Jean Derome's talents were used particularly well  ©Brett Delmage, 2011
Jean Derome's talents were used particularly well ©Brett Delmage, 2011

Tilting: the Nicolas Caloia Quartet, and
Paul Plimley-William Parker-Jean Martin
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Cooperators Hall,
River Run Centre
Guelph Jazz Festival

The Guelph Jazz Festival makes a point of connecting the musicians it brings to the festival in novel combinations.

This was particularly obvious on the Thursday of the 2011 festival, where the day-time program showed another aspect of the evening's performers, where the last  evening show featured three artists who have rarely played together, and where the two unrelated halves of the evening performance nevertheless complemented each other.

First up on the evening bill was Tilting, a Montreal quartet led by bassist Nicolas Caloia, with Jean Derome on bass flute and saxophones, Isaiah Ceccarelli on percussion, and Guillaume Dostaler on piano. The quartet is the heart of the much larger (30-piece) Ratchet Orchestra, also led by Calioa. The festival blurb indicated that this quartet shares the larger orchestra's same commitment to juxtaposing structure and improvisation, and you could hear that in the their performances at Guelph.

In the evening, Tilting played originals by Caloia; however, if you had attended the festival colloquium that morning, you would have heard quite a different repertoire from the group: pure free improvisation lasting about an hour, inspiring and being inspired by the on-the-spot drawings and paintings of a Mexican visual artist named Jazzaomoart . (See related article.)

The three pieces in the evening set were more focused, and used Derome's talents particularly well. He started out on baritone sax in the first piece, moved to bass flute for the second piece, and ended up on alto sax for the last piece. He brought out a richness of tone in all three instruments, and ensured the pieces moved you both emotionally and intellectually.

Ceccarelli introduced the first piece with an echoing drum solo with a beat that was never quite predictable. Caloia added a bass undertone several minutes in, and then Derome's baritone sax strode in – authoritatively and definitively. It eventually moved into a duet with Dostaler's piano, the sax curlicuing around a slow piano vamp. The unresolved tension continued as both gained in intensity, and the piano took over. Then the bass moved in for an extended electronically-altered solo bowing, echoing the sax solo near the beginning. The drums strengthened, the bass moved back to a steady beat, and the baritone returned to its initial strong riff steadily deepening before it ended.

The main feature of the second piece was a duet between piano and bass flute (with help from atmospheric drumming), in which each worked against expectations, starting when you would have expected them to continue and starting up in odd places. The bass flute is an octave lower than the regular flute, but it still has an extensive upper range, and Derome took full advantage of the entire range as he answered Dostaler's interrupted notes and piano string thrumming. The overall effect was other-worldly and strange, with an ominous bass line remaining in the background.

The last piece, "Safety", started out closer to straight jazz with a long alto sax line plaintively calling, contraposed against interrupted piano. The intensity heightened with harder drumming, and then softened with an increasing emphasis on the melody line. The sax slowly faded out, there were a few romantic notes on piano, and the song ended.

The audience responded with immediate and extended applause.

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2011

Last came a one-off combination of Vancouver pianist Paul Plimley and NYC bassist William Parker. They were supposed to be joined by American-expat drummer Gerry Hemingway – recreating a combination that had produced a memorable improvised concert at the Vancouver Jazz Festival in 1999.

Paul Plimley: a flurry ©Brett Delmage, 2011
Paul Plimley: a flurry ©Brett Delmage, 2011
Unfortunately, Hemingway was delayed by bad plane connections from Europe, and Toronto drummer Jean Martin got the call that morning to substitute. Martin had already been scheduled to play Friday and Saturday at the festival, and the announcement of his name was warmly received by the audience. He easily fit in with the other two musicians' adventurous style, adding his own touches as well.

All three musicians had played the Guelph Festival regularly, to the extent that Parker was introduced this night as "possibly the patron saint" of the festival. And Martin and Plimley had separately played with Parker, but I could find no record of all three playing together. But each had long experience in improvisation, and they didn't hesitate to fall straight into the music for two extended, and one brief, improvisations.

Their hour-long set started (uncharacteristically, as it later turned out) with a very light touch by Plimley on the piano. Martin answered him with an equally light touch, using mallets, and Parker's steady bass anchored the two. The intensity and speed of both drums and piano steadily increased over the next 40 minutes, as Plimley got to the point of jumping up and down and pounding the piano. The thrumming of the bass underlined the fast sparkle of the piano in a frantic soundscape. Martin used a jangling chain banged against his drums to echo the piano's full notes and fast glissandos. The whole developed almost-classical echoes as Plimley continued his fast sweeps across the piano, and then finally slowed pace into what reminded me of a lullaby, ending with one last bass note and a touch of cymbals.

Martin took the lead on the second, 20-minute, improvisation, using his hands and mallets to produce an echoing sound reminiscent of a Tibetan gong. Parker bowed his bass to create a ghostly drone. Plimley interspersed occasional high notes on piano, which finally clumped together to create a firefly-net of melody. Then the drums and piano took the forefront, and created a full sound reminiscent of fast-moving river rapids (the bass and piano mimicking the rocks), with Plimley's piano getting steadily more agitated and Martin interspersing occasional notes on bells. All three instruments moved to maximum speed, with Plimley producing a stream of tiny high notes on top. Finally the music slowed, with Plimley moving to a more romantic sound with the bass strongly bowed behind, and it ended with a drip of individual notes.

After an appreciative standing ovation, the trio came back for one more amuse-gueule: a short, playful piece dominated by syncopated piano, with a simple bass and drum line underneath, ending with a small flourish.

What the two halves of the concert shared was how they centred on the bass. The deep, full sound of both Caloia's and Parker's instruments connected the other instruments, and added a rich undertone and rhythmic propulsion that made both groups' music compelling. The two groups complemented each other and created a magical evening.

    – Alayne McGregor

Other 2011 Guelph Jazz Festival coverage:

All photos ©Brett Delmage, 2011