Creative Orchestra Projects


In October 2016, I convened the Montreal-Toronto Art Orchestra, featuring improvising musicians from both cities, to rehearse and perform Roscoe Mitchell‘s series of compositions, Conversations for Orchestra. The Orchestra performed in Montréal at L’Off Festival de Jazz and in Toronto at the Music Gallery. A recording of this project, Ride the Wind, is released on Nessa Records (ncd40), featuring Roscoe Mitchell (woodwinds), Marilyn Lerner (piano); Lori Freedman, Yves Charuest, Kyle Brenders, Jean Derome, Peter Lutek, and Jason Sharp (woodwinds); Nicole Rampersaud, Craig Pedersen (trumpets); Tom Richards, Scott Thomson (trombones); Julie Houle (tuba); Jean René, James Annett (violas); Rob Clutton, Nicolas Caloia (double-basses); Isaiah Ceccarelli, Nick Fraser (drums); Michael Davidson (vibraphone); Gregory Oh (conductor)

Prior to that, the AIMToronto Orchestra was a seventeen-piece creative music ensemble directed by Kyle Brenders (primarily artistic director) and me (primarily administrative director). In early 2007, when I was still on the Board of the Association of Improvising Musicians Toronto (AIMToronto), I proposed that, as an extension of the Interface Series Program, we form a large ensemble made up of AIMToronto member-musicians to learn and to perform the music of Anthony Braxton. At the time, Kyle was studying with Anthony while completing his Master’s degree at Wesleyan University, and was due to move to Toronto afterward. Once the Board had assembled the Orchestra, Kyle coached it in advance of a rehearsal intensive with Anthony that summer, followed by a main-stage performance at the Guelph Jazz Festival in September, 2007.

This performance was recorded and broadcast by the CBC, and was eventually released as Anthony Braxton and the AIMToronto Orchestra, Creative Orchestra (Guelph) 2007 (Spool Records) – the final release by that notable Canadian creative music label.

The momentum of the Braxton project inspired the Orchestra members to continue the project into the autumn of 2007. Administratively, the Orchestra ceased to be the purview of the AIMToronto Board, and has subsequently been directed solely by Kyle and me, an organization called Toronto Creative Orchestra Projects. The Orchestra partnered with the Leftover Daylight Series, where it met monthly to workshop new pieces by its members. During this period, the Orchestra also performed Anthony’s music at the Brampton Indie Arts Festival in January, 2008, and rehearsed and performed the music of Malcolm Goldstein as part of his AIMToronto Interface Series in March, 2008.

The monthly workshops continued into the summer of 2008, but increasingly inconsistent personnel made such regular assembly unsustainable. Since then, the Orchestra has been re-assembled on a project-by-project basis. By the time of this transition, however, a program’s worth of new material had been composed by Justin Haynes, Joe Sorbara, Germaine Liu, and Kyle Brenders. This material was the basis of the Orchestra’s concert at the Polish Combatant’s Hall, Toronto, as part of the 2008 X-Avant Festival by the Music Gallery, as well as the Orchestra’s first studio recording, Year of the Boar (Barnyard Records), that Jean Martin and I produced in January 2010. (I do not play on Year of the Boar; Steve Ward very ably subs for me when my directorial duties take front-and-centre.)

The April, 2011, record launch for Year of the Boar at the 918 Bathurst Centre for the Arts, Toronto, featured new works by Justin Haynes (“Circles Over Labrador“) and Kyle Brenders (“Gander”) written for the Orchestra plus special guest soloist, Evan Parker, who was in town to launch his trio recording with Wes Neal and Joe Sorbara, At Somewhere There (Barnyard Records) at the beginning of a two-week Eastern Canadian tour that I organized for him.

Downbeat Magazine Review, October 2012

AIMToronto Orchestra
Year Of The Boar
Barnyard Records 0322

This is the studio debut for a group assembled for the 2007 Guelph Jazz Festival by soprano saxophonist Kyle Brenders, initially to interpret Anthony Braxton’s music. The repertoire expanded to include pieces by Brenders, Justin Haynes, Joe Sorbara and vibraphonist Germaine Liu.

Tightly synched a cappella horns scamper like the eponymous boar at the outset, before the whole ensemble joins. A shriek from Christine Duncan precedes hog-like rasps from soprano and assorted reeds before a count-in to a jovial line out of a Dutch fanfare brass band book. A landslide of long tones ensues, coming to rest in an oasis of pastoral guitar and whistling. Clearly through-composed and cued, nonetheless far from a predictable ride.

Brenders’s “Fields” generates brooding electrical currents with arco buzz and shimmering long tones before an incredible tinkling—like thousands of amplified glass cockroaches—heralds percussionist Sorbara’s “Rendered In Desperation.”

Pristine recording by Jean Martin at Toronto’s Canterbury Music abets the wide dynamic range of the ensemble, which can hold much in reserve, unlike other groups its size.

The personnel may comprise contemporary music specialists more than jazz-based improvisers, restricting solo indulgence. There’s remarkable clarity of purpose, even in paraphrasing histrionics backing Duncan’s demented rants during “Follow Line Flow Line,” which concludes spookily with creepy strings, key pops and deadened piano keys. Liu’s “Cross Fading Accents” comes at you like some offcourse threshing machine.

—Michael Jackson

The Montreal-Toronto Art Orchestra is available for performances of Roscoe Mitchell’s suite, Conversations for Orchestra; please contact me if you wish to present the Orchestra in your city.