On Saturday night, tenor saxophonist and Creative Improviser's Assembly (CIA) Festival organizer Glen Hall played for the first time at ST, and led a nine-piece assembly called Big Sound that included Ken Aldcroft, Evan Shaw, Bruce Cassidy, Michael Morse, Joe Sorbara, David Story, Ronda Rindone and myself. Rarely did the music reach its prescribed bigness since at least half of the players laid out extensively. Each tried with increasingly difficulty to find a productive space to play amid, in particular, Cassidy's ebullient (and overamplified) EVI an Story's more conventionally jazz-based (and overamplified) electric piano.
The set succumbed to the classic pitfalls of large improvising groups by reflecting simultaneous collective overactivity and individual tentativeness, which is too bad, given the wealth of creativity promised by the group on paper. Rindone's memorable response at an apparent moment of frustration was to take her bass clarinet away from the rest of the ensemble to play momentarily (and electrically!) against a side wall -- by herself, for herself -- in perhaps the most coherent musical statement to be found within the Big Sound.
Appropriately, the second set featured some delightful capital-S Smallness from cello duo, The Knot (Nick Storring and Tilman Lewis). From my seat by the doorway (which regular attendees will know has no stage sightlines whatever), it was impossible to isolate who was making which extraordinary sound, but the sum was music full of both general momentum and momentary detail. They let the set breathe a bit with relatively unadorned pulse-based episodes, but the real drama had them (I suspect) grinding away, mining a quartz vein of tiny sounds both harsh and sweet out of their instruments. It was a lovely and satisfying way to end four CIA days.
I'm left, though, with some doubts about how valuable the CIA is, either as a response to or an extension of the IAJE conference. It was clear that the 2002 version was pretty crucial not only as a opportunity for IAJE conferrers to hear some local, unconventional, non-institutional creative music, but also since it gave Toronto creative musicians a sorely needed context in which to play. For this, Glen Hall should be lauded for his vision and energy.
But things have changed. No doubt, the spark of energy furnished by Hall in the early oughts has been a catalyst for steadily burgeoning creative music energies in Toronto that are manifested in, for example, AIMToronto, Leftover Daylight, Somewhere There, and regular creative music at the Tranzac Club. The beautiful outcome is that there's interesting music being presented virtually every day in Toronto (as Soundlist archives attest).
I'm generally unworried about the issue of splitting audiences when two or more shows of improvised or otherwise unconventional music are happening on the same night. The fact that I can't hear everything going on in this city is surely a testimony to the health of the music scene. (How boring it would be to hear and know everything!) Nevertheless, when it comes to strategically providing options for IAJE conference attendees as CIA does in large part, perhaps energy would be more effectively marshaled by pointing them to ongoing, regular programming that is the foundation for the Toronto creative music scene.
For example, the CIA programming conflicted with Wednesday's performance at ST by Christine Duncan's tremendous Element Choir and with Friday's Leftover Daylight Series, featuring an intriguing-sounding Stockhausen tribute/séance/interpretation by a group led by Rob Piilonen (not Nilan Perera... sorry Rob for the mis-credit). I don't think I'd do away with the CIA Festival concept but, perhaps, this strategic, IAJE-related, slightly glossy brand name could simply migrate and affix itself to things that are already going on in Toronto to feature the important work going on week-in and week-out. Due to the relative silence this year around CIA (see my last post), this point is mostly moot, since few if any IAJE conferrers actually knew about, let alone attended, the Festival. Suffice it to say, we'll all play it by ear next time.
No matter these issues, I extend warm thanks to Glen Hall for all of the work he put into the event and for his ongoing contributions to Toronto music.