2010 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival: Days 1-3
Another highly anticipated GUO-affiliated group came with the rare opportunity to hear an inventive first- time quartet led by one of GUO's longtime saxophonists (and co-founder) Gerd Dudek, at Studio 700 with some of Vancouver's finest: Chris Gestrin (piano), Tommy Babin (bass) and Dylan van der Schyff (drums). Dudek, a German free jazz legend, quickly revealed that he is not only a European free jazz pioneer but that he is also an expert balladeer who can cover his instrument's full range of emotions (in addition, he's an expert soprano player, though left his second axe home). Opening the proceedings with the respectful accompaniment of gently plucked bass, lightly pressed keys and van der Schyff's colorful layering cymbal splashes and drum rolls that at times unfortunately swallowed up Gestrin's contributions throughout the set, the first time grouping quickly transformed into more a horn-led piano-less trio than quartet. (This said, the drawback was more due to the poor house mixa too soft sounding piano volume than as a result of the musicians' sensitivity and capability) It was not until van der Schyff laid out altogether that Gestrin could step up and be properly heard; and perhaps there was something to be said for him exercising the patience until those times when such situations presented themselves (e.g. Miles didn't play when Monk did, given for very different reasons). Regardless of the circumstances, Babin consistently demonstrated a workshop on the art of plucking, from note placement and accents to dynamics, as many listeners noticeably sat forward to take in his impassioned playing, whether he was soloing or not.
One of the most ambitious projects of the festival was an evening concert collaboration entitled "Fixed, Fragmented & Fluid" featuring English bassist Barry Guy (who has for some time resided in Switzerland) and Quebecois animator Michel Gagné at The Roundhouse performance space. Basically improvised animation with music in real time with an all-star ensemble on hand: Evan Parker (tenor sax), Peter Evans (trumpet), Maya Homburger (violin), Peggy Lee (cello), Paul Plimley (piano) and Lucas Niggli (drums). The animated portion followed a first set mix and match of instrumentation, from two 15-minute performances, the first a string trio piece (Lee, Homburger, Guy), the second a riveting multi-movement spontaneously improvised piano trio performance (Plimley, Guy, Niggli). The horns of Parker and Evans joined Guy for the third and final first set group improvisation, highlighting in particular Guy's very physical approach to his instrument.
The near hour-long second set (almost to the second!) brought Gagne and his laptops and electronics to center stage, set just below the big screen behind him. The opening of escalating images of exploding rocks was awkwardly counterbalanced by Homburger's unaccompanied legato violin with not much if anything in common between visual and audio (perhaps something a bit more on the violent, staccato side may have seemed more appropriate if not obvious). However, once the violin introductory portion came to a conclusion and piano and bass entered, everything suddenly was in sync with both senses realigned: this time exploding circles and zig zag lines matched staccato punctuations. By the time Parker entered on soprano, many images were by then making a reentrance, creating some momentum-killing formulaic visuals on more than several occasions. This element presented an awkward dichotomy with the music pushing forward while the visual component at times became stagnant, one sense falling behind the other.
When everything was in sync, which was a frequent enough occurrence, this unique project proved extraordinary. Swimming dolphin-like lines at one point traveled from left to right complementing string legato exchanges. The images were secondary to the music, however, with most musicians not paying much to any notice of the instantly created video, while this listener (and viewer) focused his energies more on sound than sight. Incidentally, there was at least one subtly placed pre-recorded section by the musicians, which revealed the true potential of this collaborative effort, as black and white figures shaped themselves to each and every sound as well as tone. Here's hoping Gagné's given more time to catch up to the fantastic, detailed layers of such master musicians in this project's follow-up and not necessarily in real time during the performance.