[JPL] Edgefest stretches the jazz definition
drjazz at drjazz.com
Sun Oct 8 18:24:05 EDT 2006
Edgefest stretches the jazz definition
4-day event includes elements of jazz, classical rock and folk
Sunday, October 08, 2006
BY WILL STEWART
News Special Writer
It's hard to believe that just a decade ago, Ann Arbor was so far outside
the edge of experimental improvised music that avant jazz fans had to
travel as far away as New York or Quebec to get their fix.
But one weekend each year for the past 10 years, Edgefest has brought the
cutting edge of experimental music to Ann Arbor and, in the process, become
one of the most celebrated experimental music festivals in the country.
"Several of us were lamenting the fact that Ann Arbor is a great community
with an emphasis on supporting the arts, yet no one was doing anything with
creative improvisational music,'' recalled Dave Lynch, one of Edgefest's
creators, who has served as the festival's artistic director since its
"The so-called 'downtown' music scene was thriving during the 1990s, but
none of these groups were coming here.''
In response, Lynch began booking experimental artists like Dave Douglas and
Charlie Cole at Kerrytown Concert House under the loose "Jazz at the Edge''
moniker. In November 1997, several of these disparate groups happened to be
in town the same weekend and, almost organically, Edgefest was born.
"It was like: instant festival,'' Lynch recalled of the inaugural event,
which was held at Kerrytown Concert House and the Heidelberg and lasted
just one (very long) day.
In subsequent years, Edgefest has grown up, attracting corporate
sponsorship, as well as such genre-defying artists as bassist Henry Grimes,
Tim Berne and, this year, a Swedish experimental music giant,
accordionist-composer Lars Hollmer, who will be making his first U.S.
appearance during Edgefest.
"It's grown a little each year and, now, it's become one of the major
festivals of its kind,'' Lynch said.
This year's festival, which runs Wednesday-Saturday, features not only the
requisite raft of concerts at Kerrytown Concert House and the Firefly Club,
but also - in a new addition to the festival - a number of free events in
and around the Kerrytown shops, like several "Fringe of the Edge''
performances by local and regional artists, educational workshops and even
a Saturday afternoon jazz parade.
But just what is the music that Edgefest celebrates?
"It's difficult to describe and that's one of the challenges, because it
isn't easy to put into boxes,'' Lynch said. "Overall, it's in the category
of jazz, but it stretches the definition.''
The catch-all phrase "creative improvisational music'' comes closest, where
elements of jazz, classical, rock and even folk music overlap to create
their own genre that's as broad as it is indefinable.
"All these artists have a broad base of skill in jazz, but have opened up
their music to all different genres,'' Lynch said. "It's not a (bebop)
festival, but there will still be elements of that, too, along with
As such, this year's Edgefest ranges from the playfully reworked jazz
standards of Montreal's Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay, led by
bassist-composer and Edgefest veteran Jean Derome, to the ethereal pairing
of saxophonist Oliver Lake and Navajo singer Mary Redhouse, to bassist Drew
Gress' swinging quintet 7 Black Butterflies, which will close the festival
at the Firefly Club on Saturday night.
But perhaps this year's festival's coup de grace is Hollmer's one-off Ann
Arbor Global Home Project, for which the Swedish Grammy Award winner has
compiled a 10-piece band of local, regional and international musicians to
perform his lush, eclectic compositions, while crammed onto Kerrytown
Concert House's tiny stage.
"In a way, (Hollmer) kind of encapsulates the difficulty of describing what
this music is about,'' Lynch said. "But you know when you hear it that it's
something very, very special.''
If all of this sounds too, well, challenging, it shouldn't. While some
Edgefest artists push the definitions of rhythm and melody, the vast
majority are far more accessible than many casual music fans realize.
Hollmer, for instance, melds European folk music, progressive rock and
classical into a compositional style that's closer to new-age music than
anything you'd hear on, say, a Sun Ra or Ornette Coleman record.
"I really don't think there will be anything more 'out there' than the
recent Alice Coltrane concert (at Hill Auditorium,)'' Lynch said, who
described his own musical tastes as tame compared to some free-jazz
enthusiasts. "The focus is on music that doesn't fit into genres and on
musicians who deserve some attention and aren't getting it in mainstream
"Edgefest allows us to bring them all together.''
©2006 Ann Arbor News
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