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FONT Music Canada 2016: Three Great Sets

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(Photo Credit: Haleh Fotowat)

Montreal’s surplus of hidden gems was on display this weekend at the third annual FONT Music Canada (Festival of New Trumpet Music Canada).  Ranging from 1960s rooted hard bop to modern experiments in electronic and world music, the four days of music were packed with days of trumpet’s past and sketches of trumpet’s future. Perhaps the most striking quality of the weekend was the diversity.  Although every set was generally centered on one instrument, each ensemble encompassed a unique sound that made for collection of music that could not possibly be categorized as bland or one dimensional.  In the two nights I witnessed, everyone involved truly pulled out all the stops, however, these were the sets that I found the most striking.


Nate Wooley Quartet

          After introducing each member of the Nate Wooley Quartet, festival coordinator Ellwood Epps rambled a bit about the significance of having Wooley at the event eventually losing his train of thought.  Before Epps had even finished his last sentence Lori Freedman blasted a note on her bass clarinet boldly ushering in the start of the music.  The rest of the set embodied the boldness of Freedman’s first choice resulting in a dynamic execution of free jazz that kept the audience guessing from beginning to end.

It’s always inspiring to see a group of brilliant musicians play together in a way that showcases their immense talent while maintaining a sense of mutual respect.  Although free jazz playing does not follow any defined musical form, each soloist had time to shine due to the group’s advanced sense of communication.  As one of Wooley’s solos sputtered to an end, Freedman quickly began her solo with a series of pops and crackles.  When the sounds of Wooley and Freedman moved into the background, bassist Nicolas Caloia tightly gripped the bow of his bass ripping every possible inch of sound from the instrument.

On Friday morning, Nate Wooley spoke at McGill about his experience as a professional musician in New York City. In summation, Wooley works harder than anyone else so that he can play his music his way.  Although Wooley did not take any overly showy solos, it was clear that his life of hard work has payed off resulting in a brilliant sense of musicality and impressive range of trumpet sound effects.  His electric presence transferred to every other member of his quartet epitomizing what it means to be playing improvised music at FONT Music Canada.


Lina Allemano’s Titanium Riot

          While performing, Lina Allemano stands next to her synthesizer player Ryan Driver who flicks switches and turns nobs constantly seeking new sounds to add to the room.  Although Allemano plays a traditional acoustic instrument, her vast array of mutes and extended techniques allowed her to maintain the same level of intrigue as her electronic counterparts.  Her Titanium Riot’s Sunday night FONT performance successfully kept the audience intrigued for the entire hour of their set with surprising choices from every corner of their sound.

The set began quietly with Allemano manipulating air flow from her horn without actually creating a traditional trumpet sound.  The near silence of this first technic commanded the audience’s attention and set the tone for the rest of the night.  As the soundscape grew, each musician showcased their wide arrange of sounds finding a perfect balance between subtle detailing and raw, unrefined emotions.  Drummer Nick Fraser could be seen pounding his snare drum with his fists as Driver made erratic R2D2 influenced bops and beeps with his synthesizer.  Bassist Rob Clutton provided a backdrop as chaotic as Allemano’s cookie container mute.

Another impressive aspect of the ensemble’s performance was their communication.  High intensity moments sometimes give off the impression that the sounds being made are all random, however, each stopping point was reached in near perfect unison from each musician at the seemingly perfect moment.


Ellwood Epps and Yves Charuest

          The sheer passion that Ellwood Epps puts into FONT Music Canada is truly what makes it all possible.  Despite being put out of commission for roughly six months, in the week leading up to the event, Epps could be heard all over the radio promoting his opus.  The culmination of Epps’s passion was on display with his Sunday night set with Saxophonist Yves Charuest.

Epps sort of operated as the soloist for their set as Yvess Charuest methodically established a bass line with his metric saxophone playing.  Charuest was a rare sight at the festival, an acoustic, wind-instrument player who barely used any extended techniques.  What Charuest lacks in showy sound creation, he makes up for in his ability to accompany.  From the very beginning, Charuest was finishing Epps’s lines and providing a perfect backdrop for the melodic ideas.  Epps’s talent in sound production and melodic creation was able to shine through more clearly as each decision was grounded in Charuest’s accompaniment.

Again what drove every decision that the duo made was their impressive sense of communication, which seemed to be the only thing everyone at FONT had in common.  Most of the music was unplanned and improvised, but the way every musician played together was indicative of their deep, personal connection with each other.  There are certain connections that can only be made through music and FONT Music Canada perfectly highlighted this phenomena all weekend.  I cannot wait to see where this festival is headed in the following years.

-Review by Donovan Burtan