I found myself complaining a lot in the CL office last month about the generally tepid "jazz" on display — or the museum-style approach to this country's most vibrant and uniquely American musical genre — during the Charlotte (So-Called) Jazz Festival that took place across Uptown in late April. There were a few decent programs, but for the most part, the kind of genuine contemporary jazz and its adventurous tentacles that continue to live and breathe and squawk and holler — the improvised music ignited by John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra, and built on by artists like Matana Roberts and Ken Vandermark — were not in evidence at the polite Uptown get-down.
It's not as though Charlotte doesn't have its own forward-looking ensembles. There's Ghost Trees, featuring the phenomenal local saxophonist Brent Bagwell and drummer Seth Nanaa. And there's the terrific musicians who performed behind the cast of Quentin Talley's production of Miles & Coltrane: Blue (.) at Duke Energy Theater in late March. But there's not enough of it here. And there's not enough attention paid to what is here.
For those who, like me, get frustrated with what's often marketed as jazz, the Chicago saxophonist (and MacArthur "Genius" winner) Vandermark, a giant of the free-improvisation world, will perform Friday, May 12, at the McColl Center For Art + Innovation in his duo with trumpet player Nate Wooley. The performance is part of the McColl Center's terrific New Frequencies series that's also brought in Charlotte's Ghost Trees and, more recently, such regional artists as singer-songwriter John Darnielle and Superchunk's Mac McCaughan in a rare performance with harpist Mary Lattimore.
Vandermark (left) and Wooley.
"New Frequencies at McColl Center gives artists a platform to showcase innovative, exciting and adventurous performances in Charlotte," says series curator Armando Bellmas, who also serves as the McColl Center's director of marketing and communications. "For instance, when Mac McCaughan was here, he performed a set of improvisational music to a self-produced film – totally different from what he’s known for as the lead for Superchunk. New Frequencies at McColl Center gave him the space, and money, to try his adventurous ideas out in public."
To be sure, Vandermark is no stranger to Charlotte. The reedman has performed here several times through the years and has something of a local following. And as it did for McCaughan, the New Frequencies series is offering Vandermark and Wooley, who have worked together as a duo since 2013, an opportunity to try something a little different. "They have performed and recorded before," Bellmas says, "but for this set, each will perform a short solo set, then come together for a duo set to finish the show."
Watch Nate Wooley and Ken Vandermark perform Wooley's "Killtown" at New York's Issue Project Room in 2013: