Wednesday, September 19, 2012


I learned last year that the Guelph festival has a tradition of going out with a 24 hour sleepless jam session of programming all over town, and this year I was determined to stay up with it.  My morning got started over at the Guelph Youth Music Center with a series of duets featuring Myra Melford and Jennie Scheinman.  Scheinman revealed the true title of a work from one of her CDs that her producers had deemed insufficiently ethnic. Next it was back to the River Run Center's smaller concert hall for a double header.  First up was Brew, featuring Reggie Workman, Gerry Hemingway and Miya Masaoka.  I hadn't seen a koto being played in this context since Love Cry Want set D.C. on its ear back in the late 60s and early 70s.  I'd shown a photo of a much younger Reggie Workman at the beginning of my presentation on the first day of the colloquium, and it was inspiring to hear how good he is today. Next up was a duet with Matthew Shipp and Darius Jones.  This was one of the concerts I'd most been anticipating.  I'd never seen either musician in person before; I've been following Shipp's music for years; and I'd been hearing more about the alto playing of Jones. I left the hall thinking it had been worth the trip just for what I'd heard already this day.

Over at the outdoor tent, where the rain had stopped and the sun had come out, there was percussion with trombone and conch shell to enjoy.  Then, after dinner with friends to renew our energies, it was on to the all night marathon. First was another set of duets, Hamid Drake and Larry Ochs playing surrounded by an audience crammed into every available corner of a Yoga Center. Next was the festival headliner, a stunning solo piano concert by Abdullah Ibrahim.  After that, back over to the Youth Center to watch Fred Frith do things to a guitar, applying assorted instruments to that instrument. Frith was followed by an unusual pairing of Peter Brotzmann and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz. I took a quick shower back at the hotel and then hot-footed it back to the Art Center where the colloquium sessions had been for a sunrise performance by the ROVA Quartet.  In a turnabout, Jon Raskin herded all of us together for a photo, memorializing ROVA's first ever 6:00 AM concert. If you were bleary eyed when you walked in, you walked out wide awake and ready to meet the world. A fitting conclusion to my Guelph festival, though it wasn't festival's end -- I had to miss two Sunday performances by Myra Melford and by Charles Spearin's Happiness Project, but I was plenty happy on my way back to the lower 48.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Exactly twice in the past I have heard John Coltrane's Ascension twice in the same day: first when I bought the original LP -- getting to the end I said to myself, "gotta listen to this again, closely," and again when the work became available on CD with, lo and behold, a second, previously unreleased take.

But to hear Ascension twice in one day, by different groups of musicians in radically different realizations, now that was something I was looking forward to.

Before that, though, there was a staged interview with Fred Frith ranging over the length of his career. Fred would be on stage that night for the second Ascension, holding down the bass chair.

We were coming to the end of the colloquium, with excellent papers by, among others, Andrew Dewar and Alex Rodriguez.  The afternoon workshop featured artits from Mozambique, Norway, Austria and Canada, with Matt Brubeck hosting the event (and playing his clothes-pin cello).

The second onstage interview of the day was with the softspoken but intense Abdullah Ibrahim.  I'd run into him the night before in the hotel lobby and introduced myself, acting like the complete idiot fan -- but he was kind and gracious, as he was during his interview. The final colloquium event was the first performance of Ascension, energetically played by a large Ontario ensemble. Finally it was over to the River Run Centre for a spectacular Electric Ascension by ROVA with an enthusiastic band of friends.  ROVA had arranged for the concert to be filmed, so there were boom cameras flying around over our heads as the music filled the space of the room and of our imaginations.  Watch for the film when it's released.
and we closed the night over at the pub, wondering at all that we had seen and heard this day, wondering at what we would hear tomorrow.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Guelph Colloquium Day 2

The morning started out with a keynote address on ethics and jazz pedagogy by David Ake from the University of Nevada, Reno.  After that I caught panels on Jazz Activism, Curating Diversity and Inclusiveness and Improvised Spacemaking.  My new Italian-in-Canada friend Sara Villa gave a good talk on women Beat poets and jazz poetry, a topic much in need of such attention. David Jackson offered a presentation on Bill Dixon (one of my favorite trumpet playes of the Free Jazz era) and his "17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur."

The noon hour was given over to a workshop on the topic of one man bands,  Easy enough for a percussionist, perhaps; maybe even easy enough for a hurdy gurdy player (though who ever expected to find that instrument at a jazz festival -- rather like Rufus Harley's adoption of the bagpipes to play things like an amazing jazz version of "Eight Miles High") -- but the prize for most surprisingly fulfilling the concept of the one man band goes to Colin Stetson, who brought his bass sax from Quebec.  Rahsaan Roland Kirk had pioneered the sax player as one man band, appearing on stage wearing a whole music store hanging from his neck. Kirk would play three horns at once, in harmony, than top it with a note blown on a nose flute.  Stetson does it all with one horn and his body.  He has the entire horn miced so that he can produce a plethora of percussion effects along with making use of the sound of his breath, and he appears to be expert at circular breathing, as was Kirk. And, still in the Kirk mode, as Rahsaan would hum harmony lines over his own flute lines, Stetson mics his throat and sings along with his sax.  This would all just be show if it weren't for his remarkable musicianship and composition skills.

The second day closed with a performance by Muskox, who I would tell you reminded me of early seveties Happy The Man, if more of you outside D.C. and New York had ever heard Happy the Man.