The Improvising Musicians of Ottawa/Outaouais (IMOO) are enthusiastically presenting their third improvised music festival, IMOOfest 2014, at Club SAW on Friday and Saturday, featuring both big name Canadian improvisers and accomplished local talent as headliners.
This unique two-day music festival follows two very different and well-received concerts that launched IMOO's new season in their new home, the Raw Sugar Café, during the past few weeks.
“We're still here!” IMOO co-founder Linsey Wellman jubilantly told OttawaJazzScene.ca after their first concert of their fourth season. Created to serve local improvising muscians in the fall of 2011, IMOO presented concerts #106 and #107 last month, and will offer its third IMOOfest this week – not an insubstantial amount of organizing, and a significant track record.
While the concerts are the public face and ultimate reason for IMOO's existence, driving them is a deliberate artistic direction that is in stark contrast to that of the 34 year-old Ottawa Jazz Festival. The OJF's observed direction has been to grow bigger by presenting any and all kinds of music, while reducing exposure for local musicians. IMOO has continued to celebrate the local, and its core value of scriptless music.
Sustaining IMOO's fundamental commitment to giving exposure to local talent, cellist Mark Molnar, reedman David Broscoe, and the IMOO Chamber Orchestra (comprised of both the out-of-town and many local artists) are featured at IMOOfest this year.
Joining them will be notable Canadian improvisors Jean Derome, Joane Hétu, and Lina Allemano’s Titanium Riot (with Ottawa native Nick Fraser). All but one of the artists have performed at acclaimed concerts in past IMOO series concerts or festivals.
“It's hard to be specific [about which act I like the most] because I really love all of the acts that we've booked. Amazing, really amazing. I'm quite chuffed,” said Wellman.
“To pinpoint particular things is ridiculous because (laughing) Oh My God. We get to do this and we get to hang out, play with people and watch them play. We get to mediate as performers as well as an audience, and it will be really, really awesome from both angles,” said improvising musician David Jackson. He volunteered last year to help keep IMOO running after co-founder Craig Pedersen moved to Montreal.
This year the festival is a compact, two-evening and one afternoon event, down from three evenings last year. It's been a very deliberate decision to right-size.
“There has been a real focus on bringing it into a very tight, cohesive 'this is how we proceed' - Three, four hours of music and you are going to get what you expect,” according to Jackson.
“I like the two-day format but it's ...hard. There are people that I would love to book every year that are pillars of the community that we weren't able to get in the program this year... That's the one regret but the stuff we are presenting, I'm so happy about,” Wellman added.
One specific reason Wellman is happy is because Lina Allemano’s Titanium Riot will finally perform after a two-year attempt to coordinate calendars. Her Titanium Trio (containing three of the Riot's members) performed at a regular IMOO show in January, 2012 to warm applause and a full house.
Elaborating on their decision to run a smaller festival this year, Wellman pointed to the Guelph Jazz Festival as “a real inspiration in a lot of ways.”
“The festivals that I have been to, and I count Guelph as one of these, that are the best festivals, are not the biggest festivals I've been to. They are the ones that have decided how big they want to be and focused on being as good as they can be at that size.
“I think that's a really important lesson. If IMOO gets too big, we can lose our focus. We don't want to only be booking stars. Hopefully the local will be represented, too. Ideally, we can be a part of making the locals stars too. We always want to have a foot in the local scene and serve the small people and serve the small people like me that nobody's heard of.”
He raved about two local musicians who will perform at IMOOfest this week. “Mark Molnar's solo project [which opens IMOOfest]. I've been waiting for that album to come out for years, it's so good.” And about Jesse Stewart: “He's one of the people in the community who's really playing at such a high level and doing some really creative things.”
Their approach to artistic focus, and enthusiasm for local musicians, shapes not only this week's IMOOfest, but also IMOO's year-round series of bi-weekly concerts.
“We sometimes get swamped with requests from out-of-town musicians. There were times where we really had to be conscious about that. We'd get to a series of shows and say, 'We really need something local',” Wellman said. “I think this season we're trying to be very intentional, who we say yes to, and looking at our calendar and saying this date can work and this one can't. This is very much to serve the local community. That's really important to me and it's really important to all of us and we want to make sure it doesn't become a showcase for out-of-town musicians.”
It's part of building the musical community. “We really want to encourage young improvisers, new improvisers, the whole gamut of improvising musicians who are local to come out to support the community but also to play in the community. To be out there and showcase themselves but also contribute to the scene.”
Listeners can have it all at IMOOfest this weekend. Each evening begins with a solo performance, followed by larger ensembles. On Friday, Molnar opens on solo cello. Trumpeter Craig Pedersen then returns with his Montreal-based quartet (which includes Wellman), a popular choice at previous IMOO concerts, and will be followed by Titanium Riot.
On Saturday afternoon, percussionist Jesse Stewart performs a free show – whose exact shape will be a surprise – inside Ottawa City Hall. That evening will begin with a solo show by Broscoe, followed by two renowned Quebec creative improvisers, saxophonists Jean Derome and Joane Hétu.
Each year, IMOOfest has brought together a large group of local and invited improvisers in the IMOO Chamber Orchestra to close the festival. This year the orchestra will be directed by Derome and Hétu, and the results will be, as ever, unexpected.
– Brett Delmage
- Local improvisers put on the spot at IMOO season opener (review) 
- A cross-Canada celebration of poet P.K. Page in music and dance 
- IMOOfest to return after financial break-even and artistic successes 
- IMOOfest 2013 Night 1: a huge dynamic range (review)
- Will Accordion Conspiracy take over IMOOfest? (video)  (David Broscoe)
- Full house, intent listeners greet Titanium Trio
- Inaugural IMOOfest opens with a strong lineup, with more to follow tonight 
- IMOO: Still making it up as they go, two years later (video)