It’s not hard to tell the difference between New Orleans and Chicago: open a window in the wintertime, or take back-to-back bites of gumbo and a hot dog. Each city has its own proud and particular musical traditions, including distinctive past and present approaches to jazz. Just like a meal of gumbo and a hot dog makes more sense after you’ve eaten both, there’s a lot to be gained by putting artists from both cities together. Chicago-based guitarist Steve Marquette (the Few, Marker) has a deep appreciation for the sounds of both towns, and originally conceived of the Instigation Festival as a local platform where musicians from both cities could meet and collaborate. Since 2016 he and coproducer Marie Casimir, a dancer and scholar who specializes in the African diaspora’s cultural manifestations, have organized annual festivals in both cities that go beyond musical exchanges to involve artists from other disciplines. The current Chicago iteration includes three evening performances, each in a different venue, as well as a free afternoon concert at the May Chapel in Rosehill Cemetery.
Thursday night’s first set brings together two masters of low-pitched reed instruments, Keefe Jackson of Chicago and Dan Oestricher of New Orleans, with a rhythm section of James Singleton and Mike Reed. For the second set, local video artist Kim Alpert and dancer Jasmine Mendoza will respond to the Crescent City rhythms of drummer Simon Lott and bassist Jesse Morrow. Friday night is party night: New Orleans trombonist Jeff Albert is versatile enough to teach college courses on paradigms for live computer music and play his horn with the Meters. He’s worked extensively with musicians in both cities, and last June he debuted a Chicago version of his New Orleans-based band Unanimous Sources. This time around, he’s bringing his NOLA crew with him, though local saxophonist Mai Sugimoto is subbing for a member who can’t make it. For the second set, Chicago drummer Isaiah Spencer will lead a quintet. On Saturday cellist Katinka Kleijn, who’s played classical music with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, new music with the International Contemporary Ensemble, and uncategorizable improvisations with guitarist Bill MacKay, performs with an aggregation of festival participants called the Instigation Orchestra. Kleijn is also a composer of site-specific conceptual performance pieces such as “Water on the Bridge,” for which she and Lia Kohl launched an armada of cast-off cellos into a swimming pool and did their best to draw music out of the situation. Kleijn is developing a piece informed by data unearthed in her research into Rosehill Cemetery, such as the fact that six drummer boys who served in the Union Army during the Civil War are buried there. For the occasion, the Instigation Orchestra will include Marquette, Albert, Haley Fohr, Helen Gillet, Anton Hatwich, Cyrus Nabipoor, Aurora Nealand, James Singleton, Paul Thibodeaux, Ken Vandermark, and Mars Williams. The final night of the 2019 Instigation Festival is devoted to improvisation outside genre boundaries. It also celebrates the inauguration of a partnership between the festival and Texas-based label Astral Spirits, which plans to release a series of recordings from different iterations of the festival, beginning with an eerie and exuberant self-titled tape by Kobra Quartet. To begin the evening, singer Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux will improvise with New Orleans singer and cellist Helen Gillet. Then the Kobra Quartet, which includes Marquette, singer and multi-instrumentalist Aurora Nealand, bassist Anton Hatwich, and drummer Paul Thibodeaux, will celebrate the aforementioned Astral Spirits release. v