Published on July 7th, 2017 | by Stacey McLaughlin0
Jazzfest: Thor & Friends
The Bassment was a perfect Jazzfest venue for Thor & Friends, an avant-chamber percussive group that brought intricate soundscapes, some Krautrock influences, and other surprises.
The four-piece avant-chamber percussive group, Thor & Friends, took the stage at The Bassment as part of the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival on Sunday, June 25, 2017. After a brief, but gracious introduction from one of the festival volunteers, the group made their silent entrance to the stage and got right to work making music for the eclectic audience who had assembled to enjoy something special that night. Whether they were long time fans of the noise-rock band Swans where Thor was a percussionist for many years, or fans of Thor & Friends themselves, or just people looking to experience something new, the room was hushed in anticipation of what was about to unfold.
Upon first listen, the music is both melodic and haunting. These melodies build and build upon one another until they are richly layered, and tactile in a sense. The musicians worked together as one to build intricate soundscapes that the listener could both see and feel. Also very notable to their performance was how they were all very thoughtful and focused in their work. This reminded me of Kraftwerk and their concept of “music workers.” The sound was very dreamy, and almost other worldly. It could be described simply as ‘music as storytelling’ in that each song seemed to have its own narrative, and set of emotions that it was trying to convey.
Adding to their musical mastery, they projected a variety of visual imagery that lined up with the mood of each piece. These combinations of film and manipulated light, edited and refined by Winnipeg artist Brad Linehan, really contributed more to the overall feeling of the performances than just a regular light show would have by having moving elements and a variety of textures and colours. Another way that they innovated was how they used the voice more percussively as opposed to strictly melodically. There was much free play in how even loops of vocal notes could be used in music.
The mastery of percussive instruments was awe inspiring. The crescendos from boisterous fortes to the gentlest pianos – they demonstrated the grandest much control. They were so in sync with each other that three people could play one instrument (in this case the marimba) and it sounded like one person. Like poetry, each tempo change was deliberate. They experimented with complex rhythms and melodies that pushed new boundaries. The addition of the violin and synthesizers to the percussive mix was absolutely arresting. Not to be content leaving the surprises there, Thor brought out and played clarinet several times throughout the performance. Aside from the earlier Kraftwerk reference, other Krautrock influences that were notable was their use of anchoring with one melodic theme and then playing melodies around that theme. It was fascinating and exciting to see these techniques being put into action in this way with this range of instruments, and to be executed so beautifully.
Thor Harris, who had traveled all the way from Austin, Texas, explained that it was their first time here in Saskatoon. The other band members that evening comprised of Sarah “Goat” Gautier, also from Austin, Sheenah Ko from Montreal, Julie Madsen from British Columbia, and Foon Yap joining from Calgary on violin. The Bassment was an excellent venue for this type of show. It has a wonderful ambience, it’s dark, and the sound quality was absolutely superb thanks to small attention to detail in its design – things like exposed ceiling, and sound baffles strategically placed along the walls go a long way to providing the perfect intimate experience for this type of show. Thor ended the show with what he called, his sage advice “If you are bummed out, get a dog. If you are still bummed out, get another dog. If you are still bummed out get a Marimba!” And he holds out his arm to show off his, pauses for laughter, then continues, “And if you are still bummed out, get another dog.”