Monday, September 10, 2007

People Get Ready - Guelph Jazz Festival + Colloquium 2007: Cross Border Conversations Workshop

Workshop/Performance @ Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 7, 2007

Jah Youssouf (Mali): kamelan n'goni, voice
Jayme Stone (USA): banjo
Jesse Stewart (Canada): drums/percussion
Marianne Trudel (Canada): piano
Alain Derbez (Mexico): soprano saxophone
Karl Webb (Canada): guitar
Mark Kyriacou (UK): keyboards/electronics
Lewis Melville (Canada): drums/percussion
(and others, not a complete personnel list)

It's a natural impulse to throw large ensembles of creative musicians together wherever there is a high concentration of talent such as the Guelph Jazz Festival. These kinds of raw, unrehearsed performances are a clear part of the soundscape for such a progressive and diverse gathering. While the MacDonald Stewart Art Centre is a beautiful venue to hold lectures, panel discussions and present papers, the architecture of glass, hardwood floor and multiple reflective surfaces at every angle is an acoustics nightmare for live music. It's a credit to the technical sound staff that such a nightmare never truly emerged over the course of this hour long free improvisation with so many performers.

To my ears, Jah Youssouf was the focal point and driving force of this sound. The kamelan n'goni (also known as the hunter's harp) has such a striking timbre that complimented his singing voice. This meshed well with Jayme Stone's banjo. And I was particularly struck by Marianne Trudel's playing within in this context as this was my first chance to hear her play. These were some unusual sonic textures and she had exquisite taste for finding great harmonic colors to add to the overall sound. Much of what she did was spare and it left the ears hungry for more. It piqued my curiosity to hear her later that afternoon with her own quintet.

By the end of this long set things devolved to some extent with some disappointing spoken poetry and instigated audience participation (two simple clapping rhythms) as the sound careened into less-interesting territory of short and safe repeated patterns. But even so, one would have to regard the overall workshop as a success given the sheer number and variation of performers involved in such prolonged spontaneity.

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