After writing a review of the fantastic Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival opening concert featuring the likes of Wadada Leo Smith and Kai Kellough, I was graced with the opportunity to witness a slew of Suoni festival concerts throughout their two week line-up. As usual, Suoni delivered a mind bending take on music. From spoken word to art-punk to free jazz, all things underground seemed to be represented in one way or another. Through and through Montreal was well represented. At the end of the day, the festival is really about this beautiful city we live in so, I thought it would be best to spend some time writing about some of my favorite local acts. Check it out:
Jean Derome and Joane Hétu @ Sala Rossa
Jean Derome has been an important figure in Quebec’s Musique Actuelle scene for 45 years. For this year’s festival, Derome put on a career spanning concert event featuring various ensembles and musicians from different eras in his life. From beginning to end the audience witnessed extraordinary feats as each and every musician tested the capabilities of their selected musical instruments. The set that I remember most fondly was Derome’s first with alto saxophone player and vocalist Joane Hétu. Although Derome has an impressive arsenal of instruments including Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Alto Flute, Soprano Flute as well as various extended wind instruments, Hétu still matched Derome’s level of contrast with her outstanding ability to use everything at her disposal. From screeching high notes and intense vocal clicking to airy sax playing, Hétu successfully held her ground when faced with the spectrum of noise of Derome. The set began with textural devices. Puffs of air and rhythmic scratching evolved into huge walls of sound as Hétu and Derome developed extensive motivic ideas side by side. The quick-hitting contrast and shocking sound effects maintained excitement throughout, truly epitomizing the wonder of live improvised music.
AJ Cornell and Tim Darcy @ La Vitrola
Music can cross boundaries in ways that words cannot. Tim Darcy and AJ Cornell are two former CKUT employees who decided that “the only way to hang out” was to have a music project together. Now, the duo is separated for the most part as Cornell has moved to Louisville, however, this distance was erased for one quick instant during the Suoni Per Il Popolo Festival. Although Cornell and Darcy have not played a show together in a couple years, a tape label across the border in Vermont recognized the brilliance of their work resulting in the album “Too Significant to Ignore,” which became the main source of subject material for the Montreal show this past week. Throughout the show there was no shortage of chemistry. When combined with the droning nature of Cornell, Darcy’s dramatic vocal delivery was mesmerizing and the live experience gave insight to some of the more abstract ideas presented on the album.
One of the striking aspects of witnessing this piece is the listener is given a more of a clue into how exactly the sounds are created. The impression I gathered from the piece sonically led me to believe that AJ essentially created an aesthetic place through the use of electronic sampling for Darcy to utter his poetic ramblings. Although this somewhat explains the music at the surface, some of the finer details are concocted differently. For example, as “Today, the Body” reaches its most anxious state, the listener can hear a high pitched screeching sound echoing in the distance. As it turns out this is done vocally by AJ Cornell through a highly reverberated microphone. Witnessing Cornell squeeze these sounds from her vocal chords was shocking, giving the song’s climax a bigger impact. Also, Cornell brought out an accordion for one of the instrumental pieces towards the end making the droning nature of the song hang in the air with a bit more weight than felt on the recording.
Lyrically, the work keeps its audience at something of a distance. Darcy never directly opens the door to the situations he’s depicting, but with each listen some of the layers can be pulled back. In this performance, the duo seems to have made a point about the work with their choices of clothing. Darcy was dressed in all white with Cornell contrasting him with a bright, glittery top. Throughout the album, Darcy’s voice is presented in a sort of emotionless void. His inflections are only reflective of the song’s sonic development and his words are dark and tense making his vocal presence white and soul-less. When Cornell is given more of the spotlight the songs are lush with beauty. On “Phosphene,” bright musical tonalities are highlighted by a simple, echoing keyboard melody growing into an optimistic sonic landscape. It seems like Cornell provides all of the color in the sound, enlightening the bleakness rampant in Darcy’s effort.
Having given this album a raving review earlier this year, I went into the show with high expectations and I can honestly say that I was still blown away by the experience. I found myself reciting the words along with Darcy and the excitement I felt when I first heard the tape was fully re-ignited.
Lungbutter @ Casa del Popolo
Lungbutter is a local art punk band that combines three big playing personalities in creative, musical ways. Rather than establishing a specific punk groove that remains stagnant from beginning to end, Lungbutter favor a slightly more abstract approach, making for a collective music making strategy. As the songs build each member’s energy feeds off of the others. More variations on the relatively simple, original groove come from everywhere. Drum fills from Joni Sadler and vocalizations from Grace Brooks work opposite Kaity Zozula’s extensive guitar soloing and sound manipulation culminating in huge climaxes. This particular night at Casa Del Popolo encompassed the work of four bands, so the sets were relatively concise. Nonetheless, Lungbutter quickly powered through a powerful set that showcased their wide dynamic range and originality.
Kaity Zozula’s guitar work in particular blew me away. Beginning with ear piercing distortion, her sound throughout the show was extraordinarily unique and creative. Just as the band avoids directly approaching their grooves, Zozula unleashes huge swaths of distortion pulling chords out of the void. On top of her extensive pedal set-up, she uses a slide, quickly moving up and down the neck of her guitar, adding to the distorted soundscape. In the most intense moments of the evening, both her hands were all over the instrument, explosively pushing the powerful trio into shocking territories.
In the local scene, it is common to have a band that plays fun, energetic live shows, but cannot translate to the recording. Lungbutter’s Extractor is an exception and if their show this past week at Suoni Per Il Popolo was any indicator, the group has more exciting material to come.
-Review by Donovan Burtan