interruptions of wrong sounds (an unplugged patch cable, an abrupt turntable scratch, for example) giving way to an noisy concerto. Pierre Tanguay was, as always, modestly propulsive ad perfectly supportive.
Representing the northern reaches of Canada was vocalist Tanya Tagaq from Nunavut. She had just played at New York's Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival a few weeks prior, but her dervishes apparently hadn't made that trip. At Guelph, she swam through long vocal improvisations, a technique she developed based on her native Inuit throat singing (a style similar to the better known Tuvan throat singing, but employing less drone and more humor and caricature). She is frighteningly raw in her performances, embodying wrenching sorrow and ecstatic bliss, sometimes within the space of a couple minutes.
While her accompanistsdrummer Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubotused a variety of loops and delays, Tagaq (for this appearance) didn't employ any electronics, yet she would sometimes get caught in her own analog vocal loops, carried in nearly flawless time and intonation even as she interrupted and augmented.
The festival organizers smartly make the most of musicians they fly in, so booking the Stone Quartet meant they got one more gig out of bassist Joëlle Léandre and two from pianist Marilyn Crispell. But against the wood-and-string warmth of viola, double bass and piano, it was hard not to hear the quartet as a platform for trumpeter Roy Campbell, and in that regard, is one of the best settings he's had in years. Campbell likes to solo, and the quartet gave him reason to, even while tempering him. Once he gave up on sounding like wood, he started to play the blues and proceeded to display a variety of mute techniques and moaning solos for much of the set.
Playing without a drummer, the group leaves wide spaces, expanses filled with the slightest gesture. Violist Mat Maneri played unamplified, but made deft use of a stage mic, leaning in and out to shade his short, sudden phrases. Léandre, also working without amplification, was hard and quiet. It's rare to hear her recede into the background, but she was much of the time in the more traditional bassist support role. Even her vocals seemed to sit easily beside (not above or in front of) the viola, flute, and the piano's upper register.
It was well into the set before Maneri broke the trio-plus-horn foundation, refusing to let go of a resolute ending, holding on to a slow, three-note motif that built, slowly again, to his first out-front solo of the night, which invited Crispell to do the same, which brought the quartet back as an entirely new group, solid and heavier. It was a graceful and remarkable reinvention. That new band played less than 10 minutes and they, too, were fantastic.
Léandre appeared again in a matinee concert at the Guelph Youth Music Centre, the warmest and acoustically most satisfying of the various venues the festival employs. Playing alone, she can manage a deeply intimate connection with her audiences. Her rich arco, her resonant vocals, her laughter and dramatic flair managed, as always, to achieve what might be said to be the highest goal of improvised music: to express emotion, immediately and spontaneously, easily understood without relying on words. Few can deliver such musical monologues to as high a standard, and the series of emotive eruptions she delivered was, as always, enormously satisfying.