Intersection Festival: Anthony Braxton & James Fei, with Nadja

16 September 2022 / by Sean Warkentine
Intersection Festival: Anthony Braxton & James Fei with Nadja
Intersection Festival: Anthony Braxton & James Fei, with Nadja
Day 2 of Intersection Fest, featured performances from the band, Nadja, and free jazz pioneer, Anthony Braxton, performing a memorable duet with James Fei.

Article and photography by Sean Warkentine 

After 5 years of Intersection Festival, the 6th instalment finally landed this month, September 1-5, with a number of free and paid events brought to the public at various locations throughout Toronto. As with previous festivals, those within earshot of these public spheres are impelled to experience boundary-pushing and often outright noisy artists on the lineup. The day 2 event, which took place on September 2 at  St. Anne’s Anglican Church, brought together a pair of unlikely artists –ambient metal act, Nadja, and free-improv saxophone players Anthony Braxton and James Fei. 

The night began with the Toronto emigrant duo, Nadja, emerging on the stage. Aidan Baker, stage right with an electric guitar, and across a table of additional gear and mixers, Leah Buckareff, with bass guitar in hand. Together, they built a gradually intensifying wall, layering a soundscape from a drum machine with feedback from their guitars and effects. Coupled with the washes of guitar, bass, and noise, was a rattling of old wood in the venue, creating a physically immersive experience. At the peak of their racket, a slow steady pulse of kick and snare hits was mixed in to complete their signature drone metal sound. A second movement began midway, signalled by a riff change in the bass guitar, and after about 40 minutes, the drone was faded and the duet let their guitars ring out. For their first Toronto performance since 2018 (also an appearance at Intersection Festival that year), this was a welcome homecoming. The crowd expressing appreciation for this fact with a resounding applause.

Headlining the night was the 77-year old free jazz pillar, Anthony Braxton, joined by the equally prodigious James Fei. Together with a sound-bed of electronic tones, the duo unleashed a fierce piece of music on alto and soprano saxophones. Both men were stars of the show in their own right. Braxton as conductor and performer, with Fei as a featured soloist. Loosely playing from sheet music, but freely exploring within the framework, sections were signified by what became a familiarly clunky set of notes and variations of those, reminiscent of Coltrane’s famed changes. Due to its consistent imposition, there was a clear sense that the performance hinged on this contrived repetition, but it never melodically felt completely in place or smoothly tying in with the rest of the intricate musical knots. At the same time, the atonal progression never felt particularly out of place either. Whether or not audience members possessed the capacity to understand the significance and meaning of the repeated phrases, what absolutely stood out were the improvisations built out of, above, and around them. Both musicians, but especially Fei, took to using extreme elaborations and extended techniques, to manipulate their instruments and the sounds of them, chirping, clacking, and bending notes atop the electronics. It was an eccentric and eclectic display of mastery, employing speed and precision as much as nonchalance and indeterminism. Ultimately, a wholly enjoyable showing. The performance along with a lifetime of saxophone and jazz achievement did not go unrecognized –the crowd gave a reverberant ovation to the two performers, bringing the night to a close.

This unexpected pair of performances exhibited just a taste of what Intersection Festival went on to present to the city of Toronto, and its grand return this year, indicates that it will likewise be one to anticipate going forward.