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Diverse musicians join Detroit Free Arts Music Festival

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

Expect the unexpected this weekend at the first annual Detroit Free Arts Music Festival.

The eclectic showcase on Friday and Saturday at Detroit Contemporary will feature more than 20 local, regional and national artists performing a diverse range of musical modes, from free jazz and abstract minimalism to electronic and acoustic improvisation.

The event is sponsored by Spread Art, a local nonprofit devoted to supporting multidisciplinary artists. Detroit musicians and Spread Art members James Cornish and Michael Malis curated the festival and also are expected to perform. The bill includes veteran experimental artists such as Djallo Djakate and Mike Monford, and up-and-coming musicians such as Alex Koi and Matthew Daher.

Also scheduled: Philadelphia percussionist Flandrew Fleisenberg, San Francisco saxophonist and composer Rent Romus, and Spread Art’s artist-in-residence, Vancouver harpist Elisa Thorn.

Thorn says she has spent her three-week residency at Spread Art’s Woodbridge facility breaking outside of her classical music background and exploring new territory. She gave a tease of what to expect from her Friday performance with her avant-garde trio Jazz Bras Dot Com.

“We play with concepts that relate to social and gender issues,” Thorn says. “It’s pretty noisy and at times aggressive, and also beautiful.”

Malis also gave a preview of his collaborative performance with drummer and sound artist Daher, movement artist Rachael Harbert and multimedia artist Simon Alexander-Adams.

“We have an improvising trio, which is piano, drums and movement, and we’re adding to the mix for this performance a visual artist (Alexander-Adams),” he says. “He has an infrared camera that he’ll be setting up trained to Rachael, and he’ll be processing her movements in real time and creating a projection piece based on what’s happening.

“What we’re really after in this particular performance is an interactive, interdisciplinary performance that really hits on multiple sensory experiences all at once.”

Malis says Spread Art’s focus of collaboration and inclusion is as infectious for the artists as it is for the audience.

“At Spread Art, most people who come through the door are artists, and a lot of people who come through the door who never thought of themselves as artists in the first place think of themselves as artists by the time they leave here,” he says.

The festival will culminate Saturday night with an open, free-form jam.

“It will be a way to crystalize and put a nightcap on the collaborative nature of the festival,” Cornish says. “ ‘Radical acceptance’ I think is a good way to sum up the maxim of what we do here.”

Due to the spontaneous nature of the festival’s closing, the organizers have no idea what it will look or sound like. But due to the festival’s tightly scheduled program and intimate setting, Thorn says she thinks the artists will have no problem finding a groove.

“Even if performers haven’t met or played with each other before, we’ll have an opportunity to hear each other, and there will be some level of familiarity amongst everyone, and a collective energy that we’ve been fostering the whole weekend,” she says.

Cornish says he hopes the audience will come ready to roll with whatever happens.

Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Detroit Free Arts Music Festival

6 p.m. Fri.-midnight Sat.

Spread Art at Detroit Contemporary

5141 Rosa Parks, Detroit

Tickets: $5-$10

(347) 460-2172