Monday, December 10, 2012

Changing landscapes

Tonight marks the final hurrah of L'Envers in its physical location of 185 Van Horne. Since trumpeter Ellwood Epps started this adventure upon his arrival in Montreal, L'Envers has served as the hub for creative music, experimental music, musique actuelle and new music. Epps had launched the Mardi Spaghetti series at nearby coffeehouse Le Cagibi around the same time (my memory is foggy as to which came first), and in my mind was a catalyst for a new generation of Montreal improvisers. L'Envers was a performance space, a rehearsal space, but also a presenter: Epps & co. brought such world-class talent as Fred Frith, Matana Roberts and Henry Grimes to a space populated by thrift store couches and cushions to sit on the floor. It was a collision between often heady music and the communal nature of its Mile End neighbourhood. There's a final jam session tonight from 9 pm-midnight. My workload prevents me from attending tonight, but I'll be there in spirit. I wish them all the best; I have a lot of fond memories of that space, and I certainly hope they continue in their capacity as a presenter to continue to bring like-minded artists to town - even though it won't be at 185.

The last time I was at L'Envers was a few months ago for their "Rent Party," which they threw to supplement their shoestring budget (alongside their successful Indiegogo campaign) and renew their rent for a few more months. With artists and listeners shuttling between the "current" L'Envers (the front room of 185) and the "old" L'Envers (the bigger back room, now called The Plant), the night featured a contemporary string quartet, electro-punky-no-wave duos, and a burlesque routine done to a swing band. That night, I really got a sense of the scope of the L'Envers community.


A few weeks ago, there were a string of gigs in town - eons ago in blog terms - that fostered that sense of community as well. They really felt like events, like happenings, with the venues packed to capacity of people enjoying art and supporting the artists. I've been reflecting on what made those gigs so special, so very different from most other gigs in the city (and certainly most "jazz" gigs).

The first was Jai Nitai Lotus' album launch for his début solo record, Something You Feel. He mounted a live band from the ranks of the Kalmunity Vibe Collective (myself included) with DJ/producer Simahlak augmenting the sound. Maybe it's because I'm a huge fan of Mark de Clive-Lowe and the Roots, but live hip-hop and live electronica is not a novelty to me anymore, though it still seems to surprise a fair number of people in town. I don't think much of the audience knew what to expect musically before coming in, even if they were familiar with Lotus' earlier tracks. There were a lot of faces I recognized in the audience, the same faces I saw at the Nomadic Massive mixtape launch this summer, and many of the same faces were out a couple of nights later at the release of Henri-Pierre Noël's reissued album, Piano - the whole family was out in force. To have that awareness while playing is an exhilarating feeling.

Later that same week was Gilberto Gil's concert at Place des Arts, with my good friend Rômmel Ribeiro opening. When the announcement was made that Rômmel would warm up the stage for the master, I was incredibly proud and extremely joyous. It seems rare that we think of local talent in the same space as international stars, especially given the scarcity of Brazilian appearances in town. I would love to see more double-bills that not only pair deserving local artists with international headliners, but also make so much seamless artistic sense as this one did. Rômmel's wide-reaching scope of what Brazilian music means - a passion that's similar, and far deeper, than my own - is indebted to Gil's work over the past 40-odd years. Gil's show (the same to what Peter Hum saw in Ottawa) was his re-envisioning of the traditional music of Northeastern Brazil, with some brilliantly executed, thrilling and creative arrangements.

I sincerely hope that the combination of Gil and Rômmel - which culminated in couples dancing forró in the aisles of Théâtre Maisonneuve - redefines what Montrealers are capable of performing, presenting, and supporting in their music scene. A definition that is rewritten thanks to the passionate visionaries like Ellwood Epps.

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