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Local improvisers put on the spot at IMOO season opener (review)

Rory Magill and Mark Molnar ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Concert #106
Improvising Musicians of Ottawa-Outaouais (IMOO)
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, September 14, 2014

IMOO opened its fourth season on Sunday by returning to its roots in the local scene. It brought together a diverse collection of Ottawa-area improvisers in unexpected combinations, in its first evening in IMOO's new home of Raw Sugar Café.

IMOO organizers Linsey Wellman (alto sax) and David Jackson (guitar) arranged for Ian Birse (electronics and electric guitar), David Broscoe (alto sax, tuning forks, and noisemakers), Laura Kavanaugh (violin), Rory Magill (xylophone and percussion), and Mark Molnar (cello) to play in duos, trios, quartets, and all together. They tried a new format: each group who played would pick the next set of musicians to be thrown together to improvise.

Wellman, Jackson, and Magill began quietly, with shimmering guitar and low tones on sax, and became more intense, with Magill joining in with light taps on xylophone near the end. The collaborations which followed constantly changed textures and sounds: rough-edged violin and cello contrasting with shakers; rattling bells and ringing tuning forks alternating with with buzzing electronically-altered electric guitar and punctuated notes on saxophone. Near the end, there was even an (atypical) string quartet.

There were lots of surprises. Exactly what was Broscoe putting down the bell of his sax? How did Wellman turn his circular breathing on saxophone sound like bird calls? How was Jackson using pedals to control the feedback from his electric guitar and amp?

My favourite was the duo of Molnar and Magill which opened the second set. It began with bright trembling notes on xylophone combined with Eastern-European influenced lines on cello. As Molnar continued, his cello became more atonal and edgy, moving to almost groaning, before resolving into a long deep note with the sparkling xylophone underneath.

Each set ended with all the musicians performing together: the first was a soft drone with each musician adding the occasional light chord or riff: like a smooth body of water lightly disturbed by the fish or birds and animals swimming in it.

The second was much more emphatic, beginning with fast circling riffs on alto sax, bright notes on tuning forks, and abrasive and percussive guitar and violin. Wellman and Broscoe sustained a long deep note on sax for the rest of the piece, and the rest of the group developed strong textures on top, including bright bells and percussion and guitar feedback. It was a controlled cacophony, which, after a few minutes, slowed and faded out – to enthusiastic applause.

The IMOO series continues this Sunday (September 21) with the Montreal duo of trombonist Scott Thomson and dancer Susanna Hood, performing a composition by Thomson based on the poetry of P.K. Page.

     – Alayne McGregor

All photos © Brett Delmage, 2014