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Fringe benefits

Improv fest has locals-only feel


It's often said that the grass is always greener on the other side. And for many area fringe musicians, it's a matter not to be taken lightly. The list of regional acts that have left the area for the fertile musical terrain of New York, Los Angeles or any other not-so-mythical community, grows larger each year. Artists as varied as Cat Power, Prefuse 73 and the Gold Sparkle Band can be counted among the Atlanta expatriates who might not have found success if they'd stayed in the city where they were weaned. Though this might sound grim for the myriad of like-minded artists who choose to stay in the area, the only way to improve the situation is to inspire change from within.

At last year's Jump to Eyedrum Festival, a two-day improvisational music event, organizer Roger Ruzow created a forum for more than a dozen regional and national improv acts. Though the program featured only a small portion of local talent, it raised awareness and set the stage for Ruzow's second annual festival, the Eyedrum/Atlanta Eclectic Improv Fest. While the last event was based solely on improvisation, this year's fest focuses on a broader mix of Atlanta and Athens artists who employ some aspect of improvisation in their music.

In 1998, Ruzow's free-jazz group, the Gold Sparkle Band, relocated to New York in search of a more supportive musical community. But Ruzow stayed behind due to emotional ties and a developing case of multiple sclerosis. Though he was frustrated by the rest of the band's decision to leave home, he understood their desire to move on. So he has channeled his energies into building a more accommodating musical environment here in Atlanta.

"It's time to recognize these artists while we still have them -- before they move on to New York or wherever they're going," says Ruzow. "The purpose of this year's festival is to focus on Atlanta talent and to recognize these musicians' value as members of this community."

For the event, Ruzow has handpicked artists who represent the jazz, electronic, rock and various other styles often overlooked by the community. From the '20s cabaret of Twittering Machine to the 21st-century compositions of Ann Richardson & Dr. Nick Demos to Chris Case's live/electronic sound, the wide range of acts stands out more than anything.

"The eclectic aspect is more important than the improvisational elements," says Ruzow. "There's a lot of different talent in the region, and there's an improvisational aspect to all of the groups playing -- from having improvisation inside their music to the music being totally improvised. The hope is that people will come out to see one group they know and, in the process, be exposed to something they wouldn't normally hear."

One of Ruzow's own jazz ensembles, Nu South Subterraneans, plays Saturday night, performing a soundtrack to the films of local artist R. Land. The collaboration is a completely spontaneous effort -- one Ruzow promises will be nothing short of "blissfully twisted."

When discussing the collaboration and how it ties in with the rest of the event, Ruzow is quick to point out that even with such a wide variety of acts lined up, it's only a small look at the diversity in the area.

"I want to create an atmosphere of awareness for local music, eclectic music and improvised music," he says. "Atlanta is always hopped-up on the next big thing from somewhere else. And the hope is that after an event like this, people will realize that we have a lot of great talent right here in our own back yard."

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