Story and photos by Hayden Goodridge / Contributing Writer
Big Ears Festival in downtown Knoxville continued into its second day Friday with a variety of jazz, electronic and psychedelic performances from some of each genre’s most esteemed voices.
A host of fans lined up down the block to Church Street United Methodist Church to see the legendary ambient music composer Harold Budd in a collaborative show with accompaniment from the Knoxville contemporary music organization, Nief-Norf, and harpist Mary Lattimore. The set was characterized by soft tones and weighty silence, quieting the filled church.
The London jazz-fusion trio, The Comet is Coming, treated fans to a barrage of psychedelic synths, blasting bass drums and soaring sax instrumentals in their set at The Mill and Mine. The group just released an LP last week, titled “Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery,” and their set was mainly composed of songs from it.
Renowned jazz guitarist Bill Frisell teamed up with bandleader Aurora Nealand, saxophonist Tim Berne and guitarist David Torne in a group called ABSINT for an avante-garde performance that consisted of one hour-long song. The group hit the audience with an entrancing wash of discordant noise, with each musician seeming to act almost completely independently of one another. They brought their music into strange expressive territories, with a wonderful spontaneity of seasoned improvisers.
The ’90s psych-rock group, Spiritualized, filled the Mill and Mine stage with musicians—including a trio of background singers—to perform the signature space-rock that’s defined their music over the last two decades. The group played cuts from their latest 2018 release, “And Nothing Hurt,” with many songs building to immense, washy crescendos of noise.
Electronic producer Jlin provided Big Ears fans with a refreshing DJ set of frenetic dance tracks—providing a boost of energy in the late night. Though Jlin is known for her complex, nonlinear production, the uncharacteristic set she provided for the festival captured the energy of house music.
The Swedish trio, Fire! Orchestra, was the last band to perform Friday night, with a set halfway between metal and jazz that ended the day of music with a crash. The trio—Mats Gustafsson on saxophone, Andreas Werliin on drums and Johan Berthling on bass—seemed to tap into some deep, ancient energy through their set. The sinister tone of their music carried through extended bouts of improvisation which left each member sweaty and breathless after each song. Gustafsson announced the group was celebrating 10 years as a band alongside Big Ears’ 10th festival.
“This is Fire,” Gustafsson said. “… And this is what we’ve been waiting for.
Big Ears will continue on through the weekend with full days of panels, poetry and musical performance in downtown Knoxville.
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