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Posted on Fri, Oct 9, 2009 : 11:04 a.m.

Edgefest returning to showcase adventurous jazz

By Will Stewart

Note: Schedule at bottom of story updated to reflect cancellation of Saturday 9 p.m. show by Hamster Theatre.


Edgefest, held in Kerrytown from Oct. 15-19 this year, features over a dozen live performances from cutting-edge artists like 4 Altos.

Jazz. Chamber music. World music. Rock.

Edgefest — Ann Arbor’s annual celebration of creative improvised music — encompasses all these genres and more during a four-day (Oct. 14-17) event that, during its 13 years, has achieved an international reputation.

“It’s its own niche,” said Deanna Relyea, the founder and former director of the Kerrytown Concert House, which sponsors Edgefest, and the event’s curator. “I don’t think that there’s anything else like Edgefest that happens in all of the Midwest, and there are very few events like this in the whole world.

“Of course we don’t draw a huge audience of thousands of people, but that isn’t the point, because there’s isn’t a huge audience for these kinds of music.”

Rather, Edgefest brings together like-minded musicians, who are paired with devoted music lovers, who value the risks that the artists take in creating music that challenges both the mind and the ear, yet is still beautiful.


Gravitas Quartet, led by pianist Wayne Horvitz, takes the stage at Kerrytown Concert House for a Friday, Oct. 16 Edgefest performance.

For its 13th season, and for the second straight year, Edgefest has adopted a theme. This year’s is “Reeds of Change,” and it brings together artists and composers from all over the world, whose unique approaches redefine how we think of various reed instruments.

“People think of saxophones and clarinets, and we’ll have all sorts of those, plus oboes and other reed instruments, performed by innovative players and composers,” Relyea said.

Probably the biggest name performing at this year’s Edgefest is reedman Roscoe Mitchell, one of the founding members of the groundbreaking Art Ensemble of Chicago and one of the pillars of the creative improvisational music movement. Mitchell will perform with world-renowned vocalist Thomas Buckner and University of Michigan faculty member Stephen Rush on keyboards. The self-titled trio headlines the event’s first night, performing at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at the Kerrytown Concert House.

Mitchell and Rush also team up in the ensemble, Yuganaut for a 4 p.m. performance at the Concert House on Saturday, Oct. 17. The group combines such diverse instruments as euphonium, toys, reeds and other instruments to create a collision of sounds that should prove to be one of Edgefest’s premier attractions.

Sticking with the “Reeds of Change” theme, Friday’s co-headlining bill featuring 4 Altos, led by Marty Ehrlich, and the Dutch consortium Third Man Trio (now performing as Holshouser Bennink & Moore), both of which bring improvisational music to the realm of the saxophone.

During most years, Edgefest combines its major events at the Concert House and the Firefly Club. However, due to the indefinite closure of the Firefly Club earlier this year, several events, including the chamber ensemble Hamster Theatre and the all-star jam session, Reeding - The Riot Act, featuring several of the festival’s headliners and sidemen, will be held under a tent in the Kerrytown Farmers Market area.

“It’s a wonderful festival this year,” Relyea said. “It’s all very compelling music and each group and artist has a unique stance in terms of their approach to this type of music.”

For a complete Edgefest schedule, visit the Edgefest page at the KCH web site.

Artists performing at Edgefest 2009 in Kerrytown

An element of Edgefest that has emerged as one of its calling cards is the “Fringe at the Edge” series, which offers free performances, seminars and lessons by emerging talents in the realm of improvisatory music. This year is no exception, offering performances by U-M Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation students, the annual Edgefest Parade around Kerrytown and even a group vocal lesson by Thomas Buckner.

“The Fringe events allow us to take a greater advantage of all of the amazing talent we have right here in he area, while including some of the bigger names as well” Relyea said. “We have some really great avant players around southeast Michigan — they’re all different, but they all tend to be in touch with one another to create this great community of musicians.”

For the initiated, Edgefest may sound a little too far out for the casual listener to enjoy. But it shouldn’t. In a community that has world-class musical offerings nearly week, Edgefest stands as one of the most exciting — and listenable and accessible — events of the year.

“People find that they come because they have an interest in maybe one type of music, but they find a hook that brings them into the entire Edgefest experience,” Relyea said. “Everyone — the artists and the audience — all combine to bring the music forward.”

Will Stewart is a free-lance writer for

PREVIEW 13th Annual Edgefest - "Reeds of Change" What: Four days of performances by groundbreaking musical artists, with a focus on reed instruments in contemporary and avant-garde jazz music. Where: Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave.; various locations around Kerrytown Farmers Market. When: Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 14-17. See below for times. How much: Edgepasses ($135) may be reserved directly through the KCH web site or by calling 734-769-2999. Individual tickets below. The lineup: Wednesday: Jason Stein’s Locksmith Isidore (7 p.m., KCH, $15); Roscoe Mitchell, Thomas Buckner & Stephen Rush (9:30 p.m., KCH, $20). Thursday: Tomas Ulrich's Cargo Cult w/ Andrew Bishop (8 p.m., KHC, $); Positive Knowledge (10 p.m., KCH, $). Friday: Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet (8 p.m., KCH, $15); 4 Altos and Third Man Trio (Holshouser Bennink & Moore) (10 p.m., KCH, $25). Saturday: Conspiracy Winds Ensemble (2 p.m., KCH, $10); Yuganaut with Roscoe Mitchell (4 p.m., KCH, $20); Brad Shepik’s Human Activity Quintet (7 p.m., KCH, $20); Reeding-The Riot Act (9 p.m., location TBA, free); Hamster Theatre (10:30 p.m., KCH, $15) Details: More information on Edgefest and Fringe at the Edge events at the KCH.