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Moving Upstream

Upstream Music, Halifax's experimental genre-busting music collective, turns 20.


Local music collective Upstream Music Association is turning 20 this week, and to celebrate, they're going back to their roots. The association was formed in 1990, and played its first show at Saint Mary's University Art Gallery. Now, still going strong two decades later, the birthday party includes a retrospective exhibit at the gallery, culminating in this weekend's series of concerts.

"A lot of people were moving to the area, or moving back to the area, around 1989," says artistic producer Paul Cram. Upstream formed out of a group of local musicians interested in playing experimental jazz and classical music.

"The band was made up of a unique animal---all composer-performers. Everyone was playing everyone else's music, everyone was writing," Cram says. "It was unique for jazz and classical music---like a rock band playing really complicated music."

Cram describes Upstream's style as "pan-genre orchestral music." He's been pleased to see musicians develop with the association through its history. Their current roster includes a host of familiar faces in the local jazz and experimental scenes like Cram, Tim Crofts, Sandy Moore, Dani Oore, Lukas Pearse and Jeff Torbert, as well as younger musicians like violinist Lee Park and guitarist Zachary Fairbrother. They've collaborated with musicians like Fred Frith and London jazz composer Barry Guy.

This weekend's events include three concerts---the nonet A Love Upstream, which performs more classical and complex compositions on May 14; several Upstream musicians perform with the Toronto-based jazz quartet Lina Allemano Four on May 16; and on May 15, the Upstream Guerrilla Orchestra.

The Guerrilla Orchestra is a 10 to 15 piece orchestra, improvising with strings, brass, percussion, vocalists and a dancer. "They're pieces that work for whoever shows up," Cram says. "It's a desert island concept---if you're shipwrecked on a desert island with a bassoon and a flute, what do you get?"

And, of course, there's the exhibit, where you can listen to Upstream recordings and check out experimental scores and archival material.

"It keeps the lights on in Halifax," Cram says of Upstream. "It's what people are really doing---getting together and making music."

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