Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saturday in the park

To welcome in the solstice, there was a whole lot of stuff happening this weekend in our fair city, all colliding on Saturday June 21.

My day started with Popolo in the Park, the annual picnic organized by the Suoni Per Il Popolo fest. Lake of Stew kicked it off with their traditional-sounding bluegrass songs about armadillos and the Sherbrooke street bus. Andy Williams followed up with a last-minute set, and the highlight for me was Matana Roberts with a group of high school students from NDG (a neighbourhood on the western part of the city) in a mixture of groove-based free improv and a couple of tunes by the students. (I guess I wound up writing about this, Matana!) The students were surprisingly good, considering that they don't have the opportunity to play a lot. The MC they had was actually really impressive. People I was standing with, who didn't know of Matana's work beforehand, were really taken with her playing, the students' playing, and just the idea of workshops and outreach. There was also free food, arts and crafts, HVW8 doing some live painting, lots of kids, dogs and bicycles.

I walked down St-Laurent to check out the annual Main Madness event, closing down the Main between Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal to all manner of street vendors, performers, and terrasses. What a relief - considering the endless construction on St-Laurent that's forced business off that street, done considerable damage to businesses that remained, and pissed off residents, it was nice to stroll down the Main without having to navigate around gravel and potholes. Lots of Portuguese BBQ chicken, noodles, falafel, and cotton candy. I bumped into Michael Reinhart who was doing a solo set at Yellow Door's kiosk, and marvelled at the massive gaming tent Amp Energy had set up.

I headed back north on St-Laurent to catch the Fringe Pop showcase, the usual co-presentation of indie goodness by Pop Montreal and the Fringe Festival. With the festival running late as usual, I caught the tail end of Drag Racing, culminating in the crowning of their first Drag King as best performer. Everyone's favourite St-Henri klezmerjazzpunks, the Youjsh, took the stage to a surprisingly numerous crowd. Sarah and I were amused by the two toddlers that seemed to take to the raucous Balkanized party rather well. Next up were Zeroes, another bunch of former McGill jazzers who have sold their souls to rock 'n' roll (Ben Shemie, also known as Blink Blink Blink; Max Henry; and ex-Indigone drummer Liam O'Neill). Any band with Max and Liam will have electro-disco undertones, and this one lived up to their reputation, along with Ben's thrashing guitar and tender vocals and the more aggressive singing of Joe Yarmush.

I skipped out on the closing Fringe Pop band, Wintersleep, to catch Gary Schwartz's new (Mostly) Ornette project with Chet Doxas on soprano and clarinet, Erik Hove on alto, Zack Lober on bass and Phil Melanson on drums. Gary has arranged some of Ornette's more familiar tunes ("Turnaround," "Lonely Woman," "Peace," and "Broadway Blues" among them) and played them along with his own Ornette-ish "Whatdyasay?" and a free improvisation. The arrangements deconstruct the tunes - on the closing "Broadway Blues" they never played the head fully but used the different key centres as bases for improvisation. There were some three-part solis that I didn't expect to work, but did, and was happy to hear that all the elements of "Lonely Woman" that everyone forgets - the two different time feels, the looming bass figure at the beginning - were prominently incorporated into Gary's version.

Edit: Gary e-mails to say:
You made me realize that I forgot to give credit to the arrangers involved in the project. I need to set the record straight. Lonely Woman and Broadway Blues both came from Alex Côté, Tomorrow Is The Question from Chris Smith and Peace from Chet Doxas. Everything else is basically me.

But still, even after all that music, Darcy can still make me jealous. I will not live down the fact I took a gig the night Stevie Wonder played the Bell Centre last year. I went back and forth on buying tickets - on his last tour he played his (then)-new music from Conversation Peace, and I wasn't really sold on the music from A Time 2 Love - I found out from many people that he played nearly nothing but the old-school, surefire tunes. DAMN.

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