Photo courtesy Bob Wright.
“Soul in a Box” will celebrate Dennis Palmer’s boundless creativity.
In the year and a half since the passing of native Chattanoogan Dennis Palmer—musician, visual artist and educator—it has become abundantly clear that his influence and inspiration is still deeply felt in the community and far beyond.
It is impossible to forget his potent creativity, passion for the arts, wicked sense of humor and drive to do “the highest good for all.” Within the last few months alone, acclaimed keyboardist Thollem McDonas and percussionist/composer Gino Robair released the superb album Trio Music Minus One (for Dennis Palmer) and Bonnaroo co-founder Ashley Capps dedicated the eclectic 2014 Big Ears Festival to two esteemed individuals: Lou Reed and Dennis Palmer.
Going beyond mere tribute into the realm of collaborative innovation, the event Soul in a Box—the fifth and final installment of the Dilating Nexus Series, made possible by an ArtsBuild grant and presented by Secret Weave and The Shaking Ray Levi Society (disclosure: I am on its directing board)—was born from a discovery by percussionist Bob Stagner, who co-founded the performing group The Shaking Ray Levis with Palmer nearly three decades ago.
After Palmer passed away, Stagner came across Palmer’s sampler—a Boss RC-30 Loop Station—and revealed over an hour’s worth of amazing and previously unused sound loops that Palmer had intended to use in future performances. These samples were disseminated to local and out-of-town musicians to build unique aural creations for the Soul in a Box event, which will feature Aether Jag, Baby Magic, EV MHIR, Frank Pahl, Guest Room, Nows, Prophets & Kings, Red Okra King, Rick Weaver, Segaworms and Love, Execution Style.
Improvising storyteller Tom Landis—a friend of Palmer’s since junior high and cohort on the “Outside Pleasures” radio show on WUTC in the ’80s and ’90s—will perform a spoken-word piece at Soul in a Box, and he shared some words about Palmer and his influence.
“Dennis is just an eternal soul,” said Landis. “He loved Chattanooga; he loved the arts community and fostered it and nurtured it. He was around when Chattanooga was a shallow ocean, and his DNA lives on—his art has its own DNA.”
Bassist, composer and Secret Weave co-founder Evan Lipson—also a close friend and collaborator of Palmer’s—saw the complexity and occasional darkness of Palmer’s personality that informed his work.
“This dark side exists in all of us, but most people repress these emotions, rather than deal with them head-on in a healthful manner (i.e., use them constructively),” said Lipson via email. “I don’t think Dennis could have had so much love in his heart if it wasn’t balanced by the other extreme. He was fiercely passionate about everything that he loved and very protective of everything that he had built and worked for. Anything that posed a threat to this was not dealt with lightly. I valued this degree of intensity just as much as the fiery intensity of his love, humor, generosity, warmth and compassion.”
Soul in a Box will also feature video creations based on Palmer’s numerous paintings, screenprints and sketches, plus snapshots of Palmer himself by photographer Asher Love; one new video submission comes from Chattanooga artist and educator Melissa Johnson.
“Dennis’ drawings for this video are intense, and his work still feels as if it is alive and has a life of its own,” said Johnson.
“During my friendship with Dennis, I was captivated by his ability to be innovative and bring into reality those things that he desired within his imagination,” said Johnson. “I remember going out to the store to get ingredients for dinner and coming back to find him jamming by himself on the Moog [synthesizer]. He was so intense, so playful and expressive in his imagination.”
The Dilating Nexus Series was designed to challenge and provoke artists, “pushing them into unforeseen situations and inspiring them to respond in genuinely spontaneous, creative and resourceful ways,” and Ann Arbor, Mich. musician Frank Pahl—instrument inventor, solo artist and member of ensembles including Little Bang Theory and Scavenger Quartet—wrote via email about how Palmer had that ability.
“My favorite recorded collaborations with Dennis are Pahl-mer and Fishers o’ Wufmen,” wrote Pahl. “Fishers was recorded in a single day after the Shaking Ray Levis backed up Wayne White in Detroit. What I like most about it is that even though I engineered the session, there are times when my playing doesn’t sound like me. The highest compliment you can give a musician might be that they can bring you closer to being so deep in the moment that you drop your musical idiosyncratic crutches. Dennis could do that with his humor and musical generosity.”
Dilating Nexus Series
Part V: “Soul in a Box”
August 30, 7 p.m.
$5-10 (sliding scale)
2510 N. Chamberlain Ave.