Edgefest opening night lives up to its name, and its legacy
So what is Edgefest all about?
Consider this: artists the five performers who appeared during the festival’s opening night on Wednesday have played with include Milt Hinton, Cecil Taylor and Yusef Lateef and, as well as Loretta Lynn and Ray Price.
Yes, Edgefest is about every kind of music you can imagine.
And on Wednesday, the Ann Arbor’s annual celebration of creative improvised music lived up to its legacy—and the theme of this year’s event—showcasing artists that span the musical spectrum from classical to jazz and beyond.
“This is a grand moment,” said Deanna Relyea, the founder/director of the Kerrytown Concert House, which has hosted the festival for each of its 15 seasons. This year’s Edgefest theme is “Blending Out: Classical Roots Exposed,” and Wednesday’s performances did just that, establishing the theme and tipping a hat toward some of the other performances lined up for the week.
The duo of violinist Mark Feldman and pianist Sylvie Courvoisier kicked off the evening with a riveting set of adventurous neo-classical compositions, both of their own and of their frequent colleague, John Zorn.
The duo appeared fearless, attacking their instruments one minute, caressing them the next.
Courvoisier frequently stood over the piano, strumming its wires and manipulating them to create exotic sonic landscapes that at times resembled steel guitar. And her conventional playing was far from conventional, finding new paths up and down the keyboard and firing off some low-end crescendos that likely are still echoing through Kerrytown today. Feldman, whose range covers avant classical to country, is a stunning musician, equally at home playing lyrical lines or staccato rhythms up and down the neck, while directing traffic through their compositions’ myriad twists and turns.
Although each laid out for extended periods to allow the other to explore, the duo was at its best when Feldman and Courvoisier were playing together, each off on their own tangent, while staying connected to the other.
When it worked, as it mostly did, it was breathtaking. When they missed, which was seldom, the music remained compelling.
The jazz yin to the Feldman and Courvoisier’s yang came in the form of saxophonist Tony Malaby and his Tamarindo Trio.
Malaby is among the leading voices in avant jazz and in bassist William Parker and drummer Tom Rainey, he has compiled a remarkable trio.
Closing out Wednesday’s Edgefest opening night, the trio smoldered through an improvised 75-minute set devoid of song breaks, introductions or even extended solos. It was a stunning musical experience and a truly collaborative affair, as the musicians urged one another forward, stating and restating themes and finding endless variations on rhythmic motifs.
Malaby is a fluid player, who clearly relishes the lush foundation provided by Parker and Rainey both of whom played “out” without letting the rhythm slip. Rainey was particularly fun to watch, using every part of his kit and stickbag, urging the band onward, but never losing track of the downbeat.
And this was just the first night. Edgefest is among the artistic high points of Ann Arbor’s musical calendar. And with Wednesday’s opening night setting the bar so high, the rest of the festival is shaping up to be one of the best ever.