|Canot-camping is a vast territory filled with “things to know” and “things to do,” animals, birds, lakes and rivers, explored here by 11 skilled canoe-improvisers from the lively Montreal musique actuelle scene. This recording constitutes our fourth expedition.
It was a pleasant trip since we did not suffer too much because of portages, insects, rain or wind and we visited deep, calm lakes under a sometimes partially cloudy sky.
Canot-camping is a rather strange kettle of fish. Its appearance on disc marks the preservation -- though I'd imagine not in the ultimate version thereof -- of a composition that's complex, frustrating, and often surprisingly rewarding. Why so? Because it's akin to John Zorn's Cobra (and other segments of that composer's other, earlier work) inasmuch as it relies on a series of gestures to inform players what to play, and when. Some of these are listed in the liner notes -- it's reassuring to note that metal's favoured devil's horns gesture is used to symbolize “solo” -- though there are over sixty of them available to choose from. So, rather than a set score or “right” way of handling Derome's ideas, there's only performance to use as a yardstick: this CD is a record of the fourth canoeing excursion that'd been made, though the piece has since gone through two more iterations.
Derome and the ten musicians under his direction try their damndest to bring the river into your headphones, to make you a part of their canoeing holiday. Largely, they succeed; the tones of the ensemble -- winds, two contrabasses, strings, some brass and some self-constructed instruments -- are broad enough that you can hear the “nature sounds” that are evoked, without being overly conscious of being able to namecheck the instrument from which they originate. There's no feeling of avant-jazz chops-for-chops-sake showmanship: everything here sounds naturalistic. From the traffic sounds of the disc's opener -- all honking horns and traffic-jam frustration -- to the glistening star-sounds of Lac 3/Constellations and the grunting-muso bestiary of Animaux, you're there, in the boat, hearing (sometimes literally) the sound of paddle slicing into water. Admittedly, there are times when nothing makes sense -- save for the rocking feeling of the music, which manifests itself as an occasional auditory seasickness -- but the quality on display here, and the deft touch exhibited by the musicians, is enough to make you push on through the slacker pieces.
Like much loosely-guided improv, there are moments on this disc that'll try your patience; hard-blown horn farts and moments that are more indicative of pissing about than of a journey by canoe occur occasionally, and frustrate immensely -- though thankfully, this is rare, and a mark of the high quality captured here. There are negative aspects to this trip upriver, but the evocative soundscape that's created by this paddle-carrying troupe is superb.