Music bash ''Edgefest'' fires up mix of creative jazz and improvised music

BY DENIS NARANJO
Daily Arts Writer
Published October 3, 2001

Four years ago Ann Arbor"s Kerrytown district broke the mold giving birth to challenging artistry with Edgefest, a mesmerizing three-day music bash searching for everything experimental, avant-garde and beyond. Advancing to year five, the gusto and charm in presentation has ripened appreciably. Today through Saturday, definitely mark this week a primetime opportunity to zero in on musical escape.

Actually the music trip means exploring artistic heights, namely, those driven to an edge. And it"s not just a local phenomenon anymore. Edgefest can boast signature, marquis nameplate having garnered coast-to-coast attention. Even international interest swings back to Ann Arbor when Edgefest fires up a heady mix of creative jazz and improvised music.

For sheer variety, there"s a healthy assortment of headliners from Ann Arbor (Ed Sarath, Gerald Cleaver, Pete Siers), Chicago (8 Bold Souls, Rob Mazurek), New York (Matthew Shipp, Mark Helias), Germany (Kon Pack) and Canada (Les Projectionnistes, Barking Sphinx Ensemble). Concertgoers can even hit a walking tour of venues festival host presenter Kerrytown Concert House, Workbench Furniture and the Firefly Club near Main Street courtesy of a one-price, all-festival "Edgepass." Whatever the select ticket, creativity abounds with an impressive array of musicianship.

Edgefest does shower up special brews of jazz blends, but exploration and experimentation oftentimes drives the moment. Experienced and novice jazz followers can expect to hear absorbing primetime measures, continuous inside-looking-out imagery infused with stark harmony, melody and rhythm.

"Edgefest is about music that tends to blur boundaries and not fall into easily defined stylistic boxes," said Dave Lynch, Edgefest"s festival director. "Artists move in whatever directions they desire jazz, rock, folk, electronics, avant-garde abstraction. As a listener, it"s exciting to not know what might be coming at you from around the bend."

"In some respects, Edgefest is known in places like New York, Montreal, Chicago, Vancouver and even in Europe, perhaps more than it is known here," he said. That"s why each autumn Lynch relishes getting a chance to reacquaint local college music fans about his artistic jewel, all on the cutting edge of music.

Like the music, the community of Edgefest is close-knit. Lynch says he doesn"t have to twist arms anymore when it comes to volunteers, recruiting artists from Montreal and Vancouver, or getting local media to support Edgefest. Rave performances from years past have left indelible impressions.

In 1997, Kerrytown Concert House incepted a "Jazz at the Edge" series. There, shows by Chicago"s Roscoe Mitchell Trio, New York"s Tim Berne"s Bloodcount and the Myra Melford Trio netted excitable applause. Convenient same-day tour schedules of Dave Douglas" Tiny Bell Trio, the Rova Saxophone Quartet and the Charlie Kohlhase Quintet transformed a quick, one-day festival into a primetime splash. Tossing in musical complement, regional avant ensembles were booked and the "Edgefest" brand cultivated a regally warm, beyond-jazz type notoriety.

Once the incendiary boundaries were pushed, Lynch said, Kerrytown had easily cemented its place for creative music. "Edgefest has steadily grown, and we"ve gradually taken a more proactive stance relative to festival programming," said Lynch. "We"ve also been able to design a festival by inviting artists here for world premieres."

Hence, forget the moniker of headliners and subordinate players. Edgefest transcends that notion, providing all audiences a listening post into high-end displays of creative expression. With every artist a headliner, time signatures and instrumentation flanks dense texture with variable dynamics, sonic angularity darts and dances with rhythmic permutations.

Edgefest, Lynch says, conjures up a musical travelogue that proudly represents Ann Arbor. Reflecting on this year"s festival poster, a painting by local artist Nancy Wolfe, he added, "Edgefest is a place for music discovery and the musicians are the vessels."