Features / Reviews & Previews

Anthony Braxton returns for solo gig at Victoriaville fest

VICTORIAVILLE – With a mix of high-profile artists and musicians performing here for the first time, the lineup for this year’s Festival international de musique actuelle May 18-21 is exciting and challenging.

The return of Anthony Braxton, the renowned American saxophone innovator, musical pioneer, teacher (and expert chess player), in a rare solo gig May 21 is only part of the reason the 21-concert series is generating so much interest.

Braxton will be sharing the bill with the inventive and upbeat guitarist René Lussier, a Victo veteran, who continues to develop ideas and melodies from his countryside perch in the nearby Beauce mountains.

Double bills such as this one are innovations at this year’s Victo fest. Along with lower ticket prices these developments have led to a 15-per-cent increase in ticket sales, says festival general manager and curator Michel Levasseur.

The diverse lineup is only part of the reason regulars, such as myself, return year after year from across North America to this quiet town, 170 kilometres east of Montreal, to hear a variety of
musicians, from free jazz to avant rock, over four days. It unfolds at a leisurely pace from 1 pm to midnight, a wonderful way to get away and discover in a placid and welcoming environment.

From a first group of six concerts in 1982, and the first festival in 1983, this annual showcase of new, ground and barrier breaking music has acquired a worldwide profile as a premier event, virtually unique in North America.

Braxton is keeping the content of his concert under wraps, but Levasseur says he will be using several smaller instruments along with his alto sax, to play both composed and improvised music.

One anecdote that tells you a lot about Braxton: He was taking a break at the old Rising Sun jazz club and I was just getting to know this type of music when I heard Braxton say, “I love playing standards – three at the same time!” It took me a while to understand.

Braxton developed challenging ideas as a composer and innovator, was convinced that the blues-based and standard harmonics of repertoire “jazz” had reached their limit, and that creative musicians needed to venture beyond the conventions of rhythm, harmony, and melody.

As a performer, leader, and teacher, Braxton exemplifies that approach: To be there in person as he performs is enriching and enthralling.

Among other highlights is the return of Terry Riley, the minimalist American pianist and
vocalist, 81, who continues to excite with his varied vision, performing with his son, the classical guitarist Gyan Riley, 50, known as a colourful post-minimalist.

To sample their work, listen to cuts from their album Terry Riley & Gyan Riley LIVE (2011), posted on the Terry Riley website.

As the senior Riley says, “Nothing I have done can match the intuitive synchronicity we have shared many times on stage.” They perform Saturday, May 20, 10 pm, at the Coliseum. $36. That morning visitors can view three experimental films by Bruce Conner featuring Riley’s music.

Another highlight is the return of electric guitarist Nels Kline, in a new quartet where avant jazz meets avant rock, with electric guitarist Julian Lage, who performed last spring here as part of John Zorn’s Bagatelle series, first-call jazz bassist Scott Colley, and veteran drummer Tom Rainey. They’re on Sunday, 8 pm, $30. Opening the festival is the returning and brilliant saxophonist Colin Stetson leading an 11-member orchestra in his powerful “reimagining” of Henryk Gorecki’s 1976 work, Symphony #3, AKA symphony of sorrowful songs. It’s called Sorrow, and features the saxophonist’s equally brilliant sister, Megan Stetson (mezzo soprano), plus strings, winds, electric guitars, synthesizers, and drums. 

Colin Stetson performs again on Friday night at 10 pm with the heavy instrumental and Noise oriented rock quartet Ex Eye, alongside electric guitarist Toby Summerfield, metal and improv veteran Greg Fox on drums, and synthesizer exponent Shahzad Ismaily, who impressed here in 2015 with Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog.

They share the bill with the Indonesian duo Senyawa – vocalist Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi on various home-made instruments. $36.

Then, on Saturday, 3 pm, Stetson is back performing with U.S. avant trumpeter Nate Wooley and his 19-member Seven Storey Mountain V. The concert opens with a piece by the TILT Brass Octet – four trumpets, four trombones – which then joins Wooley’s 11-member group to offer some “ecstaticism.” $30.

On Sunday, 3 pm, Montreal-based guitarist and prolific composer Tim Brady returns with two new major works: Désir, a concerto for electric guitar and 13-member ensemble, and then,
8 songs about Symphony #7, inspired by the première of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony #7
during the horrific 900-day siege of Leningrad. It features soprano Sara Albu and baritone
Vincent Ranallo.

Of course there is a lot more, including the Battle Trance saxophone quartet, playing Saturday, 1 pm, at the lovely St-Christophe d’Arthabaska Church; French organist Jean-Luc Gionnet plays solo there on Sunday, 1 pm.

Signaling the spirit of adventure at the heart of Victo, the opening performance Dollhouse presents dancer Bill Coleman and the electronic and acoustic creations of Gordon Monahan.

Most of the concerts will be at the town’s new cultural centre, or at the reconfigured hockey coliseum, with several at the church in nearby Arthabaska.

A festival package tour costing $109 per person (double occupancy) offers one night and breakfast at Le Victorian Hotel, where the musicians stay, with tickets to concerts at 8 and 10 pm.

For the full lineup and other package deals and booking information, visit fimav.qc.ca or call 819-752-7912.

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