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Free for three

Euphonic inaugurates its Jazz and Improv Festival

Blooms of spring are not limited to the flowers in Atlanta. With the arrival of May comes unlimited opportunities for witnessing live music. Early in the month, Midtown Music provided sound seekers a chance to slice the pop-music pie, while the Atlanta Jazz Festival, at the end of the month, offers a healthy stew of many of that genre's flavors.

Sandwiched somewhere between these two, however, comes a new musical gathering, much smaller than the others but nevertheless promising sonic discoveries of its own. From Euphonic Productions, the folks who bring free-jazz adventures and world-wise ethnic sounds to venues like Earthshaking Music and the First Existentialist Congregation, comes the first three-day Euphonic Jazz and Improv Festival.

Although Atlanta has never quite earned widespread distinction as a home to daring music, the city has for decades retained a small but dedicated contingent of fringe musicians and fans. In the '80s, the Destroy All Music Festival presented bold programming, and even the Atlanta Jazz Festival showcased out-jazz acts such as Sun Ra, the Alexander von Schlippenbach Quartet, the Henry Threadgill Sextet and Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Local jazz-festival veteran Jeff Crompton, whose quartet headlines the Euphonic festival Saturday, remembers it well. "I was fortunate enough to hear all these guys, along with Anthony Braxton, George Adams & Don Pullen, Leroy Jenkins, the World Saxophone Quartet, etc., through the years," he recalls. "One year [Crompton's] Bazooka Ants played the Jazz Fest after Douglas Ewart and before the Art Ensemble. I sat at the side of the stage with my mouth open — it was like going to church."

The Bazooka Ants, consisting of Crompton on saxes (mostly alto) and keyboard, Ben Gettys on bass and Tim Nash on drums, gained some local attention in the late '80s, feeding a modest but eager crowd of die-hards. "We got together in 1987 and played the Jazz Festival almost every year between then and 1995, as well as playing lots of little clubs and coffeehouses, none of which exist anymore," Crompton says.

The group even released a CD, Uncommon Goals, which Creative Loafing chose as one of the best jazz albums of 1993. Remaining in Atlanta, Crompton laid low until the recent formation of the "free-ish" Jeff Crompton Quartet, featuring Gettys, guitarist Bill Ulrick and drummer Jamie Shephard.

"After some depressing years for creative jazz in Atlanta, there are some exciting things happening, thanks largely to [Euphonic's] Milton Jones and people like him," Crompton says.

In addition to the Ornette Coleman-styled offerings of Crompton's quartet, Jazz and Improv Festival brings Maryland quartet the Everything Bagels on Friday, and San Francisco saxophone legend Marco Eneidi on Sunday.

Though the Bagels may seem half-baked and cream-filled, their music carries a mightly wallop and offers the kind of diversity every good festival should claim. The Bagels' recent CD, 34 Hours and 500 Miles (recorded live at New York's Knitting Factory), has a Pharoah-Sanders-circa-1977 quality, while frequently crossing the border into avant-grooveland.

Acid jazz fans be warned: The Bagels sometimes sound like a band that would have fit in easily at the old Yin Yang Café. Saxophonist Jamie Ignozzi adds Coltranic dimensions and Wayne Shorterisms to the smoothly talented trio of bassist George Shew, guitarist Brian Swain and drummer Mike Beresh.

If Friday and Saturday's line-up get the juices flowing, then San Francisco creative-jazz maestro Marco Eneidi should provide full relief to the cottonmouth of musical mediocrity on the final night of Euphonic's festival. A world-renown saxophonist, Eneidi's highly expressive style — likened to Jimmy Lyons, John Tchicai or William Parker-mainstay Rob Brown — can transform a goose to a swan in a single, flowing movement. He can be heard gracing albums by Bill Dixon and Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, as well as recordings from his own groups, including the Marco Eneidi-Glenn Spearman Creative Music Orchestra, the American Jungle Orchestra and the Marco Eneidi Quintet (whose amazing Final Disconnect Notice is available on his own Botticelli records).

Joining Eneidi on his current tour is percussionist Spirit and vocalist Jessica Loos. It has been said that no one else out there is doing exactly what this group — called the ELS Trio — is doing. Given the creative nature of Eneidi's projects, that's entirely plausible. Sounds like a good way to end the weekend.

The first Euphonic Jazz & Improv Festival is May 18-20 at Earthshaking Music, 543 Stokeswood Ave., in East Atlanta. The Everything Bagels perform Fri., May 18, at 8:30 p.m.; the Jeff Crompton Quartet perform Sat., May 19, at 8:30 p.m.; and the ELS Trio perform Sun., May 20 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 for Friday and Saturday, $7 for Sunday. For information, call 404-577-0707.??