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Monday, June 19, 2023

Thanks, Michel, for some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard…

By Stuart Broomer

When Michel Levasseur, founder, artistic and general director of FIMAV (Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville) announced this year’s line-up, he also announced that, after 39 editions, he and his wife, Joanne Vezina, the administrative director, were retiring. “Victo” is a special festival for free jazz, free improvisation and other outside musics, especially for Eastern Canada, but also for North America, with Levasseur’s global programming including Haino Keiji and Merzbow as well as John Zorn or Anthony Braxton. While we await eventual news of Levasseur’s successor with curiosity, there’s much to celebrate in his achievement.

FIMAV is an unlikely festival. It’s been through changes since it first launched in 1983, whether it’s the mix of venues, or its length, whether it’s four or five days, or its season, shifting from fall to spring. What makes it fundamentally and consistently special, though, is its unlikely and continuing combination of a relatively isolated location and its devotion to music at the edges, whether it’s free jazz and improvisation, new composed music, rock, noise or whatever melange of culture and musical theatre one might devise. It takes place in Victoriaville, a city of 47,000 set amidst woods and farmland, 150 kilometres east of Montreal. Through the years it has included Terry Riley, Evan Parker, William Parker, Marilyn Crispell, Satoko Fujii, Sonic Youth, Joëlle Léandre, Fred Frith, Sainkho Namchylak, Peter Brötzmann, Ikue Mori and Derek Bailey, just to name a few of the internationally celebrated musicians, as well as exceptional, even exotic projects from around the world.

I’ve been attending FIMAV since 1997, missing just a few installments since then, initially reviewing it for the long defunct Coda and, for many years, Musicworks, a Canadian publication that covers as broad a musical spectrum as FIMAV (many of those reviews can be found at In tribute to Michel’s vision, here’s a list of some stand-out concerts I’ve attended through the years. Levasseur has built a CD label, Victo, along with the festival, and some of these concerts are available there.

Like many devoted listeners, I occasionally imagine that I’m privileged to be attending the richest (most beautiful? most complex? most intense? Most relevant?) music going on in the world at that moment. That rare sense of heightened realization, privilege and gratitude has happened several times at FIMAV. These are performances that have inspired it. Most of them are epic single pieces of concert-length, whether the symphonies or healing ceremonies of contemporary music. These performances have in common an expansive possibility, something transformative, something beyond the quotidian. It’s a personal list, not intended to reflect the breadth of FIMAV or its best attended or most popular concerts. The festival’s website has comprehensive program lists going back to 1983. They’re very impressive.


1997: Phil Minton Quartet: Mouthfull of Ecstasy. Improvised music’s greatest singer explores Finnegans Wake with John Butcher, Veryan Weston and Roger Turner (Victo CD 041)


2000: Three concerts in a row: The late arrival of Cecil Taylor led to a night of pianistic genius, opening with the duo of pianist Paul Plimley and saxophonist John Oswald (just passing through), Marilyn Crispell and then Taylor himself (released as a three CD set, Complicité ( Victo cd074-075-076)

2001: Contest of Pleasures, the unamplified wind trio of John Butcher, Xavier Charles and Axel Dörner playing long tones and creating phantom beat patterns in a community college classroom by near-tuning.


 2003: Two concerts in a row: The combined Evan Parker Trio & Peter Brötzmann Trio (The Bishop’s Move, Victo cd093) offered 74 minutes of free jazz Armageddon. It was immediately followed, in an adjacent venue, by bassist Joëlle Léandre and electronic musician Joel Ryan creating a quietly interactive web of bass improvisations and electronic transformations.

2005: The French group Hubbub looks like a jazz quintet (two saxophones) or a funk band (a Les Paul guitar) plus piano and drums, but the saxophonists use circular breathing and the other instruments are all bowed, creating an hour-long, luminously ethereal, ever-shifting drone.

2011: Anthony Braxton’s Echo Echo Mirror House is performed here by a septet with musical instruments and MP3 players loaded with Braxton’s vast oeuvre, creating a sonic skein in which the works and associations of decades, live and Memorex, emerge in the air. Available on Victo .

2012: While the recorded version ofWadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers covered four CDs and included a string ensemble (Cuneiform), here’s it’s a compact and intense event with Smith’s Golden Quintet , including piano, bass and two drummers.

2014: Evan Parker’s ElectroAcoustic Septet is a distinctly New York version of the project mixing new arrivals and veterans alike (Victo cd127).

2015: Montreal saxophonist-composer Jean Derome is revered for the invention and wit of his large-scale projects as well as his skills as an improviser. His punning Résistances is an exploration of the 60-cycle hum of the North American power grid (Ambiances Magnétiques).

Joshua Abrams’ Natural Information Society creates a pulsing trance-state with percussionist Hamid Drake expanding the wealth of rhythmic detail and Lisa Alvarado’s large geometric paintings further enhancing a magical space. 

2016: Musica Elettronica Viva improvise Symphony No. 106, with Frederic Rzewski, Richard Teitelbaum and Alvin Curran marking the 50 th anniversary of the group’s existence (Victo cd129)

2017: The fifth edition of Nate Wooley’s ever-expanding Seven Storey Mountain had an 11-member band, the Tilt brass octet and a narrator.