EdgeFest On A Roll


The EdgeFest in Ann Arbor topped last year's on both artistic and economic terms. Attendance was up and there were several musical triumphs. The three-day event spanned the homecoming of three youthful Ann Arbor bands on opening night to the more mature Willem Breuker Kollektief of Amsterdam on Saturday night, October 9. I was able to attend most of the concerts at the three venues and came away hopeful about the viability of future festivals of jazz on the edge.

The headliner was the Breuker Kollektief's concerts at Workbench Furniture, a fittingly offbeat location for the zany Dutchmen. For example, during "Yes, We Have No Bananas," the leader was draped in the contents of one of the store's fruit basket displays. The uniqueness of Breuker's approach to the avant garde is to include heavy doses of musical theater in his panorama of musical styles. It was therefore fitting that Deanna Relyea, mezzo-soprano and owner of the Kerrytown Concert House, got to sing three Kurt Weill pieces in three languages with the band. With only the briefest of rehearsals, Relyea pulled off her debut on the jazz avant garde stage with great aplomb and in marvelous voice. The 11-piece Kollektief featured a number of good soloists. I was particularly impressed with violinist Lorre Lynn Trytten, who is a relatively recent addition to the band.

In the afternoon some of the members of the Breuker group also participated in a workshop with the big U's Creative Arts Orchestra. This workshop was partly sponsored by SEMJA and featured small groups from Ed Sarath's Orchestra. Breuker's commentary was at times somewhat opaque, but his bandmates took on the role as translators for the benefit of the music students. The Creative Arts Orchestra had earlier performed very ably pieces by and with altoist Tim Berne and bassist Michael Formanek. The latter duo also gave a nice performance at Argiero's restaurant the night before.

Formanek was one of three very powerful bassists who performed during the festival. Ken Filiano in Vinny Golia's quartet and Dominic Duval in "Trio-X" also had commanding presences with their big tones and rhythmic drives, with or without bows. In comparison, Stomu Takeishi seemed to be caressing his electric bass. Takeishi's focus was more on melodic qualities in his intricate interplay with pianist Myra Melford.

The Vinny Golia Quartet kicked out some burning jams at the Gypsy Café on Friday night. Golia played a number of reeds with great facility and Paul Smoker started off the second set with some riveting sounds on his trumpet and never let down for the whole set. With Filiano on bass and Damon Short on drums behind them, the Golia-Smoker duo egged each other on in collective improvisation. It was avant garde with strong roots in the past and everyone's feet were tapping. 

Tenorist-altoist-trumpeter McPhee returned for this year's Fest with the Trio-X, which featured Jay Rosen on percussion and Dominic Duval on bass. He was my favorite performer last year and did not disappoint this time. His brand of improvised music followed in the footsteps of Coltrane/Dolphy/Ayler/Ornette Coleman and his tribute to Coleman was a tour de force. "God Bless the Child" was a good vehicle for his soulful tenor. Trio-X was very impressive as a unit.

Dave Lynch and Deanna Relyea should be commended for putting together such a solid festival of edgy improvised music in these parts.

photographs by Lars Björn