Your guide to this weekend’s Catalytic Sound Festival at Rhizome

The Catalytic Sound Festival will bring together creative musicians from D.C., Baltimore and beyond, to Rhizome DC this Saturday and Sunday. The lineup will include well-known performers like Dave Ballou, Nate Wooley, Brian Settles and Janel & Anthony, among many others. The area hasn’t seen such a significant gathering of free improvisers and imaginative jazz performers since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The two-day program is only one part of a larger, international festival occurring this month in seven cities across the United States, Norway and Holland. All these events are organized by the creative artists’ collective Catalytic Sound (of which — full disclosure — CapitalBop’s co-founder Luke Stewart is a member). A full lineup for the D.C. program is available at the festival website.

On Saturday, Stewart will play in a duo with the interdisciplinary improvising electronic musician and poet Bonnie Jones. Then on Sunday, he will join violinist Joshua Modney and cellist Lester St. Louis as part of a special presentation of fellow Catalytic Sound member and well-known trumpet experimenter Nate Wooley’s “Mutual Aid Music” project. The project, which Wooley has pursued in various forms over his years as a nationally respected voice in the creative music world, is a group exploration centered on a set of concertos; it “sprouts from a compositional system that asks musicians to question what they add to the ensemble as human beings first and musicians second,” according to Wooley’s liner notes to the album that he released last year stemming from the project.

Another performance on Day 1 will come from the prolific improvising duo of Marcia Bassett and Samara Lubelski.

The festival will feature many familiar faces to the Rhizome crowd, like the DMV-based multi-instrumentalist and multidisciplinary artist Sarah Marie Hughes, the Baltimorean free players Dave Ballou and Mike Kuhl, and the ethereal, spellbinding collaboration of cellist Janel Leppin and guitarist Anthony Pirog. 

Sunday night will also feature a performance by No Trick Pony, a creative trio still in its relative infancy featuring pianist Amy K. Bormet, saxophonist Brian Settles and drummer Keith Butler Jr. The group’s music contrasts towering chords and harmonies built by Bormet with the dispersing, unstable rhythms conjured by Butler, with Settles’ sax hovering in between.

For No Trick Pony and the rest of the performers at this weekend’s festival, such a roadmap might go out the window as soon as the first note erupts. That’s the point, says Bormet, as she described to CapitalBop in an email the deep appeal of this multi-day community celebration: “Making some spontaneous and irrational music is what I need this dark holiday season.”

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About Jackson Sinnenberg

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Jackson Sinnenberg is a broadcast journalist and a freelance writer. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, JazzTimes, Downbeat, NPR Music, NPR.org, the Washington City Paper, On Tap/District Fray Magazine and the blog of Smithsonian Folkways Records. He began covering the city’s music scene for WGTB, Georgetown University’s radio station, where he was a show host, writer, and columnist. He graduated from Georgetown with a bachelor’s degree in American Musical Culture. Reach him at [email protected] Follow him at @sinnenbergmusic.

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