Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Gig: Spontaneous Combustion Anniversary Party

Spontaneous Combustion Anniversary Party (feat. Ulama / Ryan Driver / Colin Fisher + Mark Hundevad / Pterodactyl)

The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge). Saturday, July 16, 2011.

Spontaneous Combustion billed itself as a "Toronto underground music and culture magazine". I believe it's now defunct, publishing into May of 2012 — but here it was celebrating its first anniversary with a birthday party and show at The Tranzac.1 There was a cake, as well as some art on hand to celebrate the zine's movement into celebrating the visual as well as the auditory. Plus there were four diverse performances, reflecting the magazine's wide net.

Leading off the night was Tyson Kerr's Ulama, which should be pronounced with an 'ooh' at the start rather than a 'you'. The quartet had a slightly unusual lineup of accordion, violin, flugelhorn and double bass. Gabriella Ciurcovich was on the latter — she'd more recently be seen playing in Kite Hill. But this was generally a vehicle for Kerr's compositions — there's not much more info around on the band, so I'm assuming it was more of a short-term project. His musical background ranges from jazzy ensembles to choral work — he's also performed in Grex — and this material came out something more like lighthearted chamber-jazz.

There was room for variation within that, though, and the set started with a violin-led folk number (whimsically entitled "Reel-ly Jiggy") before moving into the sort of pleasing lightness you could imagine hearing on starry summer night on a romantic Parisian café terrace. It would later even brush up against genteel spirituals on one song. This was pleasing light fare, though perhaps the chatty young crowd at hand took it as being more suitable for background ambiance than something they should pay close attention to.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Ryan Driver was introduced by Ron Gaskin as "one of the greatest treasures in the sonic wilderness of Toronto" but this set turned out to be a bit of a rough ride. Promising to play all covers, an opening Scottish folk song accompanied by guitar was beset by a strange ticking noise in the monitor and abandoned.

Driver moved to the piano to essay Andy Gibb's "I Just Want to Be Your Everything". That and a 'luded-out take on "Up Up and Away" were rather fascinating, but the crowd was becoming increasingly inattentive. That's a very un-Tranzac-y thing and it seemed to throw Driver off his game — during an instrumental passage, he started really pounding at the keys. This material was definitely deserving of a more attentive crowd — I hope to get another chance to hear him interpreting Nat King Cole without so much chatter in my ear. As it is, Driver took it into increasingly abstract instrumental territory before he wrapped it up and promptly headed out of the room.

Fortunately that chatty element of the crowd were gone by the time Colin Fisher + Mark Hundevad started. I was automatically interested in this set to hear anything from Colin Fisher (NTWNTF, Elfin Choirs, etc.). I did not know Hundevad, but he cut an impressive figure, looking, with his rakishly tilted hat, like a noir detective or a refugee from a Tom Waits song.2 But that was countered by the ebullience of his drumkit, which was covered with bright Norval Morriseau-esque paintings. And musically, he was certainly able to conjure up some brightness.

He also had an analog synth at his side, and as the set started, he employed that, generating vrooming zworps to match to Fisher's guitar knob-twiddling. Once Fisher attacked his strings — he was mostly in "shred" mode here — Hundevad took to his kit to build some structure underneath. The noise would occasionally ease off, such as while Fisher captured a chittering loop with his pedal, then played over that.

There was a roughly fifteen-minute crescendo, and then a second half that started again with a pattern of synth and pedal-texture again, now sounding spooky, like the soundtrack to a pulp novel's exploratory excursion on Venus — dry humming winds over a barren and mysterious landscape before Fisher's guitar started hopping with nimble steps to climb over a barbed wire fence, clambering into the murky terra incognita beyond. An excellent set — this is what I came out to this show to see.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Pterodactyl — sardonically self-identified as "a quintessential part of the music created in the fall of 2006" — rounded out the night with playing a reunion set, their first in five years.3 The trio of guit, sax and drums (Nate Renner, Chris Willes and Nico Dann, respectively) had a bit of a punk-jazz feel. Not to be mistaken for a sax-plus-rhythm-section combo, this was a fairly even-handed three-headed beast, and the guitar was as oft the quietest here as Dann's drums were the "lead" instrument. (He'd provide some unmic'd wordless vox as well.)

The set began with a couple clattering numbers, all three jockeying for prominence before the whole equation inverted itself in a quieter composition with the others filling in around Willes' sax work. Picking the energy back up after that, on the next piece Dann paced in a circle around the kit ringing a bell while Renner used a slide to strum his guitar, generating scratchy metallic noises to counter Willes's blats and squeals. Almost as if they were taking requests from each other, Dann called out for Beck's "Devil's Haircut", taking the others by surprise, but they launched into a beat-driven version, enlisting the crowd to song along on the chorus before a spazzy breakdown.

Just as the band seemed to represent one moment in T.O.'s improvised music landscape, Spontaneous Combustion will also now be a marker of a specific stretch of time where some folks banded together to make some noises to — and for — each other. And if "the moment" has passed, the ripples will still be expanding outwards, waiting for someone to hear.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 Unless you're looking for something in German whose offerings include, um, "livestrip", their website appears to be gone now, but you can stiff out some traces at their facebook page, or see a few PDF'd issues via the wayback machine.

2 Hundevad actually has a thoroughly-impressive CV, playing behind a long list of noteworthy luminaries, as well as leading his own Controlled Demolition ensemble. I'll also be looking at another one of his collaborations here tomorrow.

3 The band also occasionally self-identifies as "Pterodactyl X" to distinguish themselves from an American flying-dinosaur-themed ensemble. Staying inactive since this reunion, you can hear some sounds from their heyday at their myspace.

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