STALWARTS OF THE TORONTO MUSIC SCENE, guitarist / saxophonist Colin Fisher and percussionist Brandon Valdivia—who collaborate as Not the Wind, Not the Flag—have diverse avant-garde credentials. They have played everything from rock to new music to free jazz, in ensembles of every size. Vermillion, the duo’s first LP after eight years of live shows, cassettes, and CDs, bears evidence of both this stylistic range and long history.
The first track, “Aurora,” begins with Fisher’s clean-toned, reverb-heavy electric guitar picking out mellow chords, complemented by Valdivia’s scattershot, impressionistic percussion. Gradually, the piece develops into more experimental, almost glitchy, trebly tonal territory, with the opening chords looped underneath, tentatively growing more turbulent. At the climax, Fisher takes over with a bit of fluid, bluesy soloing before breaking it down into some tonal experimentation that brings to mind wah-pedal-heavy ’70s rock crunch and, at more abstract moments, a dial-up modem or a heavy door creaking. The built-up tension slowly gives way to a closing echo of the shimmering opening chords.
The calm of “Aurora” gives way to a darker, kosmische feel on “Obsidian.” Sketching out a psychedelic, slightly Arabic feel, the piece is a mirror image of the first track, charting a similar path in incorporating psychedelic and glitchy colouration, while busy hi-hats lend an atmosphere that is simultaneously tense and weightless. A climax comes a little over halfway through the piece with some staccato scratching and thumping drums—a tension that breaks into a spidery, detuned quasi-refrain of the opening. Dense freeform arabesques bring the piece to its conclusion.
Vermillion is freeform improvisation at the intersection of a number of styles. Eschewing pyrotechnics and gimmickry, Fisher and Valdivia’s telepathy and highly developed sonic palate allow each piece to progress patiently, marrying the spontaneity of improvisation with the controlled emotional arc of composition.