A quarter of a century is not a bad run for a festival dedicated to the latest, most adventuresome, and forward-thinking developments in jazz. Befitting the music, the first edition of Edgefest, initiated by David Lynch who was working at the Kerrytown Concert House, was somewhat improvised. But the festival grew, and after ten years Lynch passed it to Deanna Relyea who has been curating it to this day. In recent years the festival has been organized around a specific theme, but this time it will be a celebration of old and new friends from near and far in a somewhat more compressed time frame of three rather than the customary four days.
The kinds of music that fill Edgefest have no borders and conform to no specific genre. They share a tradition of redefining modern jazz as it was codified in the middle of the last century, when the repertoire of a typical combo would consist of melodies based on familiar harmonies. Performances would consist of a statement of the melody, followed by solos improvised on the harmonic pattern of the piece, ending with a restatement of the theme, all accompanied by a steady beat.
Musicians all over the country began to search for alternatives, eschewing set harmony and rhythm, focusing on flexible sound and timbre, extending the expressive capabilities of their instruments. Some of this music, often referred to as “free jazz,” discarded all prepared material and focused on pure improvisation, while others worked with new compositions, sometimes inspired more by blues or contemporary classical music than by mainstream jazz. Most important, many of the new music practitioners have imagined their art as an expression of social and political progress, deeply involved with issues of ethnic and gender justice.
This year’s Edgefest covers all these trends, be it solo performance, free improvisation, or composition. Joe McPhee will bring his small pocket trumpet, which allows him to create a cornucopia of unexpected sounds. Vocalist Fay Victor, who will make her Edgefest debut, is perhaps the most radical experimentalist at the festival. Well-versed in traditional ways of singing, she performs with various groups, some more traditional, others dedicated to the exploration of pure sound. She can sing in tender ballad mode, scream, coo, whisper, and screech. Her band includes soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, who likes to alter his instrument with pipes and balloons to create previously unheard sounds.
Other sound explorers in the lineup this year include the group Electrosphere, led by Ken Kozora, usually heard on trumpet or percussion, with two well-known Detroiters, saxophonist Rafael Leafar and drummer Djallo Djakate. In this group, all three play synthesizers and other electronic instruments and only occasionally take up their usual arsenals, creating unpremeditated explorations. On the other end will stand performances led by instrumentalist composers such as Andrew Bishop and Steve Swell, who will lead their groups through newly composed recitals.
Edgefest 25, October 28-30 at the Kerrytown Concert House, promises to be one of the most diverse and musically rich gatherings in its long history.