Something Else Musically in Steeltown

A New Music Festival
By Ken Waxman

With local jazz festivals becoming increasingly populist improvised music audiences and musicians yearn for programs oriented towards more experimental sounds. Unexpectedly the situation is being resolved 60 kilometres away in downtown Hamilton. From June 16 to 21 the first SOMETHING ELSE! festival of creative music, takes place at Hamilton Artists Inc. 155 James St. North, when local musicians share the stage with international improvisers.

“We moved to Hamilton two years ago, and while it’s fine to see music in Buffalo and Toronto, eventually there comes a time that you want good things to happen wherever you live,” explains Zula Presents’ festival curator Cem Zafir. Discovering that some of his favorite musicians would be in the area in June, Zafir decided to showcase them in Hamilton alongside deserving local artists. Suddenly the festival was born.

Opening night June 16’s show matches Boneshaker with Hamilton noise duo Eschaton. Bassist Kent Kessler and saxophonist Mars Williams from Chicago join forces with Oslo-based percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love in Boneshaker; while Eschaton’s unusual instrumentation is Aaron Hutchinson on trumpet, synthesizer, electronics and percussion plus Connor Bennett on saxophone, bass and vocals.

Following a one day hiatus, June 18 finds a Hogtown trio up against a Steeltown septet. Toronto’s Tiny Orchestra Trio is trombonist Paul Teglas, alto saxophonist Steve Whitehouse plus drummer John Halfpenny. With an odd name for an advanced music combo, Hamilton’s Same Old Thing consists of saxophonist Riley Kelley, guitarists Sean Dowhaniuk and Kevin Fraser, bassist Mike Deicont, drummer Mike Rajna and percussionist Pat Armstrong, plus vocalist Ruthie Pytka-Jones.

Chicago’s Sun Room trio plays both June 19 and 20. On the first night, entitled New York vs. Chicago, the trio of vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz drummer Mike Reed and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten share the bill with Golden State consisting of drummer Harris Eisenstadt, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, clarinetist Michael Moore and bassist Mark Dresser. Ironically not only is Håker Flaten Norwegian, but Moore live in Amsterdam, Dresser in San Diego, plus Brooklyn-based Eisenstadt is a native Torontonian. Toronto writ large provides the challenge for Sun Rooms the next night in the form of the Interstellar Orchestra, including brass players Nick Buligan, Nicole Rampersaud and Tom Richards, saxophonists Jay Hay Jeremy Strachan and Karen Ng, bassist Mike Smith and drummer Mike Gennaro.

June 21’s Summer Solstice wrap-up is an all-Toronto vocal feature. Mary Margaret O’Hara performs with multi-instrumentalist Aidan Closs, while Ronley Teper is joined by multi-instrumentalist Alexis Marsh, brass players Ben Bowen and Beth Washburn, flutist Aly Livingston, drummer Alex Meeks, bassist Chris Banks, keyboardist Chris Pruden and string-player Tim Posgate. What of the future? “I have a sneaking suspicion there may be a strong enough contemporary arts scene here to regularly support this,” declares Zafir. If so, look for more Hamilton improv gigs and another festival next year.

Doors: 8 pm each night; tickets $12 to $23; festival pass: $60. More information: http://zulapresents.org/

—For Whole Note e-blast June 2014