Various Artists

no99: No Music Festival, 1999

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The second edition of the No Music Festival was held in London, Ontario (home of the Nihilist Spasm Band), from April 8 to 10, 1999. The three-day noise extravaganza was recorded and the label Entartete Kunst Recordings released a five-CD document of the event. That's over six hours of material, accompanied by a 16-page booklet filled with photos and comments from the organizers and some of the participating players, which included that year Ken Vandermark, Fred Van Hove, Borbetomagus, Alan Licht, Michael Snow, Jim O'Rourke, and many more, along with the Nihilist Spasm Band (Bill Exley, Art Pratten, John Boyle, John Clement, Hugh McIntyre, and Murray Favro), of course.

The No Music Festival was structured in two parts: evening showcases and late-night "interplays." Excerpts from the showcases are found on the first three discs. The premiere duo of Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone) and free jazz legend Fred Van Hove (pipe organ) is a delight. Their 45-minute set is an occasion to hear both players in a very unusual setting, outside any reference to jazz. The organ had a very delicate sound that set the mood for a not too noisy and very enjoyable improv. Worth of note are the performances of Borbetomagus (this one will get rid of any wallpaper-scraping job), the pairing of guitarist Alan Licht and conceptual artist/pianist Michael Snow (heard here on Fender Rhodes), and the first ever performance of 14-year old Californian noise guitarist Jon Borges. The Nihilist Spasm Band delivers an average performance highlighted by guest appearances from Licht and Masaki Ohno (of Solmania).

Disc four and five collect excerpts from the "interplay" sessions, collective jams where musicians are invited to form small ad hoc groups. These events are often the occasion to hear musicians on unusual instruments (Michael Snow and Jim O'Rourke played drums, Fred Van Hove took out his accordion) and settings. Ken Vandermark proved very creative in non-jazz settings, as testifies his quartet with Licht, O'Rourke, and NSB's John Clement and his "three tenors" stunt with Borbetomagus' Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich. The same Dietrich got into an exciting wall of sound with Donald Miller and Ohno. O'Rourke on unamplified guitar and noisician Knurl played a very funny David vs. Goliath game with Miller switching Knurl's amplifier on and off. On a softer side, Vandermark and Van Hove came back for a surprising clarinet/accordion duet and the latter sat down at the piano for a duet with NSB's Art Pratten.

No99 is recorded proof of the festival's vitality. Sound quality is flawed at times, but it conveys a more accurate transcription of the event. Fans of Ken Vandermark need to hear his very unusual performance here. After all, the No Music Festival was about unexpected match-ups (the Vandermark/Van Hove, Licht/Snow, and Bellchamber/O'Rourke pairings were all world premieres).

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