Close to the edge

Besides four days of avant-garde, experimental and otherwise fringe musical performances from local, national and international artists, this year's Edgefest in Ann Arbor will also feature ... a parade?

At first it seems strange, a come-one-come-all, baton-twirling parade to celebrate a festival that has always reveled in music that purposely exists far outside the mainstream. But before you imagine it with a shudder — high school marching bands interpreting Albert Ayler, the local Kiwanis Club keeping time for a contrabass orchestra made up of firefighters — keep in mind that this is Edgefest's 10th anniversary. That calls for a celebration, and nothing says celebration like a parade. Can't you smell the corndogs?

"It really is an important milestone for us," artistic director and festival co-founder Dave Lynch says. And to that end, he's expanded this year's fest with the "Fringe at the Edge" series, free musical performances by local artists taking place in community spaces beyond the usual Edgefest venues of Kerrytown Concert House and the Firefly Club.

Frank Pahl and Scavenger Quartet kick off Fringe at the Edge on Wednesday evening with a performance upstairs at the Kerrytown Market & Shops.

"That's appropriate," Lynch says. "Frank Pahl and Only a Mother opened the first Edgefest in November 1997 at a place that no longer exists called the Gypsy Café, so it seemed like a nice thing to have him and the Scavenger Quartet kick off the 10th anniversary edition."

Fringe at the Edge continues on Saturday with sets from Karl Pestka, a violinist, multimedia artist and composer studying at the University of Michigan School of Music; violinist Mike Khoury and soprano saxophonist and bass clarinetist Piotr Michalowski; and improvisational guitarist Christopher Petersen. The aforementioned parade will take place at noon on Saturday; it's to be led by Detroit reedist Wendell Harrison, and Lynch is encouraging music fans of all ages to bring an instrument and fall in line at the concert house.

Lynch has also brought back numerous national and international artists who've performed throughout Edgefest's decade of daring. But that doesn't mean 2006 is about greatest hits. Though saxophonists Evan Parker and Ned Rothenberg, for example, will reprise their duo performance from the 2000 festival, as respected improvisers what they'll bring to the stage six years later is anyone's guess.

"We're really glad that musicians from recent years are coming back to help us celebrate," Lynch says. "But Edgefest draws on a community of musicians that are always changing their lineups and groups; they're performing and exploring with one another in different contexts, so you can always expect that they'll be doing something different in the future.

"We're welcoming them back, but we're also still experiencing what they're up to now."

Two more Edge vets, saxophonist and flautist Jean Derome and percussionist Pierre Tanguay, will perform Thursday night at the Firefly Club as Trio Derome Guilbeault Tanguay, joined by double bassist Normand Guilbeaut. Encountering jazz at a point where its history meets its unpredictable future, the trio is a leading light in Montreal's thriving improvisational music scene. And while jazz is the crux of many Edgefest musicians' repertoires, it's the freedom to move out of that structure that often excites them the most.

It's the same for Edgefest itself, which in the past has also hosted the Nihilist Spasm Band and Larval, groups where the definition of music includes noise and homemade instruments.

"Not having 'jazz' in the title of our festival enables us to throw in wild cards," Lynch says. "It gives us license to go out into fringe areas and not worry about an area of what we should be presenting, because the whole idea is to present music that falls outside of the box."

"These are musicians who exhibit virtuosity technically. But they're exploratory, and they're adventurous, and they're leaping over boundaries into new territory." He's getting excited now, referencing the work of such Edgefest artists as Trio M and the Claudia Quintet, groups that regularly breach the supposed boundaries between jazz, improvisation, academic music and contemporary post-rock.

"They don't really care what labels are placed on their music," he continues. "Really, I think it all comes down to those categorical boxes," and how these artists are regularly stepping out of them.

Lars in charge

Lynch is confident that every Edgefest performance will leave audiences both entertained and enlightened. But he may be most excited about Saturday night's Kerrytown Concert House performance from Swedish composer and musician Lars Hollmer, who will perform as part of Lars Hollmer's Ann Arbor Global Home Project, a new group formed exclusively for Edgefest '06.

"This is perhaps the single most ambitious concert that I have personally organized," he says. "Lars Hollmer's been recording, composing and performing music on keyboards and accordions since 1969, and has been compared to everyone from Astor Piazzolla and Nino Rota to Brian Eno. There are elements of everything in there. It's too rock to be considered folk, and it's too folk to be considered jazz, it's too classical to be considered experimental, and it's too noisy to be considered ..." Lynch trails off, piling on a few more of the connections that exist within Hollmer's music. The composer's music seems to represent everything Lynch loves about creating Edgefest each year.

"He's also in another band called Accordion Tribes," he adds. "It's sort of an international accordion supergroup."

Yes, artists that play Edgefest are often part of such things as international accordion supergroups.

For his Edgefest performance, Hollmer will lead a group that combines members of Montreal's avant-garde community with musicians from Ann Arbor, including keyboardist Steve Rush (musical director of the dance department at the U of M School of Music) and violinist Gabe Bolkosky.

"When they hear his music, certain folks may ask, 'Why is he in an avant-garde music festival?'" Lynch says. "But I'll say that Lars Hollmer could be one of the leading musicians and composers of the late 20th century and early 21st century. And everyone inevitably loves the music."

Listening at the edge

Lynch and other out music fans used to find themselves traveling to far-flung places to hear the music they loved, traveling to festivals in Montreal and Quebec, or at the Knitting Factory in New York City. Nowadays the musicians come to them. "I didn't have any background as a music presenter," he says of his original motivation. "It was just clear to me that there was a lack that needed to be addressed. It was frustrating to us that this wasn't happening around here."

And after 10 years Edgefest is still rolling, still striving to turn you on to something you've never heard or seen before. And as fringe-dwelling as some of the performances can get, Lynch believes it's the festival's niche as local, easily accessible and unpredictable that keeps listeners coming back.

"I think there's an aspect of people wanting to experience things that are more of an intimate level. Kerrytown Concert House only seats 110 people. You're really up close and personal with the musicians, the acoustics are great; even the Firefly Club is intimate. They don't have to deal with smoke, loud crowds ... people come to listen. And to experience world-class talent in these kinds of settings is really exciting."


Oct. 11-14 at Kerrytown Concert House (415 N. Fourth Ave.) and other Ann Arbor locations. Artists also include Oliver Lake & Mary Redhouse, Tim Berne's Paraphrase, Tomasz Stanko Quartet and 8 Bold Souls. See or call 734-769-2999.

Johnny Loftus is Metro Times music editor. Send comments to [email protected]
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