Last year, for reasons I am unclear on, I didn't much enjoy either of soprano sax experimenter Evan Parker's gigs at the 19th Vancouver International Jazz Festival; though he was well received, getting standing ovations for his efforts, it just seemed like formless squawking then, without any of the quality of attentive listening and the organic structures to which it gives rise among the musicians that usually make free jazz so appealing. I'm glad my lack of enjoyment back then didn't stop me from attending tonight's show at the Culch, though, because tonight's performance was everything one could hope for from free jazz. Various players out of a pool of eleven, featuring Parker, Lol Coxhill, Alan Tomlinson, an uncredited Louis Moholo, and local regulars Ron Samworth, Peggy Lee, and Torsten Muller, appeared in small groupings to improvise and explore with each other; not only were the visitors appealing -- Coxhill eccentric and minimal, Tomlinson swishing his trombone about such that the very sounds of its whoosh through the air became part of the performance, Moholo playing incredibly precise and at times very subtle rhythms, and trumpeter Harry Beckett and flautist Neil Metcalfe adding very enjoyable accents and colours to the performances in which they appeared -- but even the locals shone. Peggy Lee, in particular, didn't just plink about, but actually played her cello, and was amazingly strong at it -- much, much more impressive than I've seen her be in the past; her interactions with Torsten Muller and a visiting bassist whose name I didn't get (and which is not listed in the guide) were essential structuring elements to some of the later improvisations. This was a great group; all eleven players ended up on stage, with Evan Parker. He mostly seemed happy to flow along with the other musicians, to contribute to the beautiful, swirling murk they made together, so I haven't much to single him out for, but assuming the whole night was his brainchild, I tip my hat to him...
Okay, here are my recommendations for the rest of the festival, for anyone who cares:
1. Go see Lol Coxhill and Torsten Muller tomorrow at 5:30 at the Western Front, if you have any interest in noisy/improvised music. Organic noise ecstacy for perceptual elitists.
2. If you're missing the Subhumans gig, the Italian Instabile Orchestra sound like they're going to be a lot of fun -- smart, playful, swinging, and raucous. 8PM at the Culch.
3. At 11 PM there's a rare opportunity (one which, alas, I will miss, since I'll be at the Subhumans show) to see vocal improviser Phil Minton perform at the Ironworks, at 235 Alexander St, just off Main. He'll be playing with Peggy Lee, Torsten Muller, and Maggie Nichols (who I don't know but I gather is also a significant free music vocal improviser). This should be quite a show -- Minton seems a maniac. I really regret that I won't be there for this -- perhaps I'll sneak in for the last number or such.
Whatever you do at the Roundhouse, do not miss South African drummer/bandleader Louis Moholo's Dedication Orchestra at the Culch at 8. Minton, Evan Parker, and a bunch of the other "highlight" players of this years festival will be playing with them; they do a combination of folkish, lyrical South African township jazz and eccentric avant garde-ism, in a big band context. If you do happen to miss it, you can see them open for Ladysmith Black Mambazo the next night, which also ought to be pretty cool, too, despite being at the Cavern for the Performing Arts.
But of course anyone really interested in improvised jazz will be seeing Roscoe Mitchell at the Culch. He was an instrumental figure in the AACM, an Afrocentric, educational, non-profit organization in 1960's Chicago that also spawned players like Leroy Jenkins and Anthony Braxton, and the founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, an assumedly at least occasionally acidheaded five piece group that brought "little intstruments," from rubber ducks to party favours, onto the stage, along with colourful costumes and a pan-African sensibility which drew on funk, gospel, jazz, and rock, all within a generally improvised context. Co-founders Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors are dead, now, alas, so seeing Mitchell is probably about as close as you can hope to come to seeing AECO now. Opening for him will be another AACM alumni, Mwata Bowden, who has been working with local high school kids two years in a row, guiding them in reading graphic notation and teaching them new ways of conceiving of music. Bowden will also perform at 12:30 in the afternoon, earlier that day, with said kids, who were really great last year; for the evening show, he'll be joined by Paul Plimley. Mitchell will also be doing Roundhouse stuff, but on the 2nd, giving a talk at 4:30.
If you see me at any of the above, say hi...