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

Troy Dostert By

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Friday's headliners were Larry Ochs's Fictive Five. Although the group usually appears in a two- bass quintet format, with Pascal Niggenkemper alongside Ken Filiano, it was just Filiano on Friday; even so, the group stuck with the "Fictive Five" moniker for the performance, which was a fitting culmination to a night of exceptional creativity. Tenor/sopranino saxophonist Ochs is an Edgefest stalwart, having appeared at the festival many times over the years, and he obviously felt right at home in leading his group through a wide-ranging set of music that highlighted his complex compositions but left plenty of room for top-flight improvisation. With a stellar line-up that includes Nate Wooley on trumpet and Harris Eisenstadt on drums in addition to Ochs and Filiano, this band can do anything it wants. There was ferocity galore, as Ochs can take his horn into the stratosphere at the drop of a hat (and Wooley's no slouch in that regard, either); but perhaps the most stimulating moments were the more subdued ones, in which the group slowed things down and generated a more mysterious mood. Wooley's hallmark extended techniques ensured that texture was a crucial component of the group's sound, and Filiano's multifaceted creativity allowed the bass to become an essential feature of the band's musicality. Not to be ignored was the outstanding drum work of Eisenstadt, whose waves of percussive momentum were pivotal in negotiating the fluidity of Ochs's compositions. A challenging, expertly-played set of music, as one can always expect from musicians of this caliber.

Saturday's programming at Edgefest is truly an all-day affair, starting with the community parade that winds its way down North Fourth Avenue at noon. This year's parade was bigger than ever, helped in part by the gorgeous, unseasonably warm weather. With close to 100 middle-school students leading the way under the unflappable guidance of Andrew Drury and with many Edgefest attendees and other members of the community joining in, the parade honored the 100th birthday of Dizzy Gillespie by playing and singing "Happy Birthday, Dizzy Gillespie" to the melody of his classic "Manteca." Drury connected wonderfully with the students, and it truly brought the spirit of jazz into the community, an ideal way to celebrate the birth of one of jazz's greatest ambassadors.

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.

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