©Alayne McGregor, 2019
Listeners paid quiet attention to saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock in her performance with drummer Tom Rainey on IMOO Fest's opening night at The Record Centre ©Alayne McGregor, 2019

IMOO Fest 2019 – Day 1
The Record Centre, Ottawa
Friday, September 6, 2019 – 7 p.m.

See photos by Alayne McGregor

IMOO – Improvising and Experimental Music of Ottawa and Outwards – is used to improvising at the last minute. So when the opening act of IMOO Fest 2019 was called away by a hurricane, they just rolled with the change.

Nicole Rampersaud had to make a last-minute, emergency trip to the Bahamas to assist relatives affected by Hurricane Dorian. IMOO coordinators Linsey Wellman and David Jackson stepped in on seven hours' notice to play a duo set in her place – and produced a complex and coordinated mix of baritone saxophone and unadorned electric guitar.

They were the first of three duos, each different, which were featured at The Record Centre on Friday. The three sets attracted more than 30 listeners, some long-time free jazz fans, some new listeners, to sit among the bins of vinyl records and vintage audio in the store. Throughout, the audience was consistently attentive and applauded appreciatively.

Wellman and Jackson have played together in many different large groups at IMOO shows, but only once before as a duo. Their music opened with fast and angular lines, quietened into light breathing into the saxophone and attenuated single notes on guitar, and then sprang back up into loud growls. This wide dynamic range and diversity of textures – from both players – continued throughout, with Wellman's baritone popping out individual notes and sounding like birds chirping, and Jackson creating metallic rubbing sounds, deep grunts, and muted strums on his guitar.

They were clearly listening carefully, attuned to each other: a melancholy melody on baritone was accented by twanging guitar; Wellman's fast descending lines on baritone were echoed by Jackson. They closed with a intense, almost chaotic, mix of screeches and rumbles, ending abruptly together.

“Horseman, Pass By” is the duo of cellist Mark Molnar from Ottawa and drummer Bennett Bedoukian from Havelock, Ontario. They both enhance their acoustic instruments with electronics, and their performances can be very loud. I wore earplugs during their show, took them out once partway through, and immediately replaced them.

The volume of their playing was just too loud at times for the intimate space – even with the front door open – which was a pity, because both are highly inventive musicians. They've been playing for many years together – IMOO Fest coordinator Brad Evans told the crowd he first heard them in 2014 – and released their first album together this spring.

Their music was an intense mix of heavy drumming and advanced cello technique, both pizzicato and bowed. In their 35-minute set, they played five short pieces, the first of which began in a chaotic combination of cello notes and driving drum pounds and ended very softly in a blend of atmospheric, barely-there bowed cello lines over separate drum strokes.

One piece featured loud drones and occasional screeches on cello and thumping drums; another had a more classically-oriented cello melody over hard-hitting snare drum and cymbal crashes. I particularly liked the piece which opened with just drums, sombre and echoing and played with care and attention, and then had the mood enhanced by deep elegiac cello. Their closing piece had an ominous edge, opening with fluttering and whispering cello, developing into an intense and chaotic storm, and ending with light cymbal taps.

Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey, the festival's featured artists-in-residence from Brooklyn, closed the evening with a 40-minute show of improvised music, segueing at the end into a Monk tune. Laubrock is a fearless and creative player, whose tenor sax lines embroidered Rainey's rich mix of drum and cymbal strokes. Both explored different textures on their instruments; in their opening piece, Laubrock interspersed melodic snippets with vibrating lines and fast, attention-grabbing short spurts of notes.

Their was a clear collaboration and communication in their music: bright cymbal strikes under rippling tenor sax lines; bright, short explorations on soprano sax over parade beat rhythms on drums; repeated tenor sax riffs over steady drum taps.

Laubrock took her saxophones from almost-not-there softness to squeakingly high to buzzing to harsh calls and in-your-face shrieks – and then created a mournful melody over echoing drums.

For the duo's last piece, Laubrock sat at the Record Centre's small upright piano. She played individual notes on the piano keys which she echoed on soprano sax, over a cloud of light snare and cymbal strokes from Rainey. The sax and piano sped up and then coalesced into questioning sax lines over light drums, becoming louder and climaxing in squeaks, then vibrating over individual echoing drumbeats. Near the end, they played from the Thelonious Monk tune “Reflections”, a quiet and thoughtful sax melody over fast hard drumming.

Their set was greeted with strong applause and smiles, and listeners stayed around afterwards to chat with the musicians.

IMOO Fest 2019 will move to GigSpace for its Saturday and Sunday evening shows. Three groups will perform each evening. Laubrock and Rainey will perform on both evenings, Saturday with Wellman and Jackson, and on Sunday leading the IMOO Orchestra. More information and ticket purchase at the IMOO website.

Read related stories on OttawaJazzScene.ca: