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Originally published by Post-Crescent - Appleton, WI

Evenings at the Improv

Jazz musicians finding plenty of places to play in the Fox Valley

By Jim Lundstrom

2004.03.18 -- Jazz is suddenly a happening thing in Appleton. You could even say a jazz orgy is taking place here. Multiple venues are offering a variety of jazz, from a piano/bass duo to big band. Almost as a symbolic standard bearer of the growth of live jazz in Appleton, the Oshkosh based trio Jazz Orgy recently set up its weekly jazz jam shop in the front window of Ravens in downtown Appleton on Wednesday nights.

The trio -- Mark Powers on drums. Andy Mertens on upright bass, and Mark Martin on keyboards recently celebrated its fourth year of jazz orgies every Sunday at Peabodys Ale House in Oshkosh. but started playing Ravens just last month.

Already word has spread that Jazz Orgy is in town, and other come to play with the Orgy.

On a recent night you would have found at Ravens several members of the Groove Hogs horn section, a crack drummer in the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, guitarist Chris Aaron, piano/bass duo Helen Exner and Jason Brown, and a number of other players all waiting their turn to get in on the Orgy.

"As it stands right now, they're my favorite nights." said Ravens' owner Clint "Howie" Gennett. "They play with so much energy, and it's brought in so many new people. Everyone who comes loves the vibe. It's just going to get better. I'm excited every Wednesday."

Bass player Mertens, an LU graduate, is happy to be in Appleton as well.

"I love it." he said. "It's awesome being back in the old haunts."

The band really does seem inspired, flying along with all pistons kicking in -- Powers, machinelike in his precision but incredibly human in the percussive colorations and textures he provides from whatever part of his cocktail kit he chooses to make music on; Mertens, who is endlessly inventive on the bass and moves easily from a blistering barrage of bass filigrees to achingly mournful bowings; Martin, who conjures up a world of sound on his RD-600 Roland digital piano and Hammond XK-2 organ.

"Playing with the two Marks is just so cool," said bass player Jason "Red" Brown after playing a lickety-split version of Chick Corea's "Spain" with Martin and Powers. "They both have great ears."

"A lot of what we do is on the fly. We just yell out ideas to each other," said drummer Powers. "Money can't buy chemistry like that."

When The Jazz Orgy came to town, the band knew it wanted to play a similar format to it's Sunday nights in Oshkosh, with different players drifting on stage throughout the night.

"Absolutely, we want it to be a jam," Martin said. "That's why we call it the Jazz Orgy."

"It's such a great thing when musicians have a venue to come to where they can just meet and play," said Dan Crane, an Evanston, IL native and Lawrence University senior who drums in the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble. "It's great to meet all these other musicians. They're playing standards, so if anyone knows their stuff they can play."

"This is great. I'm in full support of the Jazz Orgy," said Steve Cooper, tenor sax player in The Groove Hogs. "I've been going down to Peabody's for years. When I heard these guys were coming up here, I knew I'd have to come down and support them. As long as they're here, I'll be coming down.

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