Avant-garde jazz lovers across the Triangle surely have only one thing on their minds this week: Thank God for the town of Winston-Salem.
The Triangle's jazz community, like the area's other music scenes, often benefits from shows scheduled in nearby places, as well as not-so-nearby places like Atlanta and Washington, D.C. But ArtsIgnite Festival 2002, a two-week, multi-genre event sponsored by the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, is spilling over into our neck of the woods with a wonderful burst of smart jazz.
The short version: Four of the biggest names in modern experimental jazz are coming to town on the first two days of October.
On Oct. 1, there's the Saturnalia Trio at Local 506, led by Jonathan LaMaster, a guitarist for the legendary Boston underground band Cul de Sac. Saturnalia is a loose and constantly changing group culled from the large roster of musicians who record for LaMaster's label, Sublingual Records. Thurston Moore, Christian Marclay and former Mission of Burma frontman Roger Miller, among others, record for the label.
This time around, the Trio will be made up of guitarist LaMaster, cellist Jane Wang and saxophonist/trumpeter Daniel Carter. Carter is himself a major figure on New York's free jazz scene, one who's not nearly as widely known as he should be. He played with Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra in the 1970s and has worked with artists as varied as Yo La Tengo, post-rock and hardcore punk innovator David Grubbs, bassist William Parker and electronica musicians like Spring Heel Jack and DJ Logic from Medeski, Martin and Wood.
Saturnalia Trio mixes melodic jazz with 20th-century classical music and free improvisation, but manages to keep things melodic in the process. One Jazz Times critic even praised their swing. It's not often you hear that word used to describe an experimental jazz band.
"Jonathan and Jane make music that's more abstract than the sort of energy-driven music that a lot of people associate with experimental jazz," says Walter Davis of the Chapel Hill-based Alliance for Improvised Music. AIM organized the show after LaMaster told him he'd be in the area; Davis says it will also feature a local opener to be announced.
Looks like a don't-miss evening.
As if that one isn't enough to satisfy jazz fans for months, on the very next night, Oct. 2, North Carolina's favorite homegrown avant-garde hero, Greensboro-based guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, will be performing with percussionist Gerry Hemingway at Go! Studios. Hemingway is most famous for his work in the classic groundbreaking 1970s Anthony Braxton quartet but has remained highly active since, creating a stunning amount of group and solo work.
Chadbourne is an experimental guitarist and political activist who should need no introduction to Triangle music fans. His mix of early rock, jazz and punk in the band Shockabilly blew apart genre boundaries during the first half of the 1980s. As a solo artist, he turned country music inside out by mixing it with noisy free jazz on classic albums like There'll Be No Tears Tonight and LSD C&W. His later work with bands like Camper Van Beethoven helped pave the way for the blend of rock and free jazz that's become a staple of many college radio stations' programming today. After a long period of relatively little musical activity, he's once again beginning to perform fairly frequently.
"There's a pretty good jazz scene here in Greensboro," Chadbourne says in a phone interview. "Lots of guys from the college. It's usually based on themes, very often from the fakebook, playing on chord changes, that kind of thing. But that's great. I love jazz.
"It's a really depressing thing that jazz got so far out without knowing the rest of the tradition," he adds.
Which brings us to the Oct. 2 show.
"I've never played with Gerry before," Chadbourne says. "I'm pretty sure this will be our first meeting. We'll be listening, trying out things."
In a word, improvising. When asked how that kind of approach to music is different from one that involves previous rehearsals, Chadbourne laughs. "I think it's better. Much better."
While acknowledging there are advantages to "augmenting something with practicing," Chadbourne prefers exploring the openness of a duet where two musicians play off of one another spontaneously.
"You kind of go on a little trip together and see where it goes," he says.
Climb aboard, jazz fans.
ArtsIgnite Festival 2002's full schedule of music, dance, film and more can be found at artsignite.org; Sublingual Records is at sublingual.com; Eugene Chadbourne's sprawling site is at eugenechadbourne.com.