Scott Thomson and Susanna Hood: The Muted Note
Raw Sugar Café
Sunday, September 21, 2014 - 7 p.m.
Award-winning Canadian poet P.K. Page had her work interpreted as a one-woman play, as a documentary film, and as a print/calligraphy exhibition.
Now composer Scott Thomson has translated a number of Page's imagery-laden poems into music and movement. In collaboration with choreographer and vocalist Susanna Hood, he has produced a new album, The Muted Note, containing compositions based on Page's poems.
This month they began their cross-Canada tour, presenting the music as a dance/music collaboration, with Thomson on trombone and Hood singing and using her body to express the emotion in the words. On September 21, they appeared in Ottawa, performing several pieces from the album in the first half of the show, and then improvising with Ottawa saxophonist Linsey Wellman in the second half.
Many of Thomson and Hood's shows are only as a duo, but this week in Montréal (October 2 to 5), they're enhancing the show with three more dancers and three more musicians, as part of l'OFF Festival de Jazz. The expanded show was also presented in Toronto in early September.
At the Ottawa show, the duo presented six pieces based on Page's poems. Hood sung the words and interspersed them with wordless singing and movement, while Thomson played trombone. It was a quiet, intimate show, well-suited to the cramped space in the Raw Sugar Café (some furniture was moved to give Hood enough space to dance), and kept the audience raptly attentive throughout.
Hood sang Page's “As Ten, as Twenty” like an art song, her clear a cappella soprano alternating with the trombone. Dancing, she moved gracefully, using the limited space to best effect. Thomson interpreted “Delphinium and Lupin Summer Blues” as a melodic blues – certainly the first blues he's heard with “Delphinium” in its title, he noted; Hood counterpointed the melody with jerky movements.
A low muted trombone line introduced “Star-gazer”, followed by Hood simply and clearing declaiming the verses, followed by wordless vocals accompanied by tapping on the trombone mute. Hood swayed as she continued to sing, repeating “The very stars are justified.”
The three-part suite, “The Metal and the Flower”, was about gardens and those who inhabit them. It set a peaceful, pastoral mood, with quiet trombone lines underlying the vocals, It featured images of roses – but also barbed wire – and became more syncopated and vibrating, with Hood twirling rapidly, near the end.
For the second set, IMOO organizer Linsey Wellman on alto sax joined the duo, and the the music and dancing became more diverse. A constantly-changing conversation, it ranged from slow and evocative, to classically-influenced and sinuous, to metallic and rattling, to unsettling, with Hood uttering ululating cries. All three have been performing avant-garde improvised music for many years, and they produced a thoughtful and enjoyable set which inspired strong applause at the end.
Thomson has been working on this P.K. Page project for many years – his first compositions based on her poems were performed by his group, The Rent, back in 2011 (OttawaJazzScene.ca heard them at the Guelph Jazz Festival). In 2012, he and Hood, along with drummer Jesse Stewart, performed further compositions at another Ottawa IMOO concert.
Thomson and Hood's 49-date tour will cross Canada, hitting locations from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island – and many places in between – and end in mid-November. Page herself was similarly peripatetic: born in England, she lived in Red Deer (Alberta), Calgary, Winnipeg, Saint John (New Brunswick), Montréal, Ottawa, and Victoria – plus accompanying her ambassador husband to Australia, Brazil, and Mexico. At the Ottawa show, Thomson proudly mentioned they would be performing in almost every Canadian city Page lived and wrote in. Ottawa, in fact, was particularly important to Page, he said, because it was there, while she was working for the National Film Board in the 1940s and 50s, that her career as a poet took off.
– Alayne McGregor