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A Night at the Improv

Musicians putting Charlotte on free music map


There are many yardsticks by which to measure a city's music fitness, perhaps none so overlooked or vital as its improvisational scene.

What? You mean those a-tonal noise-fests that draw the idiot savants out from their hermit-like existences to share their misunderstood genius with half-a-dozen other beatniks? No, not really.

Those misconceptions usually exist because of a simple lack of exposure and unfamiliarity with improvisational music. To help address that deficit in Charlotte (and also to give its practitioners a chance to play together), the Musicians' Institute of Charlotte will host An Evening of Improvised Music at the Carolina Actors' Studio Theatre (1118 Clement Ave.), Thursday from 9pm-1am.

"I'd like to try to do my part to make Charlotte a viable stop for people playing this sort of music," says Brent Bagwell (Pyramid, Eastern Seaboard), one of the event's coordinators. "In touring with the Eastern Seaboard, I've run into a number of people who perform and promote creative/improvised music (whatever you want to call it) and they regularly play Atlanta, Athens and (maybe) Chapel Hill on the way to DC/Baltimore and points north."

Improv is often snootily dismissed as a supposedly pretentious acquired taste, even though it's made up of the same musical DNA that informs any other listening experience from classic rock to polkas -- if in a slightly more malleable form. It only requires an open mind, however, to reap rewards every bit as gratifying as a good ass-shaker or tearjerker.

Another popular misconception is that it's a jazz-specific phenomenon. But with many different musicians experimenting with different tunings, shifting time signatures and non-traditional instrumentation, free music is emerging from a wide range of musical avenues, and this lineup just proves the point.

Birds in the Meadow is a piano/alto-sax duo out of Richmond, VA, that also adds electronic glitches to their compositions; Watchlist is Bagwell (tenor, baritone sax), fellow Pyramid member Ben Kennedy (cello, violin), and special guest Erik Hinds of Athens, GA (guitar, H'arpeggione - a hybrid cello/guitar with 18 strings); Yul Brynner includes familiar faces from experimentalists Baleen, angular-rockers Calabi Yau and hard-core proponents Horse Thief; local avant-garde space-rockers Mons Venera (co-sponsors of the event) round out the bill.

"All the people involved are active in promoting this music in their home cities, as well as playing it, and I'm trying to tie Charlotte to some of the existing scenes," says Bagwell, who hopes to make the event a regular occurrence. "I think there are enough interested people in Charlotte to turn out once a month."

Stolen bass
Steal a musician's instrument and you steal a part of them. Sometime in the wee hours between Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 9-10, someone did just that when they broke into Mark Lynch's car in the parking lot next to the Steeple Lounge and stole his prized bass, a Jerry Jones/Neptune Shorthorn 4-string (a Danalectro/Silvertone copy). The bass is black with white binding and has a dime-sized paint chip just above the neck pick-up. There was also a leopard-print strap attached at the time, and the whole rig was in a rectangular black hardshell case that included several cables and a Boss TU-2 tuner. Lynch plays bass with Dave Childers & the Modern Don Juans and Les Dirt Clods, and fills in with a lot of other local bands, too, so he's offering a reward for information leading to the return of the bass. So the next time you're haunting the pawnshops or used instrument stores for cheap guitars and you spy a black & white bass with a paint chip, send Lynch an e-mail at [email protected].

MoRisen bands featured at CMJ
Kudos to MoRisen Records' roster-mates The Talk, Elevator Action, and Snatches of Pink, all of whom are playing the CMJ Music Marathon on Thursday, October 14 at the Acme Underground in New York City. Additionally, each band will have a Q & A feature in the CMJ Alert issue published that week. Hosted by the College Music Journal, the Northeastern equivalent of Austin's South by Southwest showcase features more than 10,000 musicians, fans and assorted industry types.

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