No tags :(

Brief Encounter No. 8
Wolfgang Fuchs/Bill Smith/Evan Parker

Metropolis Poster

What shall I call this
– The Further Adventures of Colston Q. Willmott? An Encounter not previously revealed? Music from a time past? When avant garde translated as “artists, writers, musicians… whose techniques and ideas were markedly experimental or in advance of those generally accepted”? Before the vogue?

It was a privilege to be partnered with such amazing saxophone players as Wolfgang Fuchs, Evan Parker, Joe McPhee, Julius Hemphill, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton etc. Allowing me to reach beyond my “normal” abilities, expand my limited saxophone vocabulary, a system that had been developed with friends in the back room of the Cameron Hotel; John Oswald and Maury Coles two of the horn players.

It is possible, as one Canadian musician once remarked, that these players of international repute only agreed to play with me so they could visit Canada, tour about. Another chance of a gig. And that could be true. The opportunity presenting itself however was more focussed, intent on promoting the music we loved on the highest plain possible, so with this in mind we created a network through Coda Magazine, Sackville and Onari Records, producing concerts, making films, teaching at Universities, any way that could move the music forward. So to become a player seemed the ultimate extension of this idea.

Formal training eluded me, the occasional foray into academic instruction soon abandoned, boring me with its repetitious correctness. I had no intention of attempting to become a “skilled jazz performer” – and to be an original like my heroes was obviously beyond any player not actually born into the immediate musical and social culture. Learning how to read music and run chord changes a minor part of the art of jazz music. Believing, as I did, that the most important element in jazz was improvisation. So why not just improvise, why not invent a system that sounds and feels personal, as though it belongs to you. A system that even though not pedagogical had enough distinguishable components to share the ideas with others.

There were a couple of friendly visiting musicians who thought that I should study the process, one famous bassist telling me that what I imagined would sound better if I practiced all the conventional systems. The guaranteed cycles. Fourths and Fifths. Instead I chose the idea of sound, timbre, colour, imaginary simplistic melodies and rhythms, notions that fit my ideal. As far as possible to not imitate the styles of celebrated notables.

Of course there were heroes that infiltrated my life, and they… Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Evan Parker… on it goes, influence whether intended or not, would eventually invite me into their rarified world, give me the opportunity to find a voice. Real or imagined.

Smith+Fuchs Cover

There is no intact memory
of how this tour came about, who initiated the idea. I had known Evan Parker for a number of years; two years previous, in October 1986, I’d been invited by Jost Gebers to perform with Evan in duet at the Total Music Meeting in Berlin. How I became involved with Wolfgang Fuchs is a complete mystery.

It all started off as a duet, Wolfgang and myself, a couple of gigs close to home: the Niagara Artists Centre in St. Catharines and a presentation at a cinema by Hamilton Artist Inc., a soundtrack to Fritz Lang’s 1926 futuristic film Metropolis, a way to attract a parochial audience. And then a 3000 kilometre flight across Canada to play one gig in Vancouver at Western Front.

WF – Duet No. 4

Review by Scott Lewis
Bill Smith and Wolfgang Fuchs appeared at the Western Front October 1st [1988]. Smith, of course plays only sopranino saxophone, while Fuchs brought along both a sopranino and a bass clarinet. These are two well-matched improvisers, Smith sticking to his particular lyrical “pied-piper” approach, Fuchs more concerned with texture, effects and stretching the limits of his horns. It’s amazing how much power two tiny sopraninos can generate – several times I found myself plugging my ears for short stretches. Fuchs’s burblings and mutterings are particularly suited to the bass clarinet, as is his sense of humour. This was a well programmed night of free improvisation; the pieces were short enough and the performers audience-directed so that even the novice free improv listeners were not overwhelmed or alienated.

Meanwhile back in Toronto Evan had arrived, a solo event organized as a double-bill at Clinton’s tavern with John Oswald and Bobby Wiseman the other act.

Photograph Gilles Bérubé

Photograph Gilles Bérubé

It turns out that neither Wolfgang or Evan drive, or not in Canada. So I become – by default – the designated driver. I’ve rented a black Honda Civic Hatchback, complete with a cassette tape player that throughout the upcoming long and sometimes tedious journeys will allow Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Ben Webster…, all the great traditionalists, to be our travelling companions. Back in the day my tendency on long drives, make the miles and hours slip by, relax me, was to smoke small amounts of hashish in a delicately carved soapstone filtered pipe.

Monday, October 3rd, the first concert, the three of us with Evan now added, takes place at Artspace in Peterborough, a quality artist-run centre, allowing us an evening to familiarize ourselves to analogous possibilities, a dry run for my home town debut the following evening back at The Music Gallery. There is likely no evidence of this historic event as in the summer of 2004 all 31 years of Artspace archives are destroyed by torrential rains – The Great Flood of Peterborough – submerged in floodwater and toxic waste.

From a review by Steve Vickery [Music Gallery, Toronto, October 4, 1988]
Joining Parker in this unique international trio of improvisor/composers was Wolfgang Fuchs on bass clarinet and sopranino, and Bill Smith on sopranino, making this concert (a few days prior to the trio’s participation in Victoriaville’s Festival Musique Actuelle) a rare event and an opportunity to witness three improvisors whose methods reveal a shared intent developed in an individual way. The trio opened the evening performing together a piece entitled “Palindrome”, a composition whose name derives from the word, verse, or sentence that reads the same backwards or forwards. Incorporating fast moving interaction between the players (Fuchs on bass clarinet, Smith on sopranino, Parker on tenor), the tone of the proceedings was set with all three artists advancing clusters of notes that bounced and rebounded with an eye toward maximum contrast of timbre and colour. The exchange of energetic solos and ensemble sections between the three was fascinating to watch and listen to; the complexity of question/answer dialogue became so involved/evolved that the listener could have been persuaded that the musicians were able to hear in advance the rise and fall of their conversation.

MG Palindrome No. 1

The unexpected was highlighted in the duet that followed featuring Smith and Fuchs, two very different players each on sopranino saxophone. Their duet was marked by a biting intensity that seemed at odds with their outward affability, gracefully swinging back and forth while howling at the tops of their horns. A perplexing blend of sound that untangled and spread out like a spider’s web, inviting with a frightening intent.

Entschuldigung, haben Sie Feuer?

A second duet, this time featuring Smith and Parker, showcased the composition “Bristol Boys”, dedicated to the performers’ shared birthplace. Soprano and sopranino cascaded, weaving in and out, creating a dizzying effect. The empathy between Smith and Parker was complete, with lines arching above our heads so as to suggest holography. The work as well investigated further the circular patterns that are a distinguishing feature of Parker’s solo saxophone vocabulary.

Bristol Boys

The concert concluded with “Palindrome #2”, an ambiguous manifesto for trio spun out at lightning speed. Spiky turns of phrase, overtone blending, and numerous tableau-like moments of stillness created a soundscape of unusual beauty, a truly artful collaboration. 

MG Palindrome No. 2


Up and about early
, on the road for the next gig at the aptly named Obscure in Quebec City, 800 kilometres of boring highway east on the 401 and Trans Canada, 8 hours at least if I keep at it. An 8 o’clock gig. Thank god for the hashish and a pile of cassettes. There is a recording, from this night – October 5, off the floor, unfortunately not good enough quality to bend your ear. Not much is remembered except Wolfgang’s powerful blast exploding his crystal bass clarinet mouthpiece. Two hundred bucks down the drain. Clear as a bell on the tape though. Fit right in with the music.
No rest for the… as we carry on along the Gaspé Peninsula to Matane. This day only a 400 kilometre trip. There is some confusion with this memory. When I look up the venue Galerie d’Art de Matane on the web I find a huge posh modern gallery looming, when my memory is more along the lines of a community hall, a bunch of friends gathered around a feast of wild boar. No need to play for long. Whatever you like. Our hosts are musical originators, two from the legendary Quatuor de jazz libre du Québec: Saxophonist Jean Préfontaine and trumpeter Yves Charbonneau. Another story embedded in this one.

On we go, the final Canadian leg, a concert at the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville where Evan has another gig with the Anthony Braxton Ensemble alongside Paul Smoker, George Lewis, Bobby Naughton, Joëlle Léandre and Gerry Hemingway. A three day rest spent at the legendary Colibri Hotel located on the outskirts of town, adjacent to a busy highway, the handful of venues reachable only by waiting for the festival shuttle bus, or walking. At the back of the hotel in an overgrown field is a drive-in movie theatre frequented at night by loud drunken teenagers.

Breakfast is always a great time at festivals, a gathering where everyone sees who has arrived, colleagues rarely encountered, catching up on the news. A full breakfast is advertised, even poutine for those with a cast iron stomach. As the menu is in French the obvious choice is an omelette du fromage, jambon, saucisse and pomme frits. It might have been from a fast food joint for all the taste it had, so it’s sent back to the chef with instructions to add garlic to enhance the blandness. The waitress, poor girl, is confused, no one has ever requested garlic before. This is definitely not Paris.

I’m running out of ideas, tired of the retelling, tired of driving, so I leave you with one more Palindrome, the final music of this trio of saxophones before we all head off to New York City; Evan to perform solo at a forgotten venue, me and Wolfgang guests at Jim Staley’s Roulette, joining saxophonist Tom Gurlanick and vocalist/percussionist David Moss.

FIMAV – Palindrome No.2

The following spring Wolfgang will reciprocate, invite me to tour West and East Germany, some of the concerts as a trio with Georg Katzer, a pioneer of electronic new music in the GDR.

End Notes:
Western Front: http://front.bc.ca
Artspace: http://www.artspace-arc.org
Music Gallery: https://www.musicgallery.org
FIMAV: http://fimav.qc.ca

Quatuor de jazz libre du Québec:

Thank you Mark Miller, Éric Fillion [http://tenzier.org], Guy Thouin, Sheila Macpherson and Steve Vickery for your input.

To receive automatic notification of new postings please go to my home page at http://rantanddawdle.ca and become  a subscriber.