In recent years, the Outside the Spotlight Series has become something of a pop-up affair. A vital jazz alternative in Lexington for over 14 years, its performances of improvisational music and free jazz-leaning music tend to surface in any number of different Lexington venues without much advance notice or promotion. Well, consider yourselves invited. The series has two immensely recommended shows planned in the coming evenings.
The first comes to us Friday at happy hour with the return of guitarist Ross Hammond. A Lexington native, Hammond has established himself as a respected and highly visible guitarist, bandleader and composer in California, specifically in the Sacramento region. There he regularly leads trio groups along with occasional special projects, like the sextet that recorded his 2013 album, “Humanity Suite.” That recording was based on a commissioned work from Sacramento’s Croker Art Museum to augment a paper silhouette exhibit by visual artist Kara Walker.
His 5 p.m. performance Friday at A Cup of Common Wealth, however, will follow the same stylistic paths as his 2014 and 2015 shows (at the Mecca studio and The Morris Book Shop, respectively). Specifically, it will be a solo outing for pieces on unamplified acoustic guitar that echo the tone and temperament of his recent folk and spirituals album, “Flight.”
All kinds of diverse influences emerged at last year’s performance, from the American primitive stylings of John Fahey to the broader European atmospherics of Ralph Towner. But as performed solely on 12-string guitar, the final folk-spiritual hybrid Hammond created was very much an original creation.
There is no cover charge for Friday’s performance, but Hammond’s Facebook posting for the show mentioned that “tips are appreciated.”
Then on Monday, Outside the Spotlight moves to the Niles Gallery in the Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library and Learning Center, which has become a semi-regular home for the series. The trio on tap, Gunwale, isn’t likely to raise many eyebrows in terms of recognition, even to repeat Outside the Spotlight patrons. But its principal player, Dave Rempis, is a true frequent flyer of the series, having played it with numerous bands, including the Vandermark 5, Engines, the Rempis Percussion Quartet, Triage, Ballister, Audio One, and assorted duo, trio, and quartet collaborations.
Gunwale is one of Rempis’ newer projects. Teaming with two young protégés, drummer and electronics stylist Ryan Packard and bassist Albert Wildeman, the saxophonist started Gunwale with a series of monthly rehearsals before the trio made its performance debut in December. A collection of three improvised pieces from January, recorded at two venues in Rempis’ home base of Chicago, were released as Gunwale’s debut album, “Polyna,” this summer on his Aerophonic Records label.
The music at times places Rempis’ coarser playing (which brings Pharoah Sanders to mind) over a bed of subtle electronics. But in other instances, it tenses with Packard’s more robust drum fills and subsides for extended, unaccompanied solos by Wildeman that display a full vocabulary of bass sounds and voices.
The leaps from contemplative to chaotic — with Rempis on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones — seem to drive Gunwale. Then again, the music captured on “Polyna” represents a band that had barely been an active performance unit for a month. Given the often restless sense of exploration that sits at the heart of Gunwale — and in much of Rempis’ performance music, for that matter — there is no telling what level of stylistic growth and onstage communication has developed among the trio members since the live tracks on “Polyna” were recorded.
Part free jazz unit, part space age (and spacious) improvisational group, Gunwale may well prove to be the biggest musical surprise of Outside the Spotlight’s fall season.