Vancouver New York-based (and Vancouver bred) composer/bassist Lisle Ellis has been a key figure in the Canadian improv scene for over 30 years. In both Vancouver and Montreal, he initiated numerous experimental music organizations and venues, and has played with everyone from Andrew Cyrille, to Cecil Taylor, to John Zorn.
Last night, Ellis brought his extended multimedia improvisation Instant Coffee to La Sala Rossa, as part of the ongoing Suoni per il Popolo festival. Ellis was set up in the center of the room, behind one of four tables filled with synths, pedals, laptops and other electronics that created a dark, disturbing soundscape, enhanced by visuals of brewing coffee and clouds. With his black-rimmed glasses and stone-faced expression, Ellis seemed to be the calm at the center of an encroaching storm.
Ellis was joined by Half Japanese's Jason Willett and Matmos' multi-instrumentalist/prankster Martin Schmidt, who played everything from drums to a deflating balloon. At one point, Schmidt kicked a brass spitoon around his kit, then emptied his pockets into it: pens, glasses, keys. The audience seemed uncertain how to react to these chance exercises, a palpable menace lurking not far beneath his surface humor.
At one point, they were joined by
three other unannounced performers (John Heward, Diane Labrosse, and Pierre Tanguay), including an older gentleman who resembled Robert Ashley seminal Canadian visual artist John Heward, who read free verse from the stage. The sound grew complex and overwhelming, and it was difficult to believe they were all making it up as they went along. Part of the magic and mystery of music, I guess.