Home on the Range 

The Second Annual Trio Festival

For guitarist Ron Thompson, conversation means a centrifugal flowering of names, themes, and associations. Much like the guitar lines he stretches in his new-music trio Spirit Park, Thompson starts with the subject we're here to discuss (this weekend's Trio Festival, which he presents), then picks his way through an impressive lineup of musicians, with eddies to dwell on their respective talents, witty elaboration of their musical vocabularies, a wandering side journey if this happens to remind him of a story, picking up other names, other stories as he goes along, until suddenly, the whole mass of accumulated thought slams back into his original subject. You're never entirely sure how he got there, but your understanding of it is transformed.

Thompson has both the avidity of a fan who came to new music after exhausting other musical threads (including straight-ahead jazz) and the gravitas of an intellectual for whom the study and pursuit of music is the thing. He can't discuss himself without discussing the musicians with whom he had pivotal conversations at particular points that propelled him into new vectors of sound. (Anthony Braxton and Morton Feldman make this list.) In the end, Thompson spends far more time talking about their talents than his own.

This collaborative ethic explains why Thompson and Beanbender's fixture Dan Plonsey got together to present a Trio Festival last year. "We chose trios because we wanted to put as much music out there as we could, in a manageable fashion," Thompson explains. "It's not an improv octet train wreck. It's not about soloing; it's more interesting than individual virtuosity.

"Last year, I did certain things consciously," he continues. "We had groups that used the same instrumentation to totally different ends, to show the range of possibilities within an instrument. This year is more about showing the range of creative music. It's not just shrieking."

To do that, Thompson moved the festival over from San Francisco to the East Bay. With a weekend at Berkeley's Tuva Space, Thompson intends to build upon the success of its Acme Observatory collective, which has stepped into the void of Beanbender's to present the best local series of new music, and with whom Thompson consulted to produce this year's festival.

The result is a step away from high-art aesthetics toward an all-encompassing creative sprawl, with a hang-out vibe best demonstrated by the number of bands on the bill (twelve), the afternoon start times, and the cavalcade of stars-who-never-were-and-like-it that-way. Friday night's concert is a must, pairing the powerhouse Steve Adams trio (with Adam Lane, Scott Amendola, and special guest Ken Filiano) with the intuitive tonal explorations of Matthew Sperry, Tim Perkis, and Matt Ingalls. Weekend highlights include the reunion of the Splatter Trio on Sunday and the high-art, highly damaged vocals of Sing Sang Sung on Saturday. A complete schedule is available at www.sfsound.org/acme.html. "We want people to come, check it out, wander around," Thompson explains, and his festival offers the perfect opportunity to do just that.


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