Guelph, Canada – a pleasant university town nestled in the forrested low meander of the mis-aptly named “Speed River” is invigorated by its weeklong jazz festival, scholars’ colloquium, and $4 million research grant from Canadian governmental forces, devoted to study of music improvisation’s relation to social change and community-sustenance.
I know few details of the $4 million grant, only that the funding will go to support of five books, contracted by my own publisher Routledge, but still to be commissioned. ANd other projects. The dollars are the most ever turned to research (which will inevitably include documentation) of improvisation as a dynamic interaction. A subject I’ll report on in more depth (after I get back home after two weeks away, and deal with whatever urgent I put off)
Meanwhile, among highlights at the ?th annual Guelph fest – and fest is too small a word for this invasion, which while within it seems at least as significant as the Toronto Film Festival garnering international attention, some 70 miles north:
Composer unbound, reeds marvel and spokesman for the “friendly experiencer” Anthony Braxton headlined with a joyful lecture in which he detailed many of the idioms, elements and processes applicable to his mulitfarious and unique music; he conducted an improvised yet rigorously atonal concerto for an 18-piece ensemble comprising members of the new AIM-Toronto musicians collective, inspired by Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians; and just minutes from now as I write he’ll play reeds with trumpeter Taylor Bynum and guitarist Mary Halverson — I gotta go, but here’s more:
bassist William Parker grooved with drummer Hamid Drake, while singer-dancer Lena Conquest wailed and Amiri Baraka ranted on themes of Curtis Mayfield — a three man saxophone section alternated between free-blowing (which didn’t make as much impression as it should have, vanquished by room mix) and basic but satisfying soul-band riffs — the vital jazz rhythms and Ms. Conquest’s gospel-like fervor redeemed Baraka’s archaic anti-white agit-prop, most inappropriate here/now, virtually a museum piece;
bassist Charlie Haden and pianist-arranger Carla Bley led their Liberation Music Orchestra through stately anthems rendered dryly, opened for garrulous solos by trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, french hornist Vincent Chancy, tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby, altoist Miguel Zenon, and others — Mr. Haden loves ballad tempos way more than I do, and at last week’s Chicago jazz fest his 3 pm under-the-sun set with local jammers about put me to sleep, but in Guelph his blues-conflicted “America the Beautiful” with intimations of Ornette Coleman’s “Skies of America” as well as references to “Lift Every Voice” and several other protest movement standards was a welcome bit of patriotic demonstration of North American civil principles . . .
Montreal’s Catherine Potter demonstrated extraordinary technique on the Indian bansuri flute, and performed a very pleasing repertoire with her understated, empathetic band — subtle electric guitarist, upright bassist, traps drummer and strong tabla player — sort of the flute Shakti, less sparkly fire more water flow —
and most triumphant was the high energy, lyrical and good humored set by the 3Ms trio (Myra Melford-Mark Dresser-Matt Wilson), which communicated directly their love of playing and discovery through instrumental mastery — third hit of three nights in a row, the night before being at John Zorn’s recital space The Stone, on 2nd St. and Avenue C in downtown New York — if they can turn audiences out as they did this one, which leapt to its feet, cheering, spontaneously, at several junctures — they will do more for improv than al the research all the scholars could pursue —
oh yes, the colloquium (at which I delivered a talk that ranged from Don Cherry’s explanation of Ornette’s Harmolodic theory to Cecil Taylor explaining his generation of a distinct musical language on Chris Felver’s prismatic portrait of the pianist, All The Notes, to the video clip of Miles Davis ending his performance at the Isle of Wight Fest of 1971, from the dvd A Different Kind of Blue): guitarist Marc Ribot spoke on the practicalities and challenges facing downtown musicians and free improvisers everywhere — diverse academics presented their positions on various personal and/or arcane topics — Amiri Baraka and William Parker expressed their frustrations and rejections of the way the mainstream world treats African-American free jazz musicians . . . the freshest moments came from questions from astute observers such as James Hale, Alan Stanbridge, Pauline Oliveros, and jam sessions including one featuring my friend Alain Derbez, poet, broadcaster, journalist, historian, and soprano saxophonist from Vera Cruz performing with a kora player from Mali.
So far, a good time’s been had by all . . .