Edgefest 2017: Give the Drummers Some, Part 2-2

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The afternoon's programming was varied and engaging, starting with Detroit-based drummer GayeLynn McKinney's duo with electronic percussionist Ken Kozora. With a battery of electronic instruments and effects, Kozora brought a highly musical sensibility to his playing, whether in an abstract vein or in cranking out some Herbie Hancock-inspired funk. McKinney's versatility allowed her to stay in close communication with Kozora throughout the set, always keeping the beat at the center. Special guests made an appearance as well, with Michael G. Nastos providing a poem dedicated to the entire spectrum of Detroit drummers—everyone from J.C. Heard to Elvin Jones—and then Piotr Michalowski bringing out the bass clarinet for some sparring with Kozora on trumpet. A very enjoyable set, one that paved the way for the fireworks that followed from the Oluyemi Thomas Trio.

Fittingly for a festival dedicated to the drum, and in keeping with Nastos's Detroit homage, native Detroiter Thomas brought two Detroit-based drummers to the stage with him: Djallo Djakate Kieta and Kurt Prisbe. Reminiscent of the days of raw energy music from the 60s avant-garde, Thomas brought jaw-dropping intensity to his bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, and he used a range of other woodwinds to enhance the scope of his performance. One could feel the way in which the drummers' collective force gathered steam behind Thomas's tumultuous flights, and just when the intensity seemed at its highest, Thomas's brother Kenn scampered across the stage for a turn at the piano, pounding the keys with abandon. Kenn Thomas is well-known to Southeast Michigan jazz fans as he's a resident of Ann Arbor, but his appearance at the festival was a surprise that delighted the audience with the additional gale- force power he brought to the music. For its sheer elemental force, this group's performance was tough to top.

Trombonist Steve Swell made his second appearance at the festival late Saturday afternoon with a set by his Soul Travelers group. With an all-star lineup including Dave Burrell on piano, Ken Filiano on bass, Jemeel Moondoc on alto sax and Gerald Cleaver on drums, Swell's music made plenty of room for improvisational freedom within some air-tight grooves. Cleaver's steady, driving pulse was essential, and it contrasted nicely with Burrell's characteristically oblique chordal clusters, while Swell and Moondoc dueled with each other over Filiano's nimble bass patterns. Unlike Swell's relatively subdued performance with Joe McPhee and Dick Griffin Wednesday night, he brought a high-octane approach to Saturday's show, putting his whole body into his solos and generating torrents of notes. Although unanticipated surgery prevented William Parker from joining the band for this gig, he was there in spirit, as the group played one of his pieces dedicated to Arthur Williams, a trumpeter who played with Parker and Moondoc in the early days of the avant-garde. At a more languid tempo, this piece brought out a more reflective mood from the group. But the strong, surging groove that characterized the set as a whole returned definitively for the last piece, and between Swell and Moondoc's careening exchanges and Burrell's furious assault on the keys, one was reminded of what a creative-jazz "superband" can accomplish.

Demonstrating both his creativity and seemingly limitless stamina, Andrew Drury was back in action Saturday evening, this time heading a thirteen-piece ensemble comprised of University of Michigan students and faculty for a special performance down the street at Bethlehem United Church of Christ. Drury teamed with U of M professor Mark Kirschenmann to explore ways of harnessing the power of improvisation with a larger group, and the results were intriguing and, at times, moving. With a sprawling, 45-minute piece that included a wide range of instruments including organ, bassoons, and lots of diverse percussion in addition to conventional jazz instrumentation, the ensemble wound its way through ambient passages, bracing atonal onslaughts, and even a swinging reference to "Manteca." Drury directed some of the traffic, but much of the performance seemed to proceed according to its own open-ended logic. With moments of cacophony juxtaposed with eerie beauty, the piece offered ample rewards to Edgefest attendees who made the several-block trek to the church to hear such an imaginative display of improvisation.

The last couple performances of the festival were yet more examples of the superlative array of percussionists and drummers on offer this year. Both utilized two-drummer line-ups, starting with Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures band. Teamed with the inimitable Hamid Drake, Rudolph brought his usual arsenal of assorted percussion and electronic effects, and even played a sintir (a camel-skinned three-string instrument common in North Africa) for a couple pieces. Joined by Ralph Miles Jones on an array of wind instruments, Kenny Wessell on electric guitar, keyboardist Alexis Marcello and bassist Damon Banks, Rudolph's band played what could best be termed "avant-garde world music." With irrepressible grooves, the musicians explored a lot of stylistic terrain, drawing from a host of musical traditions while creating something all their own. Drake and Rudolph complemented each other perfectly, with Drake's shape-shifting drum patterns and Rudolph's nonstop creativity generating a rich rhythmic synergy.
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