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Sounds in (art) space 

ED CDs capture Eyedrum's fleeting music moments

As ringleader Robert Cheatam offers a call for game participants, various musicians take the stage: a bass clarinetist, a drummer, a guitarist and a saxophonist. What happens next is a whirlwind of free, improvised jazz that climbs, peaks, descends, then halts -- all within two minutes. Such is the enigmatic nature of Eyedrum's Improv Night, held the first Thursday of every month at the downtown artspace.

Since Improv Night's sounds are spontaneously created, much of the music in these sessions has drifted into the air never to be heard again. Frequently, however, the incredible results are worth repeated listenings, so some of the artist/catalysts at Eyedrum, specifically Cheatam, have decided to form ED Recordings. Their aim: to catch the uncatchable, to document that which is too often lost.

Continuing into its second year, Improv Night is a sort of jamboree/sporting event for creative musicians. Time constraints sometimes are placed on players, with impromptu groups trying to create spontaneous compositions within the allotted duration. Other times, random instruments get paired together for a bout of musical roulette. Mystery is frequently the game, and everyone plays along.

While structure is frequently absent, surprisingly musical moments are not. For adventurous musicians and fans alike, these flashes -- the chance matching of notes, crescendos or tones -- are what it's all for. And the documentation of these moments is what the ED Recordings project is all about.

Over the past several years, Eyedrum's resident recording engineer Jeff Rackley has amassed an arsenal of high-quality digital recordings of bands who have performed at Eyedrum. Some of the most recent ones, including several sessions from Improv Night, are being released on CD.

Cheatam's magnificent groups, Bravhar Large Ensemble and Knox, are well represented in the CD series, with the former's seven-part Gravity Suite striking chords reminiscent of Cecil Taylor's most intense big-band work. Musical textures are built, smoothed out, then chipped apart. Wild saxophones swirl in and out of the piece, leading listeners on a journey down the entire emotional spectrum.

The ED catalog also includes the diverse Live at Eyedrum compilations, which feature portions of sets by local and national performers such as DQE, the Davey Williams/Abbey Rader duo and the Gold Sparkle Duo. In all, there currently are about 15 exclusive ED recordings, but the list is growing fast. And at $5-$8 a piece, the CDs are priced to sell.

Given the rather marginal and limited audience for improvised and free music in Atlanta, it's not as though the low cost will have folks lining up to buy the recordings. Cheatam, though, sees hope for the future of the music.

"I think that the possibilities in Atlanta for experimental, creative and improvisational sorts of music are the greatest in the 18 or so years I've been in the Atlanta scene," Cheatam says. "Part -- or maybe even most -- of that increase in interest is due to the population increase of the last 10 years, with people coming from outside the region who are open to new artistic experiences. There seems to be a small but consistent and dedicated audience in Atlanta for the furthest reaches of musical exploration. It has always been Eyedrum's mission to nurture and expand that audience both for the sake of educating Atlanta audiences and increasing the possibilities for local musicians."

To further its sense of exploration, Eyedrum recently unveiled plans for its mid-September relocation to The Mattress Factory at 290 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive downtown. Details of the new digs are still being worked out, but one thing is abundantly clear: The future is indeed bright for Eyedrum. Sizzling, as a matter of fact.

Eyedrum's Improv Night is held the first Thursday of each month. For more information, visit www.eyedrum.org.

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