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Edgefest to make jazz accessible with non-traditional sounds

By John Bohn, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 2, 2012

Sixteen years ago, Kerrytown Concert House staffer David Lynch founded Edgefest, a festival dedicated to bringing forward-thinking jazz artists to the Ann Arbor area. The first concert was performed in “Hollanders”, the paper making store across from the concert hall on North Fifth Street. From there, it grew in size and reputation and has since garnered a loyal following.

“It grew organically out of a movement in town amongst young people and older people who were missing the avant-garde part of jazz — the new music jazz — that was really beginning to flourish in New York at the time,” said Edgefest Director Deanna Relyea.

In addition to the concert house performances, the festival has always been dedicated to community engagement. In years past, Ann Arbor residents may have come across their favorite café or record shop, transformed into a performance venue by an internationally renowned musician. This year, the theme of the event is “Worldly Measures.”

While the standard jazz format may be present, non-traditional elements such as the banjo, violin or native flute can also be heard. Many of the musicians playing this year have looked to their rich cultural roots, giving their music an eclectic feel.

As the son of Indian immigrants, Rudresh Mahanthappa has drawn on such influences in his Indo Pak Coalition, a sax, tabla and guitar trio, which will be playing this year.

“(The Indo Pak Coalition) deals with both South Indian and North Indian music in a jazz context,” Mahanthappa said.

This will be his third year at Edgefest, though he has played the Kerrytown Concert House many times before.

“We’ve always had positive response there,” Mahanthappa said. “There’s always a loyal following for what I do so that’s always nice.”

One of the main events of Edgefest in 2012 will be performances by Wadada Leo Smith, one of the pioneers in this new approach to jazz. In addition to working with the University’s Creative Arts Orchestra, as well as a solo appearance at Encore Records, Smith will be performing his Ten Freedom Summers in its entirety.

Ten Freedom Summers is a tribute to the Civil Rights Movement with each part of the cycle meditating on a particular aspect of this monumental experience in the African-American community. A complete performance of the project runs nearly five hours.

“The whole collection has 21 pieces in it. I started to compose this project in 1977,” Smith said. “About five years ago, I had 10 compilations already fixed, but I didn’t think of it in terms of a collection until about four or five years ago. At that time, I got new commissions to complete the pieces. I finished the last piece in October of 2011. So from 1977 to 2011, that’s 34 years of musical activity looking over this piece.”

Ten Freedom Summers will be split into two performances — the first part on Friday evening and the second on Saturday afternoon.

“We knew Wadada would probably draw a few people, so we made him play twice,” Relyea said.

Barely seating 100 people, the space aims to provide the audience and performers with an intimate experience.

“It’s definitely fun to play there,” Mahanthappa said. “It’s different. I’m over in Europe playing 500-800 seat halls with a very loud jazz fusion band so it’s a very different scenario. I think it will be good for the music we will be playing.”

“Everybody loves it,” Relyea added. “Because you’re right on top of them, you’re in the living room with them.”

The festival runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3. In addition to performances, there will be talks and classes given by the musicians, and on the last day, Smith and other performers will lead the Edgefest Parade through the Kerrytown area. The parade allows anyone to bring a musical instrument and play along with the performers.

“This is not a commercial venture,” Relyea said. “This is a kind of event pushing this music forward.”


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