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Wednesday, July 30,2014

Guardians of the intergalactic

JazzFest 2014 gets spacey with a supergroup, guest guitarists and dueling organs

by Lawrence Cosentino
The 2014 Lansing JazzFest continues the tradition of bouncing trumpet riffs, drum rhythms and skeet-skat-dadiddly vocals off the buildings of Old Town. But this year it gets a little otherworldly with the addition of a vintage instrument that would sound at home in a ‘60s sci fi movie. The amalgamated talents of some of Lansing’s premier jazz artists will join a battle of the organs and special guests like polystylistic guitar master Fareed Haque to make JazzFest 2014 one for the cosmos.

Read on for a look at three of the weekend´s highlights. For a full lineup, see pullout section, page 11.

Globular cluster

Intergalactic Spiral is a bold space shot born of boredom.

The hypnotic, free-floating grooves and pulsations produced by guitarist Glenn Brown’s supergroup is unlike anything yet heard at Lansing JazzFest.

“We´re going to make it as if the aliens have landed in our city and they’re taking over briefly,” Brown said.

The problem is that Brown, veteran recording engineer and designer of studios for the likes of Kid Rock and Eminem, has heard everything too many times.

“There are so many people patterning after what’s already been done,” Brown said. “We’re bored with that. Let’s go on a limb and start sawing.”

Beginning in 2002, Brown put together a globular cluster of top local musicians, set them loose in the studio and pressed “record.”

For its first JazzFest appearance, the acoustic-electric assembly is pulling out all the stops, adding lasers and a spacey introductory film to set the mood. They’ve even persuaded bassist Rodney Whitaker, MSU’s jazz studies chief, to suit up and fly along.

“We´re going to push Rodney,” Brown said. “I want to put him into the space realm and see where he goes.”

Brown was inspired to venture into space in 1999 when he got his hands on a rare Buchla CM 100 synthesizer from 1967, a burbling, bleeping bowelful of cosmic flatulence that was invented in 1963, predating Robert Moog’s famous synthesizer by several years.

“It’s eight oscillators — you hand patch everything,” Brown said. “You set up some presets and just wing it.”

At the core of the group are Brown and his gadget-crazy soul mate, keyboardist Jim Alfredson from the organ trio Organissimo. Mark Kieme, a veteran Detroit-based reedman, plays everything from piccolos and flute to clarinet, saxophone and bass clarinet. Robert Tye, another go-to Detroit session man, adds electric guitar and electronics. David Taylor, a frequent percussionist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and teacher at Interlochen and Oakland University, handles drums and percussion.

Brown has already issued two expansive CDs from the first four sessions and has hours more in the can. (They´ve completed nine sessions in all.) All the music was improvised.

“I had the whole place wired,” Brown said. “Distortion pedals, everything. We could just sit down and play whatever we wanted to. Things happen, moments of craziness that wouldn´t happen if you tried to write them.”

You can’t edit a live performance, so for JazzFest Brown wrote a batch of compositions and plans “more organized behavior.” The day before the gig, the group will go into Brown’s studio and record the tunes, along with two hours of free improv.

In more earthbound settings, Alfredson cooks with the best of Hammond B-3 organ players, but Spiral lets him spread his progressive-rock wings across the galaxy. (He predicted his “craziest keyboard rig ever” at the gig.)

For all the cosmic trappings, the group’s music surges and subsides organically, with sounds that smack of skin and bone. Alfredson might pull out an African thumb piano or Taylor grab a gourd shaker and bring the groove back to Earth. It’s a coccyx-buzzing, seat-of-the-pants thrill when Kime reaches for his weapon of choice, the throbbing bass clarinet. “It has frequencies down to 20 hertz, the deepest frequencies in the orchestra,” Brown said. “He uses it a lot and I get chills when he does.”

Essence of things

Anyone might take guitarist Fareed Haque for a scholar, owing to his mastery of guitar styles from around the world and his straight gig as professor of classical and jazz guitar at Northern Illinois University.

But if he is, he’s not brandishing his card.

“There’s a point where you decide whether you want to know more than the next guy, so you can be in control, or whether you grab onto the essence of things,” he said.

Haque makes his first JazzFest appearance Saturday in veteran MSU drum professor Randy Gelispie’s quartet at JazzFest, with Rodney Whitaker on bass and Rick Roe on piano.

Haque’s father is from Pakistan and his mother is from Chile.

“I grew up listening to Indian and Pakistani folk music, not classical,” he said. “I’ve never studied Indian music formally.”

At 16, he drove his dad’s Chrysler New Yorker from the northern suburbs to the south side of Chicago by himself and hung around in the clubs until 3 in the morning.

“It’s incredible that my parents let me do that,” he said. Chicago blues legend Eddie Johnson would invite Haque to sit in the corner and try to play along. “Just don’t turn it up too loud,” he told the boy.

“I was treated with great kindness and love,” Haque said. “People took care of me, even though I had no idea what was going on.”

Haque juggles a variety of projects, from the jam band Garaj Mahal to the multi-cultural Flat Earth Ensemble to straight-up classical gigs, but the blues joints of Chicago’s south side are still at the heart of his art.

“If you come at this with a scholarly attitude, you’re no longer a jazz musician — you’re a lounge musician,” he said.

Haque tried an experiment at a recent party with his students. The mix was jammed with R&B artists like D’Angelo and Stevie Wonder. He snuck on a Duke Ellington record from the 1930s.

“They kept right on partying and dancing,” he said. Then he put on “one of those young modern jazz musicians,” but declined to name names.

“The party kind of died right there,” he said. “Bleah.”

There’s a common spirit in the jazz greats Haque most admires. “You put on (pianist) Horace Silver (trumpeter), Lee Morgan (guitarist), Pat Martino and it’s still party music,” he said. “That´s how these guys made their living. You don’t need to be a guitar aficionado to get that music.”

Last year, Haque did his first straight-ahead jazz record in years, a trio date with Billy Hart and George Mraz. At about the same time, one of Haque’s favorite old records, a smoking 1969 trio date with Martino and organist Gene Ludwig, was reissued on CD. The drummer: a young Randy Gelispie.

“I’m coming full circle Satuday,” Haque said. “Those are my roots, so it´s really fun for me.”

‘There had to be a duel’

Organist Jim Alfredson’s group Dirty Fingers will sport more dirty fingers than usual for its Lansing JazzFest debut.

With two organists, two guitarists and assorted sidemen, I count 70 soiled digits, more than enough to pay tribute to the soulful and cerebral sounds of “Big” John Patton, one of Alfredson’s most revered organ heroes, who died in 2002.

The band features Jim Cooper on vibraphone, Sean Dobbins on drums, reedman Mark Kieme, Ralph Tope on guitar and a second guitarist, Larry Barris (the new gui tarist for Organissimo).

“It’s going to be kind of a blowout,” Aldredson shrugged, looking like a kid with an M-80 in his pocket.

When Alfredson found out that New York’s Brian Charette would be at JazzFest to play with New York drummer Jordan Young Saturday, he pulled the adventurous organist into the Patton tribute tent as well.

Alfredson played a B-3-some in Anaheim this past January with Charette and the Rev. Jimmy Smith (no relation to the legendary organist Jimmy Smith) and was knocked out.

“I’ve heard every organist on the planet, every record, and here’s somebody doing something that bends my ear — that´s hard to find,” Alfredson said. “There had to be an organ duel.”

Glenn Brown & Intergalactic Spiral

9:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 1 South Stage

Randy Gelispie Quartet featuring Fareed Haque

6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2 South Stage

Jim Alfredson’s Tribute to Big John Patton

9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2 South Stage

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