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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 04:51 am

Free jazz and cool country

End Times Trio at Marly’s on Saturday; Radney Foster at Old 36 Inn next Thursday

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What do free jazz and cool country have in common? For our purposes, nothing much except time and place: Performers of the two musical genres make appearances in central Illinois during the next week. For once can we please leave the “It’s free because no one will buy it” jokes at home and just enjoy the superb improvisational skills and delightful sonic interpretations of Springfield’s only free-jazz group, the End Times Trio? The combo, consisting of Richard Gilman-Opalsky, Mark Schwartz, and Frank Trompeter, hosts a CD-release party 7-9 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at Marly’s Pub (9 W. Old State Capitol Plaza, 217-522-2280). Fracture Time (Fire & Flux, 2008), the group’s latest CD, was recorded at several locations during live performances in Springfield over the last year or so. I played right after the End Times Trio on April 21 for an Earth Day event at the University of Illinois at Springfield, and there I gained a special insight into the band’s compositional structure. Free-jazz pieces often sound, at least to the uneducated ear, as orchestrated noise without design — and sometimes they are simply that. At the concert I found what appeared to be a song list but was actually a descriptive score to a tune named “Tsunami,” written by guitarist Schwartz. There were no prescribed notes on a staff; instead, Schwartz expressed in words an emotion or action relating to how the earth creates a tsunami. The musicians then interpreted the description to produce a sonic realization of the idea. I may be ruining the experience for some listeners (and players, too) by giving reason to the otherwise mysterious origins of free jazz, but I found that it put the cacophony into perspective for me, gave it purpose, and therefore better justified my listening. Any way you hear it though, free jazz is still provocative and outright disturbing at times to most listeners, and the musicians should be applauded for that, if nothing else. I met Radney Foster outside the famed Bluebird Café, in Nashville, Tenn., in the summer of 1987, just as he was about to break out into country-music stardom as half of Foster and Lloyd, the duo destined to make country music cool again. We talked about his time spent in Nashville, the excitement of the new project, and his dreams of a career in music, all in about three minutes. The conversation was just as concise as many of the great roots-flavored pop songs Foster has written over the years. After Foster parted ways with Bill Lloyd — three solid records and several major hits later — he began a solo venture that is going strong today. He’s made several very good recordings, written songs with numerous music luminaries, had cuts recorded by some of the biggest names in country and pop music, and produced successful projects for others. This World We Live In, his most recent CD, was released in 2006 on Dualtone Records to critical and commercial success. Now here’s the very good news: Even though he’s a world-famous hip-country singer/songwriter, Foster will be playing a solo acoustic show at 9 p.m. Thursday, May 8, at the Old 36 Inn (1128 E. Lincoln St., Riverton, 217-629-8476).
Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.
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