October Revolution In Jazz & Contemporary Music
October 5-8, 2017
The main venue for The October Revolution in Jazz & Contemporary Music was FringeArts, a renovated historic pumping station for Philadelphia's fire department located in the shadow of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. It seats 240 with a restaurant and beer garden. As a hub for the four days of activity, it was an oasis, allowing both musicians and listeners to catch their collective breaths before diving back into the nearly twenty hours of music presented.
The festival was the brainchild of Mark Christman, founder of Ars Nova Workshop, in collaboration with FringeArts. Its inspiration was the original October Revolution. Not the Bolshevik coup (which actually happened in November 1917), but the 1964 October Revolution in Jazz organized by trumpeter Bill Dixon
. Participants included Sun Ra
, Cecil Taylor
, Jimmy Giuffre
, Burton Greene
, and John Tchicai
, to name just a few. Like the 1964 edition, Christman's intention was to pull together the creative threads working today in cutting edge jazz, free improvisation, noise, and contemporary music. Much like New York's Vision Fest and Nashville's Big Ears Music/Art Festival, OctRev showcases experimental and challenging music up front, instead of making it a sideshow to more accessible sounds.
The festival attracted a dedicated and knowledgeable audience of listeners who could be heard discussing the finer points of both Anthony Braxton
's and Sun Ra
's immense catalogs of recordings. The first night I sat next to a woman, a local Philadelphia Eagles fan, who tired of listening to pop music on the radio and had tried the jazz station. She didn't know Roscoe Mitchell
from Marshall Allen
, nor any of the performers, but listened with intoxicated ears. She came back each day, totally invigorated by the sounds. Yes, this introduction to the new and often strange music was what the 1964 event was all about, and I suspect a goal of the 2017 edition.
The big draw for the festival certainly was appearances by Anthony Braxton and Art Ensemble Of Chicago
. With word that Famoudou Don Moye
may be retiring soon from performance, any appearance of AEC is a reason to celebrate. Likewise, Braxton's stepping down as a professor of music at Wesleyan University has listeners excited about the prospects for even more projects and touring in his future.
The festival kicked off with Karuna, a trio of multi-instrumentalist Ralph Jones, and duo percussionists Adam Rudolph
and Hamid Drake
. Drake played the role of keeper of the groove throughout as Rudolph, as a mad scientist was in constant motion, mixing every possible percussive instrument, toy, bell, piano, sintir, and electric processing into the presentation. Jones cut through the pulse best with his soprano saxophone, and towards the conclusion he blew free a masterful tenor saxophone solo that sealed the affair. Karuna acted as a travel guide taking us through Morocco, Alabama, Chicago, and the Caribbean.
Next up was a crowd favorite. Ninety-three year old Marshall Allen
directing the Sun Ra Arkestra. The 18-piece ensemble entered singing before delivering a cacophony of disorder that quickly organized itself into the melee of Arkestra swing that has entertained audiences since the 1950s. The vitality of Allen is amazing. The only comparison might be to the younger (20 years) Keith Richards. He delivered his signature alto saxophone blasts which he invented and John Zorn
has been copying for years. The Arkestra played most of the music from Space Is The Place
(Blue Thumb, 1973), including "Discipline 33," "Rocket Number Nine," "Sea Of Sound," and the title track. If you have never seen the Arkestra, or maybe caught them opening for MC5 in the 1960s, the experience is the same. Sun Ra created a joyful noise that seemingly will never be extinguished.
Friday night began with a secret show, one available to those who bought a VIP pass. The up-charge had benefits maybe not envisioned back in 1964, but due to the woeful state of the U.S. arts climate today, a necessity. A small crowd was ushered into a rehearsal space in FringeArts for an intimate piano concert by Dave Burrell
. The septuagenarian displayed a schizo attack alternating between a thunderous left hand and the gentlest of ballads. He performed "Teardrops For Jimmy" (for Jimmy Garrison
), "Margy Pargy," and ended with his thunder-meets-solace rendition of John Coltrane
"s "After The Rain." His command of both ragtime, stride, and avant-garde piano make him the perfect summation of the OctRev theme, a roadmap of what we were, and where we are going with creative music.