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Volume 24 Issue 9 - June / July / August 2019

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  • Orchestra
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In this issue: The Toronto Brazilian bateria beat goes on; TD Jazz in Yorkville is three years young; Murray Schafer's earliest Wilderness forays revisited; cellist/composer Cris Derksen's Maada'ookkii Songlines to close Luminato (and it's free!); our 15th annual Green Pages summer music guide; all this and more in our combined June/July/August issue now available in flipthrough format here and on stands starting Thursday May 30.

many languages and

many languages and cultures along the path. Look more closely into these six disparate acts of musical gifting and sharing, and you will come across one individual, Cris Derksen, at the heart of each of them. “My name is Cris Derksen, and I am a half-Cree, half- Mennonite electronic cellist and composer” KATHY CAMPBELL says Derksen, in the introduction to a five-minute video in the Banff Centre Spotlight series, designed to “explore the stories behind the artists who come to Banff Centre.” (Also appearing in the Derksen spotlight video is Eybler Quartet violist Patrick Jordan, but we’ll get back to that.) “I go back quite a long way in my association with Luminato,” Derksen tells me. “I moved to Toronto five and and a half years ago and started doing stuff in Derek Andrews’ world music concerts. And I played in Iftar that year at the Hearn [a 2016 Luminato show welcoming Syrian newcomers to the city]. But 2017, the first year that Josephine Ridge was involved, was when I started to work with them more intentionally.” “Did she reach out to you?” I ask. “Yes she saw me in a show I did with A Tribe Called Red and called me in for a meeting. And that year I did an hour as one part of Tributaries where I invited a bunch of my Indigenous female friends to each do a song and I arranged that and got the band together.” One of those singers in Tributaries was Tanya Tagaq; it’s a friendship going back in time to Derksen’s graduation (with a Bachelor of Music in Cello Performance degree) from University of British Columbia. “I was in Tanya’s band from 2007 to 2011,” Derksen says. “It was a great way to cut my teeth. I was so fortunate graduating with a gig like Tanya.” It was the start of a ride, performing and touring, that has taken Derksen across the globe, as well as coast to coast to coast in Canada, in the company of an extraordinary range of musicians and other collaborators. The sesquicentennial year, 2017, saw a significant spike in awareness of Indigenous performers and performance practice within the arts community, but, as I expressed it to Derksen, my own fear was that there would be a drop off when the special sesqui funding dried up. “But you’re not seeing that, are you?” Derksen responds. “There are too many strong people doing strong interesting work and there’s so much work to be done. We’re living in such an interesting timeline where we seem to be going backwards instead of forwards as far as racialized issues go, and as far as inequality goes. For me, reconciliation is between people, not working on the big level.” The February 19 Banff gathering arose at least in part from the dynamics of the sesquicentennial year. “Put it this way,” Derksen says, “Classical music is pretty good at having an Indigenous idea without the Indigenous performer. So there’s some steps to be made.” Convening the gathering came directly out of Derksen’s Banff residency, bringing together ten Indigenous classically trained musicians, among them composers Andrew Balfour and Ian Cusson, violist Melody McKiver and her mom, pianist-educator Beverly McKiver, and Jeremy Dutcher, with Derksen cheerfully but insistently moving the action along. Perhaps its most enduring outcome will be the joint manifesto created by the attendees and passed around among the attendees to be read out to the audience at the gathering. Its bottom line? Nothing about us without us. Soundstreams’ Fauxstalgia at the Drake Underground saw Derksen on familiar turf, performing a solo set for cello and looper, before laying down the groundwork for an evening-ending improvisation with the evening’s other performers, pianist, Darren Creech, performing artist/soprano Teiya Kasahara and contemporary harpist/ improviser, Grace Scheele. Cello and electronic looping as core performance practice started for Derksen “probably 18 years ago. My room-mate had a looping station and I borrowed it and then I kept it. It opened up my eyes to being able to create music on my own without hiring a band and it was also my first real foray into composing stuff.” Cris Derksen Trio, with dancer Nimkii Osawamick (left) and drummerJesse Baird (right) I observe to Derksen that the looper work that night seemed rhythmically effortless, making the technology almost invisible. “It’s clear that the thing is your friend,” I observe. “Yeah we’ve been hanging out for a while, so I don’t have to think about that as much anymore. I can just focus on the notes. The first loops are nailed down, I know what they will be; the melody is in my head and I can choose how to use it, to expand it, so it’s loose but formed. It’s all 100 percent in the moment though. I don’t have anything saved in the station, so everything is fully live.” Cello, sans looper, is also the heartbeat of the Cris Derksen-composed work, White Man’s Cattle, which opened and closed the Eybler Quartet’s Burdock Beethoven CD-release concert this past May 19; but Derksen was sitting in the audience, not playing it. The work premiered at Banff, where the Eyblers and Derksen put in the heavy lifting on its creation. It evokes the collision of cultures in Alberta’s history, via an interpolated, scratchy soundclip of an early 20th-century Alberta farmer, master of all he surveys, speaking about “his land.” It’s a layered, driving work, demanding of every ounce of the Eyblers’ astonishing bowmanship. “The hoofprints of cattle and bison in the dust are not so different,” Derksen says laconically to the audience when asked by Patrick Jordan to say a few words before the piece is repeated. As for Kiinilik in its upcoming June Berkeley Street Luminato remount, Derksen, who created the music for the piece, with be in the middle of things again. “I get the lovely musical job of underscoring. It’s one of the few theatre pieces I actually am happy to be in. Usually if I get a theatre contract I compose the music and pass it on. But this is a really beautiful story, and again truthful. We have taken it many places from its start at Buddies – Montreal, Iqaluit, Vancouver, Luminato. And we go to the Edinburgh International Festival next!” Maada’ookii Songlines, June 23, was only vaguely in the works when Josephine Ridge left Luminato, but the transition under new Luminato artistic director, Naomi Campbell, has been a smooth one. “It took a moment for us to find each other and talk and sort out what they wanted to do and what I could do with what they wanted to do,” Derksen says. “A bit different than looping so you don’t have to hire a band,” I remark. “With a cast of hundreds it’s definitely a different style,” Derksen says. “More notes on the page and throughlines, that kind of stuff. But we do have some interesting soloists and for the solo parts I am giving them a lot of free rein; they get the fun part improvising on top of moments.” Part of the description of the show on the Luminato website talks about “a noisy fury blaring out a cacophony of frustrations and dreams?” So I ask Derksen if it’s an angry work. The response is unhesitating: “No its not angry at all ... maada’ookii is an Ojibway word, I’m Cree but I chose to use an Ojibway word because we are on Anishinaabe territory … When Indigenous people meet there’s a feast, there’s gifting involved, so this word and this work’s meaning is she/ he shares, gifts. Angry it is not. Truthful it is.” As mentioned earlier, the gift of songlines is the ability to navigate hundreds or even thousands of miles, traversing many languages along the way. The choirs involved seem to epitomize this idea: Canadian Arabic Choir; Darbazi; Vesnivka; Coro San Marco; YIP’s Children’s Choir; the Bruised Years Choir (part of Workman Arts); Faith Chorale; and an Indigenous Hand Drum Choir. “Will it get crazy?” I ask. “There’s an underscore,” Derksen says. “They all have their parts but I expect there will be moments of chaotic!” “And you? Are you going to be sitting inside or outside it? “Oh I’m going to cello along.” With a laugh. You can find the entire proceedings of the Feb 19 Banff gathering at David Perlman can be reached at 16 | June | July | August 2019

MUSIC AND DANCE Near to the Wild Heart: Impossibly Happy STUART BROOMER For over a decade, Susanna Hood has been developing projects that explore and develop her identity as dancer and singer, choreographer and composer, often incorporating other arts as well. There’s the edgy, Dora Award-winning solo dance She’s Gone Away and Shudder, her visceral interpretation of Francis Bacon paintings. In 2014 she combined singing and choreography in The Muted Note, settings of poems by P.K Page with her partner, composer and trombonist Scott Thomson. Her latest work, Impossibly Happy, is more ambitious still: she’s debuting as songwriter and bandleader in addition to roles as singer-dancer-choreographer with her Montreal-based company of dancers and musicians, Near to the Wild Heart. Setting poems by the 15th-century Zen master Ikkyū, Impossibly Happy combines art forms with a singular physical and emotional intensity. Ikkyū was no ordinary Zen master, but a monk whose poems explore and celebrate drunkenness and carnal adventures. For Hood, “Initially, it was the poetry itself that drew me; its simplicity and openness of form and the possibilities that leant to discovering my own musicality within. But once I started choosing and working with poems, it was the raw, unpretentious truths that I found in the words, unfiltered by conformity for appearances’ sake, that compelled me. That’s the aspect that made me curious to know more about this extraordinary person and particularly the paradoxes he seemed to live without apology. For example, how he/we contain the frictions between wisdom, grumpiness, sacredness and lust.” Hood’s conception of Ikkyū takes in dance, song and poetry, exploring him as spirit presence, paradox and contradiction. The stage, containing both dancers and musicians, is alive with movement, sometimes resembling a battle, sometimes a kind of hypnotic anarchy, with dancers moving rapidly amongst the musicians or suddenly freezing into muscle-tensed, almost calligraphic forms. It’s made more precarious by Hood’s simultaneous embrace of choreography, composition and improvisation: “In all cases, I was looking for people who could balance working with both set forms and formmaking through improvisation. Along the way I’ve realized that how different people approach each of those demands is highly specific and subjective.” Hood’s dancers combine interests in improvisation and contemporary vernaculars: “Sovann Prom-Tep comes initially from breakdancing culture, and Lucy M. May has been dedicating a good part of her practice to Krump in the last three years. Both of these dance forms demand that one is always reinventing and developing one’s own dance within the form.” Assembling the musicians to realize her sometimes spiky melodies, Hood managed to achieve a distinctive sonic palette via the skilled improvising of drummer D. Alex Meeks with tubist Julie Houle and violist Jennifer Thiessen. Adding to the special skill set required, every member of the company is also called on to sing. Impossibly Happy is risk-taking, interdisciplinary work that seems to demand all the individual and collective resources that its performers might bring to it. As Hood remarks: “It was a huge learning curve for all of us.” As such, it’s a worthy embodiment of Ikkyū’s special vision. Near to the Wild Heart presents Impossibly Happy, June 20 at 8pm at Array Space, 155 Walnut Ave. Stuart Broomer writes frequently on music (mostly improvised) and is the author of Time and Anthony Braxton. His column “Ezz-thetics” appears regularly at June | July | August 2019| 17

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