FIMAV 2012 In Review: Part 1

Pascal-Denis Lussier

The 28th edition of Le Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV) was held from May 17 to 20, presenting 19 concerts that spanned all definitions of the genre, questionably so in some instances, though always within the aggressively anti-categorization ethos that seems to be the running thread between all that, ironically, now qualifies under this broad category.

Approximately 4000 visitors attended the festival’s three venues, roughly the same as last year despite stronger pre-sales, and though this seemed to worry organizers who were banking on this year’s roster and a more traditional approach to experimentation to increase ticket sales, is it any wonder this was the case considering the current political climate combined with the harsh reality affecting such festivals? Experimental music is never an easy sell.

Not all shows can please all, but as with previous years, criticism of the 28th edition seems to limit itself to lesser aspects that have nothing to do with the music; the lineups, the overall quality of the shows, and the judicious stage set ups and lighting which consistently lean towards “irreproachable”. The production team certainly deserves acknowledgment for yet another undoubtedly successful festival.

Day 1

Phil Minton – “Feral Choir”

Vocalist Phil Minton came to town; localites showed up, learned Minton’s hand signals and approach over the space of three evening workshops, then improvised an hour-long “choral” set under Minton’s grimaced directions and subtle hand gestures. Whether or not the improvised din, growls, laughter, shouts, and bawls produced by Minton and his 29 vocalists are in themselves worthy of dissection is moot, the exaltation witnessed on stage was contagious and entrancing; primal-scream therapy for participants and observers conducted by a passionate musician. A brilliant opener.

John Zorn – “Nova Express”
John Zorn: direction; Joey Baron: drums; Trevor Dunn: upright base; John Medeski: piano; Kenny Wollesen: vibes.

After a four-year absence from the festival, John Zorn returned with a world premiere, a William S. Burroughs-inspired project that departs from Zorn’s abstruse avant-gardism to showcase his jazz flair through an exploration of the manic neurosis that inhabits Burroughs’ novels. The use of vibraphones evoked The Dreamers, but here compositions flowed with more accessible structures that relied on elaborate orchestrations and the sheer virtuosity each player brought to the whole under Zorn’s exacting direction, whilst offering plenty of space for mind-blowing solos. Seeing Trevor Dunn on double bass in such a context sparked cognitive dissonance for some, but his versatility and skill fit the bill, notwithstanding a slight technical failing that blurred heavy basses rather than helped to define them. Wollesen, whom most may know for his drumming, provided deft mallet work and enchanting lyricism on vibes, as Medeski, leaving his Hammond behind, graced, tickled, and slammed the ivories with the usual ease that seems to contradict his skilful mix of speed, accuracy, and opulent tone colour. And Joey Baron… well, if you’re unfamiliar with the man’s playing, don’t dare speak of “best drummer” until you’ve listened to him. Incredible. Truly astonishing musicians and a well-received success.

Mary Halvorson Quintet

Mary Halvorson: electric guitar; Jonathan Finlayson: trumpet; Stephan Crump: double bass; Jon Irabagon: alto sax; Ches Smith: drums.
Despite Halvorson’s rapidly-growing reputation in and outside of the New York scene and her undeniably unique tone supplemented by pitch-change effects and a blend of feisty-yet-tender agility on guitar, the concert was a disappointment. The avant-jazz charts lacked depth albeit interesting heads that tended to go in circles rather than offer true launching points for shared exploration; most compositions were structured around the statement-solo-restatement development form, and tended to overstate their case. Some of the playing lacked oomph, particularly Finlayson’s extended trumpet solo which lacked power, the notes wet and unrounded as if he’d completely forgotten the function of his spit valve. Had Halvorson opted on offering tighter charts but more of them rather than stretching fewer to their limits, no doubt the show would have been more interesting. An artist still worth exploring; mark it down as a bad night?