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Cultural Textures


The new CalArts Creative Music Festival may have a vague name, but it promises to be an eclectic, broad-minded affair. Renowned trumpeter-composer Wadada Leo Smith co-founded the festival with fellow CalArts faculty member Bob Clendenen.

Smith, who has taught at CalArts for several years, has a resume that defies easy categorization and cuts across lines of jazz, classical, world music and improvisation. The festival, which takes place tonight and Saturday, will reflect that philosophy, focusing on improvisation, experimentation and "project-oriented" performances, he said.

Smith is well-known in the left end of the jazz spectrum. He came out of the Chicago-based AACM (Assn. for the Advancement of Creative Music), whose celebrated members include the Art Ensemble of Chicago--Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams and Henry Threadgill. The AACM code teaches self-reliance and a healthy distrust of givens, whether in presenting music or defining it.

In recent years, Smith has found a new voice in electric, plugged-in settings. He was part of a successful project called "Yo Miles!" that put out a tribute to Miles Davis' electric era music. Smith played the trumpet role, replete with wah-wah pedal on his horn. The project's new multiple-CD is slated for release early next year.

At the Creative Music Festival today, Smith will mix acoustic and electric textures with his group N'Da Kulture. The instrumentation is on the far side of "normal" with tuba player Bill Roper, electric bassist Ollie Elder, electric guitarist Woody Aplanap, bansuri flutist David Philpson, drummer Sonship Theus, Smith's wife, Harumi Makimo Smith, reciting poetry, and the leader on trumpet and koto.

On Saturday night, Smith will appear in an entirely different setting, in a cross-cultural group with sarod player Rajeev Taranath, who has been on the CalArts faculty since 1995. Another prominent CalArts faculty member, percussionist John Bergamo, will perform with his percussion group Hands On'semble.

Several duos will perform, including pianists David Roitstein and Bryan Pezzone. The duo of Arthur Jarvinen on analog electronics and saxophonist Eric Barber will perform under the self-fulfilling name, "We Are Not Milkmen." New music vocalist Bonnie Barnett will perform with saxophonist Richard Wood.

Capping things off late Saturday will be the seven-piece electro-acoustic group known simply and elementally as FOOD. The group is coordinated by co-founder Clendenen. Despite belonging in the experimental corner, Smith sees his work and the festival as solidly American. "Americanism is the most powerful thing in the world," he said. "I don't say that as a chauvinist or some guy beating on his chest. I'm talking in terms of culture and art.

"Our culture is basically an improvisatory culture, but we don't know that yet, as individuals or as officials. Only the athlete knows about it, and a few artists and poets do."


CalArts Creative Music Festival, today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at CalArts Roy O. Disney Hall, 24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia. Free admission. Call (661) 253-7832.

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