Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Improvised music in the Twin Cities: Always changing, also growing?

After a dense and intense performance by Charcoal + 1 at Homewood Studios on Sunday night, I spoke briefly with John O’Brien. I thanked him for playing and mentioned I’d also seen him at Studio Z in March. He said he’d be back there at the end of this month and added (in words to this effect), “The improvised music scene seems to be growing.”

I’ve been so focused on the sudden death of the long-running Jazz Implosion series at the Clown, the petering out of the iQuit series at the Rogue Buddha, and the changes at Maude that I haven’t stepped back to see the bigger picture. But I think O'Brien is right. Improvised music in the Twin Cities is alive and kicking hard.

The scene looks different than it did in January 2010, when I first compiled a list of venues that feature improvised music (now revised and updated). The Clown Lounge is defunct, but the Black Dog in St. Paul has become an epicenter for improvised music, thanks to Nathan Hanson and Brian Roessler's weekly Community Pool: Deep End series. Also in St. Paul, Zeitgeist’s terrific performance space, Studio Z, has opened its doors to improvised music (and I hear it’s an affordable rental). During this year’s Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Studio Z will present a series of free improv/free jazz concerts, a first for the Jazz Fest.

Milo Fine, who has hosted two series of improvised music concerts for several years—one at Homewood Studios (the second Monday, every other month), the other at the West Bank School of Music (the first Friday, every other month)— has added a third “irregular adjunct” to his Homewood series called L’Editions Lagnaippe (per Milo, “a Cajun word meaning an unexpected, but fully prized, extra”). Charcoal + 1 was one of these. With Anthony Cox on bass, Milo on marimba, B flat clarinet, and alto clarinet, Davu Seru on drum set, Stefan Kac on tuba, and O’Brien on cornet and flugelhorn, it was a splendid way to start the week.

Jazz Central has set aside Tuesday nights for the new Shifting Paradigm Music Series hosted by Zacc Harris and JT Bates. It’s not Jazz Implosion—no Fat Kids, and Jazz Central is more rumpus room than bar—but it’s happening.

The Tuesday Series for Experimental and Improvised Music has moved out of Art of This, a gallery on Nicollet, and into Madame of the Arts, a gallery on Chicago.

Add to these the occasional improvised music events at the Red Stag, Barbette, Franklin Art Works, the Terminal Bar, the Loring Theater, the Northern Warehouse in St. Paul, the Cultural Wellness Center, the Aster Café, and even the old Hamms Brewery in historic Swede Hollow (site of Ann Millikan’s remarkable House of Mirrors series, now concluded), and it’s clear that improvised music is here for the hearing. My wish list: That more people would come out to hear it. That someone would revive the Rogue Buddha series, because I like that space. That the Walker would do more with improvised music by area musicians. That the Minnesota Sur Seine festival would return.

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