There's nothing less than intriguing on the Third Annual Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music. Nonetheless, here are four of the standout acts to consider.
Read reviews of Matthew Shipp's discs and you'll see names like Cecil Taylor, Paul Bley, Jaki Byard, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Ramsey Lewis and Duke Ellington. From which you'll deduce that he hammers the hell out of the piano, has moments of reflection, a sense of humor, a flair for the abstract, and is somehow a populist to boot. What you can't get is how he brings his influences together. For that, there's no substitute for hearing. His last disc as a bandleader, Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear), justly elicited critical enthusiasm of the "more folks should hear him" variety. His accompanists from that disc (drummer Whit Dickey and guitarist-turned-bassist Joe Morris) are notably with him for this gig. (Friday, 10 p.m.)
Although he's taken up bass and plays it in Shipp's trio, Joe Morris is hardly giving up his guitar. He's a prickly, single-note guy, who can spin out furious sounds with a sense of dynamic and mounting tension, but never pause — let alone resolve — with a chord. He's playing guitar with Detroiters (though infrequently heard hereabouts) Ben Hall on percussion and Hans Buetow on cello. (Friday, 6:15 p.m.)
Back in the '60s, Fred Anderson was a founder of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the most successful of all the musical self-determination organizations that sprung up across the country, the springboard for the careers of Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams and others. More than a few of Anderson's AACM contemporaries garnered attention for pushing the boundaries of compositions: for blurring the line between the improvised and the written, for writing for unusual (even theoretical, extra-galactic) ensembles, for dipping into older forms like ragtime and even consorting with improvising on computers. In comparison, Anderson has always been to the point: His tunes stake out interesting but hardly ornate spaces to be explored by his burly, expressive tenor saxophone and a rhythm section of like-minded travelers. His playing harkens back to older gents like Gene Ammons and Eddie Lockjaw Davis as filtered through the influence of Coltrane and Rollins, and then made into something individual by Anderson himself. His fellow explorers for this gig are Detroiters Skeeter Shelton (sax), Ali Allen Colding (drums) and former Detroiter Hakim Jami. Since Shelton is the son of another AACM co-founder (the late Ajaramu Shelton), there's a musical circle being connected in this. (Saturday, 10:30 p.m.)
Traditional Chinese music, avant-garde jazz and avant-garde classical music have all influenced violinist Jason Kao Hwang and EDGE, the group of New York-based improvisers that he's led through four years and several CDs. It's a powerful group that can rejoice in throwing its appreciable weight around with, for instance, drummer Adam Drury setting up fierce, demented martial figures; arco drone-riffs from bassist Ken Filiano; Lester Bowie-style slurred and burbled figures from trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum; and dazzling, slashing, soaring figures up on top from Hwang. That's how the piece "Threads" from their Jasong Kao Hwang/EDGE CD concludes after starting off far differently and moving through several other musical spaces — some quiet, some loud — before this bravura conclusion. It's but one reflection of Hwang's ambitious manner of interweaving themes and multiple textures in his compositions. When you learn that Hwang has also composed an opera, the high drama of his instrumental work makes all the more sense. (Saturday, 6:30 p.m.)
FRIDAY, MAY 30 DOORS AT 5 P.M.
Matthew Shipp Trio with Joe Morris and Whit Dickey
The Raw Truth
Faruq Z. Bey and the Northwoods Improvisers
Joe Morris/Ben Hall/Hans Buetow
Michael Carey/Piotr Michalowski
SATURDAY, MAY 31 DOORS AT 2 P.M.
(workshop at 2 p.m., music at 3)
Fred Anderson/Skeeter Shelton/Hakim Jami/Ali Allen Colding
Sabir Mateen Ensemble (Michael Wimberly, Warren Smith, Jane Wang, Shiau-Shu Yu, Raymond A. King)
Andrew Lamb Trio (Tom Abbs, Warren Smith)
Ellery Eskelin/Sylvie Courvoisier
Saris (Sara Schoenbecck, Harris Eisenstadt)
EDGE (Jason Hwang, Taylor Ho Bynum, Ken Filiano, Andrew Drury)
Hasan Abdur Razzaq/Ryan Jewell
members of New Music Detroit
The Third Annual Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music takes place Friday and Saturday, May 30–31 at Bohemian National Home, 3009 Tillman, Detroit; 313-737-6606. Tickets are $30 for advanced reserved seats; general admission is $25 Friday, $28 Saturday; two-day general admission pass is $45. Food provided by Slows BBQ and Avalon International Breads, with a CD mart by Stormy Records. Specific times for shows are listed at myspace.com/bohemiannationalhome.