SEE Magazine: June 26, 1997

by Scott Lingley

The love of jazz was, for Edmonton guitarist Ian Birse, like living in a foreign country. While his interest in playing it and learning about it was genuine, he says his identification with the culture that spawned it could never be.

"I know the language and I know the people," Birse says of his reflections at the time, "but now I have to go home."

More than a year ago a bout of tendinitis, painful inflammation of the tissues that connect the muscles to the bones in his right hand, forced Birse to put down his guitar. According to friends, Birse had been playing almost incessantly - teaching, gigging and busking for absurd stretches in LRT stations and on Whyte Avenue. His injury left him plenty of time to think and write about the role of influences and memory on creativity.

Birse had been experimenting with free improvised music with the Boreal Electro-Acoustic Music Society (BEAMS) and on an independent recording called Sounding Gong, Clanging Cymbal. Unable to play guitar, he took to combining his poetry with found sounds and noise loops, which he recorded and compiled on the cassette How to Play a Minute in Ten Guitars.

Birse started playing again last winter but didn't abandon his interest in free improvised music and spoken-word performance. He decided to put out the call to Edmonton artists who might share his passion for experimental music. With the kind assistance of the Yardbird Suite and sound engineer Jasiek Poznanski, Birse organized a night of experimental performances on the Yardbird stage that has run monthly since February under the name Momentum.

"Edmonton's got a pretty healthy scene for every kind of music," says Birse of the quantity and quality of free musicians in town. "I think it's because of the shitty winter."

Not restricted to free music, Momentum has also presented new works from dancers, film-makers and poets.

Momentum will conclude its season with a series of performances at this year's Jazz City Festival. The shows all take place at the Yardbird (10203-86 Ave.) and feature artists expressing themselves in ways that seek to be something you've never heard before, and impress you in ways you've never been impressed before.

The series starts Sunday, June 29 with L'ile Bizarre from Montreal, featuring Martin Tetrault on turntables and Diane Labrosse on keyboards and samplers. They'll be joined in this performance by Japanese drummer Ikue Mori. The show starts with Birse, drummer Chris Brown and sax player/inventor Tom Guralnick performing Birse's The Man with the Blue Tattoo, improvised music with spoken word and projected text. Guralnick, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, appeared at Jazz City '96 too. Admission is $8.

Monday, June 30, following a performance by Swiss improv trio Koch Schutz Studer, Momentum presents the Vertrek Ensemble, with Vadim Budman on guitar and trumpet along with multi-reed player Ryan Francis and drummer Ron deJong. Then comes the duo of Brown, drummer, versus Wayne Feschuk, pianist.

DeJong, who'll act as Momentum's emcee for the entire week, says the point of free improvised music is to challenge, not antagonize, the audience. Nonetheless, he's sure some people will feel antagonized.

"When people can't identify or predict what's going to happen it unsettles them," he says.

Tuesday, July 1, following Benghazi Saxophone Quartet, you can catch more saxophone thrills with tenor player Brett Miles in solo performance and the Ken Myers Quartet, featuring Myers on tenor sax, Robert London on trumpet, Feschuk on piano, bassist Greg Dust and drummer Dan Skakun. Miles plans to blend originals and standards with poetry and stories drawn from his experiences living in New York City. Myers' band will do a "modern, improvised post-avant-garde thing," if you can get your mind around that particular coinage.

Solo pianist Roger Admiral, late of classical combo the Hammerhead Consort, and Bill Damur's Pulp Friction will play Wednesday, July 2, following a performance by Belgian pianist Fred van Hove. Flautist Damur has pared his pan-tonal jazz ensemble down from 15 to four, including Ian Knopke on guitar, bassist Jay Lind and drummer deJong.

"We are doing something different than on the main stages," says Damur, "but not different than the spirit of creative music."

The weekday shows all start at 11 p.m., a vigorous appropriation of the notion of an after-hours gig where night-owls historically gathered to see musicians roll up their sleeves and get down to it in a dark, cozy atmosphere. Players will have a chance to jam afterwards and Birse hopes the European improvisers playing earlier in the night will come down and join in.

"My experience as a player is that really special stuff tends to happen later," he says.

Finally, Momentum will present an evening of improvised music under the open sky Thursday, July 3 from 5-9 p.m. in Sir Winston Churchill Square. Guralnick will whip an Improvisers Orchestra into a spontaneously composed spin cycle with players mixing, mingling and recombining, all free of charge.

The night shows are $5 each, an economical way to end a night of jazzing and perhaps the best way to make up your mind about free music once and for all.