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A Venerable Free Improv Showcase Finds Its Way Back

Togishi (from left): Mike Sopko, Joe Tomino, Dan Wenninger

After the cultural extinction event of 2020, some lifeforms re-emerged sooner than others. You would expect the ones with the most funding to be among the first to return, though perhaps not at their previous strength. And you might imagine that the more DIY scenes, the ones for which precarity is an ongoing fact, would also survive.

The 1Way at the Go Factory series of free improvisation shows curated by saxophonist Dan Wenninger, is one of the survivors, though it’s more like a cicada than a hardy cockroach. It hasn’t been dormant for seven years; there were a few scattered comebacks last fall. When the series resumes March 28 at the Go Factory loft, with Togishi and the Folger/Bruce/Martinez Trio, it will mark what Wenninger hopes will be a second beginning, a 1Way 2.0.

Non-idiomatic and experimental art scenes are often fluid, dynamic and contingent. Participants come and go or age out. The experiment concludes and everyone moves on. Sometimes it’s the culture that moves on.

Yet 1Way has been around, more or less continuously from 2007 to the beginning of the pandemic. It had its origins in the Fluxus like multimedia shows in Chuck Karnak’s Cudell loft at the turn of the century.

“We’d have these big shows up there and the place would be set up kind of like an art gallery,” Wenninger said by phone last week. “Different bands playing all different genres, real underground stuff.’

One of those bands was Wenninger’s Oblique Orchestra, which found a home at the loft for its defiantly noncommercial free jazz. The momentum for the loft’s multimedia shows had dissipated when Wenninger approached Karnak about starting, well,  something.  “I was still kind of figuring out what I’m doing as far as programming stuff,” Wenninger said. “At that point it turned into a monthly showcase for free music, experimental music, new stuff. It didn’t really fit in clubs or bars and it’s also kind of a workshop environment.”

Wenninger’s bands anchored the showcase and soon, fellow travelers such as drummer Carmen Castaldi, and keyboard players Grace Harper and Matt Kiroff brought projects to the party. “Musically, if it was a new project that didn’t have a following, it worked up there,” Wenninger said.

And before long, 1Way itself had a following. The music was a part of the appeal, but so was the vibe.

“Basically it’s pretty chill,” Wenninger said. “We have stages set up. There’s lighting. It’s just kind of cool warehouse environment. My group goes first. We do a 30- to 40-minute performance, then a brief intermission, and then the second group goes 30 to 40 minutes, with whatever material they have. And that’s it. I have some couches and chairs set up. Just a nice little chill warehouse environment [and] It sounds good in there.”

Wenninger also curates the monthly Outlab series at Bop Stop, a project that he put together with the scenemaker Tom Orange to provide a way for people who were interested in free improv to meet and play together. “Outlab is a kind of community thing and 1Way is more of a showcase,” Wenninger said. “To me, they’re complimentary and definitely hand in hand, even though they’re different events. So that’s how it works in my head.”

How it works on stage remains to be seen—and heard. It’s experimental music, right? Still, Wenninger is optimistic. “I’m excited. I’ve been going out to a couple of shows lately, seeing some different faces and planning on what different projects are happening and younger people kind of on the scene,” he said.

Those projects might yet prove that there’s no one way for 1Way to thrive.

1Way at the Go Factory, featuring Togishi and the Folger/Bruce/Martinez Trio, Tuesday, March 28, 8 p.m. at Go Factory, free, but suggested donations of $5-10 are welcome. More information here.


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