Seattle's longest-running jazz festival is also its most visionary. Now 19 years old, the Earshot Jazz Festival curates a roster of far-flung musical talent, much of it outside the scope of traditional jazz. But jazz demands evolution: As the classics endure, new music expands into indefinable outer realms. This year, the Earshot Jazz Festival includes young iconoclasts, old masters, films dedicated to old masters, demented screaming, experimental guitar, and a band of Bedouin rebels from Western Africa. These are some of the most intriguing offerings:
—Nobody at Earshot has greater name recognition outside the jazz world than Mike Patton. The former Faith No More vocalist's long-running, reliably noisy association with avant-garde composer/saxophonist John Zorn came together in 2006 with the Moonchild album—a mercurial nightmare of twisted metal guitar, scattershot drums, and Patton's electronically enhanced wail. The music is beautiful like an explosion: radiant, violent, and dangerous. Performing live, Moonchild (Sun Nov 4) features Patton, bassist Trevor Dunn, and drummer Joey Baron. Zorn plays the role of conductor, directing the band through manic improvisations that veer from ominous meditations to raging discord.
—The other name rock fans will recognize is Nels Cline, namesake of the Nels Cline Singers. Cline has experimental leanings only intimated in his role as lead guitarist for Wilco, and his trio with drummer Scott Amendola and upright bassist Devin Hoff—sans singers—is his vehicle for unfettered, shape-shifting improvisation. Amendola's own outfit, the Scott Amendola Band, hews closer to traditional jazz structures and is unafraid of hard-locked grooves. Violin gives the music a regal country twang amplified by rangy electric guitar (Cline and Amendola both play Wed Oct 24).
—Despite its cinematic allure, jazz has fared poorly on film. Directors usually portray jazz musicians as glamorous but tragically troubled characters or just cue the music for atmosphere. Recently restored and rereleased, the 1981 film Imagine the Sound (Tues–Thurs Oct 23–25) does what few jazz documentaries do: It gets out of the way and lets the musicians play. Though filmed a solid decade after "the New Thing" remade (and some say destroyed) jazz in the mid-1960s, these conversations with and performances by Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Paul Bley, and the fabulous trumpeter Bill Dixon are superb. Long after the embarrassing whitewash of Ken Burns's Jazz has evaporated from the minds of music lovers, Imagine the Sound will remain a crucial document of four radical 20th-century musicians and their music.
—Together since 1982, the Bedouin musicians of Tinariwen (Wed Oct 31) mix elements of traditional North and West African music—hand percussion, songs sung in Tamashek, devotional chanting—with electric guitars and blues-based scales. It's Bedouin rock: rhythmic, sinuous, and trance inducing, but also surprisingly accessible. Around the world, the band literally fills stadiums: Tinariwen have opened for the Stones and have played with Santana and Robert Plant.
—Skerik inspires cultish devotion; the physiological reaction by rabid males to his berserk sax attacks is known as a "Skerection." He might be the marquee name in McTuff (Wed Oct 31), but the soul-jazz quartet really belongs to Joe Doria and his B3 organ. Doria never lets his immense chops get in the way of momentum or soul, just as guitarist Andy Coe reels in his extended flights for glistening, razor-sharp solos. Backed by D'Vonne Lewis—previously named here as Seattle's best young drummer—McTuff is by far the most groove-oriented band at Earshot.
—The last time he appeared at Earshot, Jason Moran (Sun Nov 4) reminisced movingly about his teacher, the late, great Jaki Byard, a stalwart pianist for Charles Mingus in the 1960s. Byard instilled in Moran an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz history. Like Byard, Moran flits blithely from down-home, stanked-up blues to dissonantly jarring runs. Yet like his teacher, Moran tempers his eclecticism with taste. His use of prerecorded elements transcends the usual let's-start-the-tune-with-something-weird approach; instead, those segments and snippets foreshadow the themes, rhythms, and timbres inside the tune. With Taurus Mateen on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums.