If the subject is Edgefest, the question should be “edge of what?” Last week, the answer seemed to be “edge of calamity” for festival director David (no, not that David Lynch) Lynch. Ann Arbor’s Workbench Furniture, an offbeat fest venue of several years, had just gone bust, leaving two combos without an ottoman.
“It was ripped out from under us,” said Lynch, so distressed as to threaten moving the gig to this writer’s living room. (Fat chance!) But he took a moment to recall simpler times when he and a group of friends booking the Jazz at the Edge series at Kerrytown Concert House found themselves with the lesser headache of three bands, all too good to turn down, all available on the same day. The conversation went something like: “‘Let’s just have something called the Jazz at the Edge Festival … or let’s just call it Edgefest.’ So that’s really how that started.”
Six years later it’s a three-day event, boosted by more than a dozen sponsors. And from the edge of jazz, it’s grown, perhaps, into something harder to define.
This year’s elder statesmen, so to speak, are musicians pushing or past 60, who go back to the jazz avant-gardes of the ’60s. British saxophonist Trevor Watts first attracted wide notice with England’s legendary Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and more recently has become a magnet for the kind of young U.K. players like those in his current group.
Meanwhile, Trio 3, is a stateside super group. Treatise-length résumés of bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille include stints with John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor, respectively; saxophonist Oliver Lake is a star of the slightly later Chicago-St. Louis avant-garde. As to the “elder” tag, Lake chuckled and said: “I don’t feel any different except when my back goes out or something. … I’m trying to stay young in how I’m approaching the music and trying to invent different things.”
But it’s hardly a straight line between elders like Lake and Watts to all the artists on the bill — and some might debate whether there’s a line at all.
Lynch points to the Hamster Theater from Colorado, which draws on jazz, but also from rock and folk and other sources as an example of the “non-idiomatic” aspect of the festival: “Musicians don’t feel constrained to play music that fits into a particular box.”
The drummer John Hollenbeck prefers the no-particular-box box. Though some of his music fits snugly alongside late-era Coltrane, his latest disc, Static Still (GPE), with vocalist Theo Bleckman, more obviously echoes art songs, John Cage and Brian Eno. “I really see ‘eclectic’ as a new style that has cropped up from musicians who appreciate a broad spectrum of musics. Jazz is just one,” Hollenbeck wrote in an e-mail from the road in Germany.
On the other hand, former Ann Arbor pianist Craig Taborn looks at the schedule he’ll be on and sees artists all “derivative of the advances of creative musicians in the ’50s and ’60s (and ’70s). It is just a testament to those earlier artists that their work postulated so many approaches.”
Added Taborn in an e-mail: “Many of the artists who are positioned to the ‘left’ of mainstream jazz or commercial fusion have very few opportunities to concertize in the States. … There isn’t another stateside festival that is as consistent in terms of programming interesting and underground talent (as opposed to seeing who is the critical pick of the moment).”
Which may be definition enough.
Thursday: Guy Klucevsek and Phillip Johnston, an accordion-sax team whose latest disc is the appropriately titled Tales from the Cryptic on Winter & Winter. Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave., at 8 p.m. … Trevor Watts with small ensembles drawn from his Celebration Band, also Colorado’s Hamster Theater. Firefly, 207 S. Ashley, at 10 p.m.
Friday: Leaders Joe Fonda (bass) and Michael Jefry Stevens (piano) have played with the likes of Anthony Braxton and Dave Douglas. With trumpeter Herb Robertson and drummer Harvey Sorgen. KCH at 8 p.m. … Violinist-violist Mat Maneri is a master of tension. His quartet has former Detroit-area musicians Craig Taborn on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums, formidable Michael Formanek on bass. L’Ensemble Pierre Labbé, of Montreal’s musique actuelle scene, opens. 10 p.m. at Firefly.
Saturday: John Wubbenhorst plays Western and Eastern flutes; group includes U-M faculty members Ed Sarath (trumpet) and Michael Gould (percussion). KCH at 2 p.m. … Trio 3 at KCH at 7 p.m. … Trevor Watts with his eight-piece Celebration Band at Courthouse Square ballroom, 100 S. Fourth Ave., at 8:30 p.m. … Available Jelly, representing the antic Dutch jazz scene, at KCH at 10 p.m. … John Hollenbeck (percussion) and Theo Bleckman (vocals) as a duo and with the U-M Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Ellen Rowe, Firefly at midnight.
Free bonus workshops: The Fonda- Stevens group holds an open rehearsal of the U-M Creative Arts Orchestra on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the School of Music rehearsal hall, on U-M’s North Campus. Klucevsek and Johnson critique small groups Friday at 4 p.m. at KCH; Trio 3 does likewise Saturday at 4.
Tickets $10-$20 per show, $80 for festival pass. For more information, call 734-769-2999.W. Kim Heron is the managing editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org