In its old storefront location on Fifth Avenue downtown, the Ruse, a collective of musicians and artists, offered a variety of cutting-edge art, including jazz. Since moving to the Marquis Public Theatre last December, the Ruse continues to serve as the only consistent outlet for experimental local jazz.
Rusefest '91, the group's semiannual festival, opened May 17 and 18 with new works by Tijuana performance artist Gerardo Navarro and the local jazz group Mungus. It resumes Friday and Saturday nights with what promises to be the festival's most interesting nights of music: performances of a new, original suite by San Diego pianist-composer Joe Garrison.
As winner of Ruse's first annual Composers/Authors Competition, Garrison received a $1,250 grant to cover some of his time. Rusefest '91 has a budget of about $2,000, with funding from both the city's Commission for Arts and Culture and the California Arts Council.
For Garrison, who just turned 40, the past two years have been a time for reflection and personal growth, the result of a painful midlife crisis that forced him to re-examine his life. "Night People and Other Survivors" is his 90-minute meditation on some of these emotions, in seven movements.
The piece, which Garrison described as "Anton Webern (the Austrian Expressionist composer) meets Eddie Palmieri and John Coltrane," is meant to capture seven archetypal troubled personalities, in movements dedicated to each one.
These include "Mr. Obsessive/Compulsive," "Sleepwalker" (people who are unaware of the damage others do to them), "The Invisible Ones" (people who go unnoticed by those around them) and "Son of Hip Cat" (people who get their identities from their fathers or friends).
"This started off as a piece about people in recovery from various things, substances and states of mind, but it's not programmatic and it's not about me," Garrison said. "It's about the states of mind people are in as they deal with survival."
Garrison knew the music was intense, but he didn't realize just how much until the first rehearsal a couple of weeks ago.
"They told me, man, Joe, you should go to Bali, you've got to calm down," Garrison said.
"It's real intense," confirmed trumpet/fluegelhorn player Bill Caballero, who will be a part of the band this weekend. "Every time we finish a rehearsal, I feel like I need to take a nap."
For Garrison, who has written and performed other original works under the guise of the Ruse in the past, the new piece attempts to overcome some shortcomings he has perceived in other avant-garde music.
"I think we've become a little nihilistic down there," he says of the Ruse at the Marquis, where Friday and Saturday nights feature free-form music at 10 with the Ruse's loose collective of musicians. "My impression is that the avant-garde needs to re-evaluate itself and start thinking in terms of structure again.
"I think if you have just totally free music, that becomes self defeating. If the Statue of Liberty was small, it would hold it's shape, but since it's large, it has to have that scaffolding. We're trying to expand our music at the Ruse, but it keeps collapsing on itself because there's no structure. I'm very interested in large structure."
While there is substantial room for improvisation in "Night People," Garrison has carefully defined the boundaries.
Thus, in "Mr. Obsessive/Compulsive," musicians are given a rhythm, "but they have to obsess compulsively on it," Garrison said. On "Hip Cat," Garrison explained, "They can play any rhythm, but they can only use one note, which I chose for them. Even on the free improvisations, I tell them what scale to use."
Garrison has put together a top-drawer band for this Friday and Saturday night's 8 p.m. performances: trumpet and fluegelhorn players Caballero and Burnett Anderson; Larry De La Cruz on alto sax; Daniel Cairo on assorted woodwinds; Phyllis Hegeman on flute; Tim McMahon on drums and Rob Thorsen on bass.
Rusefest '91 continues May 31 with multi-instrumentalist Vinnie Golia and June 1 with sax and flute man Arturo Cipriano. The series concludes June 11 with Ira Liss' Big Band Jazz Machine.
Though unable to isolate the exact effect the show is having on Sunday night ratings, KIFM (98.1) is pleased with Ron Galon's 10-to-midnight straight-ahead jazz slot. In fact, Program Director Bob O'Connor said the phone calls and letters the station is receiving about the show have raised the possibility that it might even be expanded in the not-too-distant future.
"It follows Art Good's 'Jazz Trax,' which is very popular, and we don't seem to have tremendous audience change-out, which means that those who like Art's fusion show seem to be staying on and listening to Ron's straight-ahead. Maybe there's not this cross audience we've imagined that either loves or hates one or the other (light jazz versus straight-ahead).
"It may even get to the point where we could add straight-ahead jazz to our daytime mix, which we would do if we felt the listener base was strong enough."
Two weeks after All That Jazz in Rancho Bernardo closed because of financial woes, owner Lee Hendrickson's ex, Bob Embesi, (the two married last December and divorced in February) is announcing plans to re-open the club and feature live jazz four or five nights a week.
Embesi has renamed it Jazz by the Way and will hold an all-day grand opening July 6. He is also re-opening Hendrickson's adjacent restaurant, changing the name from the Wall St. Cafe to the Jazz Cafe.
This is not Embesi's first effort to stage live music. A year ago, the city of Escondido denied Embesi a permit for a country and Western club on Centre City Parkway after neighbors joined to express their concern about possible noise and public drunkenness the new bar might bring.