Music News & Reviews

Music: In the Flow Festival’s driving force is Ross Hammond

Ross Hammond has become a DIY expert in his still-young career as a jazz guitarist and entrepreneur.

Though the do-it-yourself romance may have worn off for Hammond while managing his expanding career and the 7-year-old In the Flow Festival, he keeps pushing them both along.

The two come together next week as his improvised music festival, which features jazz, poetry, spoken word and electronic music, drops at several venues around town and in Berkeley. In addition, Hammond will release his ambitious new recording, “Humanity Suite,” and will perform it with his band.

In the Flow, which Hammond books and produces, has become a small institution unto itself, which suits Hammond just fine. He’s figured out that there’s only so much he can do to keep the festival running smoothly; he’s also realized there’s only so much he really needs to do.

“I’ve learned you don’t have to control everything when you do these kind of things,” Hammond said. “In the early years, setting the festival up, between March and May, you couldn’t talk to me. I was just running around saying, ‘I gotta do this! I gotta do that!’ ”

He’s held the festival at numerous sites around midtown in past years but has scaled back this year. He’s also presenting fewer shows, though there still will be five nights of performances, Thursday through May 12, in four spaces with 20 groups performing.

Some of this year’s musicians have played previous ITF festivals, including Alex Jenkins, Harley White, Gentleman Surfer, Instagon, Vinny Golia, Rent Romus and the Capital Jazz Project.

Among this year’s new acts are the locally based gospel-infused Reggie Graham Trio, noted Los Angeles-based vocalist Dwight Trible and the acclaimed Los Angeles-based trumpeter-composer Daniel Rosenboom.

Sacramento venues include two nights at midtown’s Luna’s Cafe – the unofficial home of the ITF – and first-time shows at downtown’s Shine Cafe and at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento.

“Now it’s like we’ve built enough of a following, folks are going to come no matter what, and that’s a good thing,” Hammond said.

“Getting out of the way works really well,” he added.

Hammond said he realized the festival didn’t have to keep getting bigger each year.

He felt a smaller, more-focused series of events could be more effective than expansive broad-based shows.

Hammond will also take ITF on the road this year, with a Saturday night performance in Berkeley.

“I wanted to branch out so our Bay Area folks don’t have to drive all the way to Sacramento, but also give an opportunity to some Sacramento folks who don’t get to play in Berkeley very much,” he said.

On Tuesday, two days before the ITF kicks off, Hammond will release his latest recording project, “Humanity Suite,” and he’ll play a celebratory show as part of the festival Friday night at Luna’s.

The suite was recorded live last fall at the Crocker Art Museum as part of an exhibit by Stockton-born African American artist Kara Walker, whose nationally celebrated work explores themes of slavery, power, sexuality and violence.

The music was inspired by Walker’s work.

The record has already received positive reviews in the national jazz press, and Hammond looks forward to playing the music again. The 47-minute performance has a dynamic ebb and flow that Hammond wrote with his various players in mind.

The energized improvisations reflect Walker’s art, with raw visceral elements flowing into moody textural passages.

“It was a big project and I’m happy that the music came out the way it did,” Hammond said.

The same sextet that recorded the album will perform again Friday, save Catherine Sikora, who will be replaced by saxophone player Randy McKean.

“There’s some little bit of a buzz on the record already,” Hammond said.

“I took a box of records with me on a little solo tour to New York and I sold out of all of them.”

Though he’s proud of the festival and his weekly Monday jazz series at Luna’s called Nebraska Mondays, Hammond’s first calling remains playing music.

“I don’t want to be that guy, the festival-organizer dude, or a booker,” he said. “I want to be a musician. I want to be a guitar player.”