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Free-form music festival promises 12 hours of nonstop Jamgasms

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Jamgasm event Austin
Jamgasm 2 promises 12 hours of free-form music. Courtesy of Willie Oteri

Austin music fans may be adjusting their attention spans down to 30-minute intervals in preparation for the coming SXSW avalanche. But anyone looking to counteract the rapid-fire nature of that mega-festival would do well to block out Saturday, March 1 and let their minds wander with Jamgasm 2 at Carousel Lounge.

This gathering of musicians committed to free-form improvisation for free-form improvisation’s sake has set a goal of 12 straight hours of performance this year, all in the name of raising money and awareness for DiverseArts Culture Works. Last year’s inaugural Austin Jamgasm, held at vaunted blues and jazz venue Kenny Dorham’s Backyard, lasted for eight hours.

According to organizer Willie Oteri, Jamgasm 2’s half-day run-time will set a record for 49 of the 50 United States. Oteri previously organized a 33 1/3-hour Super Session in Phoenix in 2007 after doing 14, 33 1/3, and 45-hour installations in Italy with Chris Boulet in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

“There’s no structure at all,” Oteri says. “Total improvisation. I do conduction — basically telling people, ‘that’s enough’ and rotating musicians. So I’ll be there the whole time. But 12 hours is easy when you’ve done 45.”

Musicians scheduled to noodle, meander and ramble their way through 12 hours of abstract performance this year include:

  • Ricardo Acevedo of electro art-rock project Lost Cat Magnet
  • Chris Maresh, composer and longtime bassist for guitar whiz Eric Johnson
  • Brannen Temple, versatile drummer and current Dixie Chicks member
  • Berklee College of Music guitar professor Bruce Saunders
  • Local jazz standout Ephraim Owens
  • Hip-hop-influenced spoken-word group Word/Jazz Low Stars, which is helmed by DiverseArts Culture Works founder and director Harold McMillan
  • Latin-tinged improvisers Brazilian Space Program
  • Oteri and WD-41 collaborator Dave Laczko

And, of course, as Oteri adds, “You never know who will show up. And anything can happen.” Other spontaneous activities on the docket include improvised dance, poetry and painting, with the goal of a truly multi-disciplinary celebration of inspiration. “It’s really all about a day and night of creativity,” Oteri says.

Although Jamgasm 2 has a strictly improvised structure, it does serve a purpose: supporting DiverseArts Culture Works, which in 2014 celebrates its 20th year of dedication to the long-term development of the Austin African-American Cultural Heritage District. The nonprofit is funded in part by the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department’s Cultural Arts Division and has countless music events, historical programs, and art exhibits under its belt.

Most important, in a city overrun with rapid development and gentrification, McMillan and DiverseArts represent a vital link to Austin’s storied multi-cultural past. “Pretty much everything that we do [is] a form of cultural preservation,” McMillan told AllAboutJazz.com in 2012. “What we want to do is promote a view of art and culture that doesn’t have a specific meaning… [and] support the argument that local investment in art and culture does have a positive economic impact.”

For now, Willie Oteri says Austin is getting hip to improvised, free-form music, as evidenced by the recent Fred Frith concert at The North Door. “I’ve found a lot of people here that really like it; there just aren’t enough venues for it,” Oteri says.

“We need about five more Pedro Morenos [of Epistrophy Arts]. But young musicians are really getting into it. Once you show them that, even though they play structured stuff all the time, they can come and play something free-form, they get it. It’s more about listening than it is playing. If you’re a good musician and you listen, your mind will pick up the groove.”

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Jamgasm 2 starts at 12 pm on Saturday, March 1 at Carousel Lounge, 1110 East 52nd Street.

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