Edgefest 2022

The 26th Edgefest kicked off in a unique way at Trinosophes in Detroit featuring the Cosmic Music Community directed by Ken Green (below, left). Edgefest has always had Detroit musicians on the bill, but this was the first time this festival has split its time between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The opening was a long line of Detroit’s best in free jazz/avant-garde, and turned into an exhilarating event with many highlights featuring dancers, reeds, bassists and percussion galore. Standouts were saxophonists Tony Holland, Alex Harding, Rafael Leafare (below, right), bassists Joel Peterson, Jaribu Shahid, and Ed Coburn and percussionists Akunda Hollis, Djallo Djakate, Ali Allan Colding, Ray Dumas, and Clifford Sykes (who also played a saw inherited from master drummer Roy Brooks). Shirley Hayden also contributed to the proceedings with her expressive voice.

By Thursday the festival was back at its base, Kerrytown Concert House, which filled up three days with eager Edgeheads. The theme this year was “Breathing Free,” and there was plenty of horn-blowing on stage; the breathing was free even with masks on. Ann Arbor’s Fortune Teller Trio led by tenorist Kenji Lee kicked things off with the strong bass notes and bowing by Andy Peck and the expert drumming of Jon Taylor. Drummer William Hooker and his trio started with a poem by the leader, “You and Me Again,” which was a repeated phrase throughout interspersed by Hooker’s heavy and commanding drumming. Some buzzing from an amp signaled the arrival of Theo Woodward, his chants and synthesizers, and guitarist Hans Tammen. I was impressed with how the three created a fascinating wall of sound. Bassist Ken Filiano was busy throughout the festival this year and he always impresses with his solid sound and sense of rhythm. In a duo with veteran voice artist Jay Clayton (below), who got her start in the loft jazz movement of the 1970s, Filiano was the ideal partner. They started with a piece by fellow vocal artist Jeanee Lee, who passed away last year. The lyrics were organized as several dualities: no words; only a feeling, no questions; only a life, no secrets; only a being no journeys; only a dance. The standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” followed as a tribute to pianist and bandleader Connie Crothers.

The evening ended with a fabulous set by pianist Matthew Shipp and his trio. I heard Shipp decades ago and was turned off by the barrage of chords; a lot of banging was my simple-minded interpretation. It might be that he has reformed and become much more aware of the dynamics of his presentation. This time he was a master of nuance and in command of his trio. Michael Bisio (below) treated us to a terrific bass solo, a real tour de force! As drummer Newman Taylor Baker shifted from brushes to sticks and finally to both hands which he used to drum on his own rib cage. Eventually, he picked up the mallets for the finale.

Friday started with the work of the Thomas family: Ann Arborite Kenn on the piano and multi-instrumentalist Oluyemi from the Bay Area on woodwinds, spoken word artist Ijeoma Thomas and Joel Peterson on bass, David Hurley on percussion and drummer Jon Taylor. This was a well-designed presentation appreciated by the audience. Michael TA Thompson’s Quintet followed, with last-minute replacement Vinny Golia from L.A. as Piotr Michalowski had medical issues. The highlight of the evening was the Dave Rempis, Mark Feldman, and Tim Daisy trio (right) out of Chicago. Violinist Feldman and saxophonist Rempis were a fine-tuned frontline even when Rempis used his baritone (in the upper register) rather than the alto. Daisy was a super-adaptive percussionist in the style of Edgefest alumnus Jim Black. It was great to get reacquainted with Feldman’s versatile fiddling. The evening ended with the vocal mastery of Fay Victor and her Mutations for Justice project (below). She dedicated her set to trumpeter Jaimie Branch, who passed away recently. Victor’s group walked in as a line with bells ringing and wordless vocals, but once on stage, they picked up the pace with Victor’s booming voice reminiscent of a classic blues singer adapted to a Black Lives Matter messages: “Slow Degradation of Norms,” “Any Means to Get Anywhere,” “Trust the Universe” and “Brown People Out!” Victor’s group included the wonderful violist Melanie Dyer, the powerful bass player Luke Stewart, and veteran drummer Michael Vatcher. I hope this group is recorded soon!

Dyer returned on Saturday morning in the WeFreeStrings ensemble (below) with violinists Gwen Laster and veteran Charles Burnham (who replaced Billy Bang in the New York String Trio), the ever present Ken Filiano on bass, and percussionist Michael Wimberly. This is another under-recorded group!

The grand finale was held as usual at Bethlehem United Church of Christ. Most of the program was taken up by the works of Anthony Braxton, first by the composer in a duo with fellow saxophonist James Fei (above). Their performance was marred by serious sound problems probably due to the incorporation of pre-recorded pieces which led to serious feedback. An accoustic dectet from the University of Michigan under the direction of Andrew Bishop and Mark Hannaford fared better in terms of sound quality, but to these ears gave a deadpan reading of Braxton’s compositions. It could very well be what the composer intended, but it did not appeal to this reviewer. In contrast, I was enlivened by Jason Kao Hwang’s Burning Bridge ensemble (top) playing a brand-new composition by Hwang which included some traditional Asian instruments (flute and pipa), electric guitar, and brass by trumpeter Herb Robertson, trombonist Dick Griffin, and tubaist Joe Daley all relying on the dynamic and infectious rhythms of bassist Ken Filiano, and drummer Andrew Drury. It was a great ending to an expertly designed festival — kudos to Edgefest Artistic Director Deanna Relyea!

ABOVE: Carolyn Fitzgerald, Director of Bands, Ann Arbor Scarlett Middle School, giving instructions to her students about the Edgefest Parade on the steps of Kerrytown Concert House

RIGHT: Anthony Braxton chatting with fans outside Kerrytown Concert House

photographs by Lars Bjorn