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Dennis Rea: Zero-G and the Sea Prog Festival

Jack Gold-Molina By

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I know for myself it was important from the beginning that our series span not only the outer edges of jazz but also the outer edges of rock. —Dennis Rea
Based in Seattle, guitarist Dennis Rea has a long history playing creative and experimental music as well as progressive rock. In the late 1980s and early 1990s he lived and performed in China, putting together some of the earliest tours by Western musicians performing non-mainstream music, and in 2006 he published a book about his experiences there entitled Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounters in China and Taiwan. Rea also has a history of being involved in organizing creative music events and is a co-organizer of the Zero-G concert series "with a focus on exploratory electric instrumental music...spotlighting a multifarious selection of the region's most adventurous instrumentalists from diverse scenes, from accomplished scene veterans to head-turning emerging artists," and in July 2013, with partners Jon Davis and John Reagan, he spearheaded the coordination and production of Sea Prog, Seattle's first weekend-long progressive rock festival in more than a decade. (Source: dennisrea.com)

All About Jazz: Let's talk about the Zero-G music series and the Sea Prog festival.

Dennis Rea: Zero-G actually originated with Rik Wright, the Seattle guitarist. Rik was offered an opportunity to do a regular booking at a local venue, and he was interested in doing it, but he didn't think he could carry the load all by himself. So he sought out the assistance of me and also Jason Goessl, another guitarist. We are all three guitarists, that is just coincidence.

Our idea from the beginning was to do something different from the other series in Seattle. Various series would focus on outward bound jazz or art rock or various types of orphaned musics. The Seattle scene has a tendency, I have observed, to segregate itself into competitive camps, and people within those camps tend to take little interest in what is happening outside of their own circle. They don't show strong support for people outside their circle, and they typically ply a particular type of music or approach to music making to the exclusion of other ways of making music.

I know for myself it was important from the beginning that our series span not only the outer edges of jazz but also the outer edges of rock. That would be satisfying for me because my interests span both genres. There is an abundance of very talented, very interesting bands working in both areas in Seattle, but there was no real overlap between the scenes until Zero-G. So typically when we book—and we have been doing this either monthly or bi-monthly for three years now—we make an effort to bring in people from the different scenes, and in a way force them to mix, and by doing so force their audiences to contend with some of the other music that is being made in this town.

AAJ: Does Zero-G have a mission statement?

DR: We don't have a formal mission statement, and we are pretty much open to considering anything that falls within some loose parameters. Initially we wanted to focus almost entirely on instrumental music, because instrumental music tends to be segregated in this town, but over the years various acts have come through that use vocals to some extent and we decided that they were perfectly salient with the vision that we had in mind. So we are not strictly instrumental, but we tend to book mostly instrumental acts. That is about as close to a mission statement as we have. We are looking for music that pushes the boundaries in an area spanning contemporary jazz, contemporary rock music and sometimes world music hybrids. We tend not to book so much the free improv sort of thing because there are venues for that, and the venues that we customarily use are just not the right forum for that kind of music. It's because of noise issues and that sort of thing.

AAJ: What kind of success have you had with Zero-G?

DR: Our success shows in our longevity. This thing is still going three years on, and if you had asked us to predict how long we would be able to keep this afloat back at the onset then I would say that we would be very pleasantly surprised to realize that we would still be doing this three years on. Booking on a monthly or bi-monthly basis over that stretch of time in a city the size of Seattle, there is bound to be some overlap, some double booking, and some return bookings. But we are still managing to pull a few rabbits out of our hats here and there, especially encouraged nowadays by the activity among some very young people on the scene who seem to be rehabilitating progressive rock in new terms. We are pulling from that crowd, and there is always a fresh crop of new jazz faces coming up every year. Many of them go the mainstream route, but the people who are doing something original or are giving it their best effort are the people we are interested in.

AAJ: What have been some of the challenges you have had to deal with?

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