Open Waters Festival, Halifax

The annual Open Waters Festival of new and improvised music took place January 7-10 at Sir James Dunn Theatre, the Atlantica Hotel, the Central Library, and The Company House in Halifax. Hamilton’s Cem Zafir, of zulapresents, attended the festival and writes:

“The programming by the Upstream Music Association’s new artistic director, double bassist Lukas Pearse, was remarkable in its breadth, bringing to the fore improvisation as a thread in the classical, new music, experimental, jazz-based, song, poetry, dance, and world traditions. I would, personally, not have been opposed to some non-Canadian artists, but we all know the necessity for strengthening Canadian music, and Open Waters champions it to great effect.

Amy Brandon

“The blend of the symphony and Upstream personnel, with some great overlaps, worked wonderfully (Symphony Nova Scotia collaborated with the Upstream Orchestra to play works by Paul Cram, Barry Guy and Jeff Reilly, conducted by Reilly and by Gary Kulesha), and the Witch Gong Game night was especially fun. Friday night started with guitarist Amy Brandon’s contemplative music paired with images of special objects, and the thoughtful and inventive duo of Arthur Bull (guitar) and Norm Adams (cello). Pierre Tanguay & Pierre Labbé’s Sacré Tympan was fun. Though the Dunn Theatre sounds wonderful, a smaller venue may have added to the intimacy of this particular night.

“The student performances were impressive, interesting and hope-inducing, and Ellen Waterman’s Improvisation Talk Back (an initiative of IICSI and the Guelph Jazz Festival), featuring improvisers in dialogue with their audience, resulted in a performance and chat that were especially strong and thought provoking. Musical highlights included an understated, beautifully restrained performance from Toronto’s Cluttertones (Rob Clutton / Lina Allemano / Tim Posgate / Ryan Driver), Vancouver’s Birds of Paradox (Ron Samworth / Lan Tung / Neelamjit Dhillon) joined by Lukas Pearse—who really made the audience feel special, with a kind of sonic camaraderie among musical traditions with invisible borders—and a Haligonian duo, percussionist Doug Cameron & dancer Jacinte Armstrong; two of the unexpected delights for me, as they transformed the new public library into a multidimensional playground. Jerome Blais’s multimedia tribute to folklorist Marius Barbeau, (Un)Forgotten Voices, featuring soprano Janice Jackson, was mesmerizing, a much appreciated piece of Canadiana performed with humanity and grace. Geordie Haley’s “Open Company” night of imaginative ad hoc groups had some very high moments in a friendly, comfortable venue; Tim Crofts and Lan Tung’s performance stood out in particular. The Original Folk Trio with Andrew MacKelvie saxophones, Casey Thompson bass, and Brendan Melchin drums were a load of fun… watch out for Andrew MacKelvie!

“I must thank Lukas and crew for bringing such kindred spirits together both on and off stage, and for being the fulcrum for vital future creative activity nationally.”

Cem Zafir is the artistic director of Zula Music & Arts Collective Hamilton in Hamilton, Ontario; the projected schedule for this winter includes Linsey Wellman / Bennett / Lee Palmer trio (Feb. 6), the Sonoluminescence Trio of William Parker, David Mott, Jesse Stewart (March 20), and Michael Vlatkovitch (Mar. 31).

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