Featuring the instrument in all imaginable contexts, the Festival of New Trumpet (FONT) Music was founded in New York City twelve years ago by Dave Douglas and the late Roy Campbell, Jr. FONT Music Canada is now in its second year, imported north by former Montrealer Aaron Shragge (who helps organize the NYC version), along with Ellwood Epps and Bill Mahar. Disparate genres over the ten concerts meant that ballads from Joe Sullivan’s straight up bebop quintet were followed by crooked blasts from Epps’ trio Pink Saliva, and Amy Horvey’s classical leanings with the Warhol Dervish string quartet preceded a free-form improvised set. With the trumpet as shared element, these otherwise jarring changes felt natural.
A recurring theme was the mixing of tonal and noise languages, as exemplified by two New York acts. Jake Henry’s Sweet Talk trio started with guitar-scratching, complex rhythms mirrored by punchy drums, while Henry’s trumpet overlaid angular lines; but a metallic guitar solo bridged to noise territory with Henry switching to synthesizer. Stephanie Richards’ Urban Surveyor Project featured several compositions connected by interludes of free improvisation, ranging from chamber music to funk. Of note was Richards’ use of extended technique, close-miking the valves to gain an extra layer of sound, using a mute to balance the quiet values with the louder bell.
Shragge’s duo with Ben Monder combined meditative slide trumpet and shakuhachi with guitar played through delay and reverb units to create a dreamy vibe. Monder has mastered the balance between harmonic complexity and ethereal sound, to create a music that induces a trance state entered through hyperawareness rather than a drowsy stupor. Shragge is the perfect partner, sitting Lotus-style on a pillow while trilling out melodies that blend with the chords to blissful effect.
Monder remained on stage as part of the Ingrid Jensen Quartet, featuring a decidedly modern brand of jazz. Monder varied his approach, adding faster runs and joining Jensen for unison heads. The leader made subtle use of electronics, as the band went from one tune to another without breaks. Included were two uptempo compositions by the recently departed Kenny Wheeler—to whom FONT 2015 was dedicated—plus more contemplative Jensen originals. Earlier that evening, Frédéric Demers was accompanied by Sonia Paço-Rocchia on live computer processing. Their sparse music was interrupted by busier electronic buildups, with a performance-art aspect added as Demers purposefully marked time circling a clock face traced out on the floor.
The Altsys Jazz Orchestra stood out with their own Wheeler tribute. Directed by Jennifer Bell, they started with Wheeler’s “Solo #1” rearranged by Mahar for three unaccompanied trumpets. Their set included other Wheeler compositions, along with two by Don Cherry, big band music played joyously with thrilling solos from all in the twelve-tet.
FONT ended with an improvised blowout from a quintet of Epps, Shragge, violinist Josh Zubot, clarinettist Lori Freedman, and trombonist Scott Thomson. Starting with piercing blasts from Freedman and Epps, the first piece fused into a single complex drone of subtly moving textures. The closing number had everyone running amok with festive pops and burps, a fitting close.