Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Animal Forum - 01/27/2008, Le Cagibi

My first impressions of Le Cagibi were favourable. Having never set foot in this Mile-End institution (formerly called Pharmacie Esperanza before a change of ownership a couple of years ago), it struck me as a cross between Café L'Utopik and Casa del Popolo. The three of them are vegetarian, équitable cafés embracing left-field art and music - Cagibi and L'Utopik share a multi-room structure, as well. The key difference is that Casa is primarily a venue that happens to have damn good food, and L'Utopik in its prime was known as a venue and gathering place for primarily Francophone radicals, gradually infiltrated by the Anglophone jazz community's urban sprawl. Cagibi still seems to have the air of a neighbourhood hang-out - the veggie burrito is stellar, but the support of artists is a little lacking.

Witness Sunday night's show of Animal Forum, a trio of musicians from diverse backgrounds who have convened in the improvising community of Brooklyn: saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, formerly of Kingston, ON; Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser; and Israeli percussionist Ziv Ravitz. The moment a cover charge was announced, the nearly-full back room fled to the front, leaving only a couple of stragglers who stayed throughout the show, plus Miles Perkin, Brad Barr and myself.

It's a pity, because Animal Forum played a set of three lengthy improvisations that crossed many textures. van Huffel alternated between alto and soprano saxophones, with a warm rounded tone blending closely with Blaser's open horn. Relying on no mutes or other colouristic effects other than multiphonics, Blaser's melodic inventiveness was on full display throughout the set. Ravitz often indulged in grooves, anchoring the lines of the two horns, playing off them, as well as creating soundscapes by using a microphone as a mallet on his cymbals, amplifying overtones, and leading one of the improvisations with glockenspiel. Unfortunately, it was easily one of the best shows no one saw. See Adam Kinner and Kate Molleson's commentary at the Gazette for more of the same - great musicians from here and beyond playing to nearly empty rooms. Peter and I were talking after the gig, and the situation seems to be the same everywhere: as musicians, it's great to have your friends in the audience (and honestly, more often than not, I'm friends, acquaintances or colleagues with someone in most every band I've reviewed here), but a scene can't sustain itself on musicians alone. You need the non-musicians, and the eternal question is how to court them.

Peter is leaving NYC soon to make his home in Brussels, and Samuel Blaser may well be following him to Berlin. They're doing another mini-tour with a group called Hufflignon, featuring vocalist Sophie Tassignon and bassist Michael Bates, which is unfortunately yet unsurprisingly not making a Montreal stop.

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