The music out on the distant fringes of jazz and improvisation has been called many things over the last 40 years: "avant garde," "free jazz," "new thing," "outside." But no matter what it's called, this wide-ranging, often experimental, frequently hybridized and absolutely noncommercial type of music is seldom welcome in jazz clubs and largely ignored by the jazz recording industry.
"All those labels tend to work against us, tend to further ghettoize what we play," says percussionist Adam Rudolph, who has studied African, Indian and other drumming traditions and has played with such jazz figures as Yusef Lateef and Pharoah Sanders.
"Our music is so much wider than that. I think it's best described as the kind of music created by artists who are interested in exploration and innovation. People hear the term 'free jazz' and think the music is difficult. But it's often not hard to listen to at all."
Despite its lack of commercial acceptance, new music persists in out-of-the-way places, often through the determination and resourcefulness of its practitioners. Rudolph continues this tradition of musician-as-promoter with a series of three concerts this weekend featuring his frequent collaborator, butoh dancer Oguri, and three guest artists at the Electric Lodge in Venice.
The series opens tonight with guitarist Nels Cline joining the percussionist and the dancer. On Saturday, respected flutist-composer James Newton guests; on Sunday, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. (The following week, Rudolph and Oguri will perform a similar series of shows at New York's Knitting Factory with former Art Ensemble of Chicago saxophonist Joseph Jarman, trumpeter Graham Haynes and trombonist Joseph Bowie.)
Smith and Newton are among an expanding cadre of internationally recognized new music artists who make Southern California their home. Guitarist Cline is known in alternative circles for his work with bassist Mike Watt and for his own impressionistic, electric recordings.
Cline is the founder of the longest-running new music series, New Music Mondays, which began a weekly series of alternative concerts in 1993 at the now-defunct Alligator Lounge in Santa Monica. The series presented many of the best L.A.-based alternative musicians--multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia, cornetist Bobby Bradford and trombonist Michael Vlatkovitch as well as Cline's trio--and the occasional act from Seattle, San Francisco, New York and beyond.
Now booked by guitarist G.E. Stinson, New Music Mondays relocated last year to LunaPark and twice monthly shows. The series held its last concert at the West Hollywood club Jan. 4, and Stinson is currently in negotiations to resume the series at another location. "We're not dead yet," Stinson declares.
Other alternative series include the Open Gate Theatre's monthly shows at the Pasadena Shakespeare Theatre, which on Feb. 7 will host percussionist Jeanette Wrate's the Northern Lights Ensemble with violinist Jeff Gauthier, a group that filters Scandinavian folk music through improvisation, and the Toids, a band of once and current CalArts students who employ an amalgam of world beat influences. The Open Gate Theatre's series is booked by drummer Alex Cline.
"If the musicians don't go out and find places to play, then no one will ever hear us," says Cline. "It's a case of necessity being the mother of invention."
Then there's the Fault Lines series with monthly shows downtown at the 24th St. Theatre. Its next concert is Feb. 16 with percussionist Gustavo Agular and the Hand On'semble. The series is produced by Arthur Jarvinen, a member of the new music ensemble California EAR Unit.
Optimism and persistence are the watchwords of the alternative music scene. Stinson is looking forward to a series of major shows when New Music Monday comes back from hiatus. Rudolph is exploring the possibility of holding an alternative festival in June during the week of the Playboy Jazz Festival in hopes of bringing further attention to a music still looking for an appropriate label.
* Wildflowers Duo with Adam Rudolph and Oguri plus Nels Cline, James Newton and Wadada Leo Smith at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice; today and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. $10. (310) 306-7546.
Open Gate Theatre, (626) 795-4989; Fault Lines, 24th St. Theatre, (323) 667-0417.
New Music CDs: Just as different new music artists have taken to producing their own concert series, multi-instrumentalist Vinny Golia has created his own recording label, 9 Winds, for new music. Again, says Golia, it's a matter of necessity. "If I didn't put these recordings out, nobody would, and nobody would know about any of the musicians out here on the West Coast."
The label, in existence since 1977, has released some 120 albums over the years, featuring recordings from Golia's various ensembles as well as from musicians located up and down the West Coast. The latest batch of eight releases includes one featuring Golia fronting a quartet with trumpeter Bradford, drummer Alex Cline and bassist Ken Filiano ("Lineage"), and duo documents pairing Golia with woodwind player Steve Adams ("Circular Logic") and harpist Susan Allen ("Duets").
Other new releases include Bay Area saxophonist Rich Halley's "Live at Beanbenders" and San Diego-based multi-instrumentalist Ed Harkins' "Glossarium." Available from 9 Winds, P.O. Box 10082, Beverly Hills, CA 90213; http://members.aol.com/ninewinds/.
Golia appears in a free concert today at 5:30 p.m. with pianist Mike Wofford at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Information: (323) 857-6000.