20th annual Edgefest Festival will feature unpredictable jazz music

Sunday, October 23, 2016 - 5:20pm

The last weekend of October will be a special one in Kerrytown, and not just because of the emerging fall colors or Halloween festivities. Edgefest, a four-day avant-garde jazz festival that will occur that weekend, is described on its website as a “festival with a unifying purpose: to explore new music created by today's composer­s and performers from the United States and beyond.” Edgefest will be filled with groundbreaking jazz performers — including those who don’t stick with a script. 

Andrea Wolper, Ken Filiano and the late Connie Crothers are three individual jazz artists, each acclaimed for separate musical talents and accomplishments. When together though, they form an improvisational, avant-garde jazz assemblage called TranceFormation. While almost all of the performers at Edgefest offer a unique take on jazz music, TranceFormation offers the unpredictable.

Although each musician is based out of New York, the group had their debut performance in 2006 in Ann Arbor. Wolper, the vocalist of the group, has been called one of the “great jazz singers.” While her work outside of TranceFormation is less avant-garde and more straight-ahead jazz, Wolper said her goal in performing with TranceFormation is “to express — express something. Not just notes and pitches.” While it seems to the average person that improvised live performance could take quite a toll, Wolper embraces the ability to express herself in both types of performances.

“I love all of it,” she said.

Much of Wolper’s inspiration for expressing herself stems from TranceFormation’s late pianist, Connie Crothers. Crothers passed away in August of this year, but still plays a large role in the group. She was often heard telling musicians she worked with that performing and making music is all about feeling — TranceFormation takes Crothers’s piece of wisdom and extends it to each of their performances.

Filiano, the group’s bassist (and Wolper’s husband), also draws his relationship to performance from Crothers’s views, and stresses the importance of “always sounding like who you are.” A major precursor for a successful performance, he said, is knowing the history of the music you’re playing so that you can fill a unique position in the music itself. 

TranceFormation’s debut performance was also in Ann Arbor, at the 2006 International Society for Improvised Music’s inaugural conference, held in Ann Arbor. And, in a bittersweet fashion, their last performance may be in Ann Arbor this week. While Crothers’ talent and wisdom will continue to make an impact on Wolper and Filiano, the two agreed that the group was defined by the three musicians performing and expressing themselves as a trio.

“TranceFormation was the three of us … There is no going backwards,” Filiano said.

Wolper added that the music TranceFormation made together was too personal to replicate in another group.

“If we (decided to) find another pianist and make a group, it could absolutely happen. But it would be a different group,” she said.

Fittingly, their last performance will be a tribute to Crothers. Although this will not be TranceFormation’s first performance as a tribute to Crothers, it will be their final. Wolper notes the importance of playing “in a way that would honor her,” which will include a piece comprised of some words Crothers had written down on a piece of paper for Wolper in the past.

“Maybe this performance is a way of saying this group was, and is no longer,” Wolper said. 

TranceFormation’s tribute to Connie Crothers is October 27 at 7:00 PM at the Kerrytown Concert House, as a part of the 20th annual Edgefest Festival.