WEST STOCKBRIDGE

They call it "The Session," but don't go calling it an open mic.

The event, which will be piloted Friday night at 8 in the gallery space at No. Six Depot, is billed as "an evening of hip-hop, lyrical freestyle, musicial improvisation."

The Session features a series of instrumentalists, rappers and other vocal performers of the like who will perform a sort of improvisational two-hour set of original acoustic music.

"It's not really an open mic because it follows an unspoken order of people kind of being connected and communicating in the moment," said Berkshire-based musician Jackson Whalan.

He's organizing and emceeing The Session as inspired by a jam event called "The Lesson," presented by Gentei Kaijo at Arlene's Grocery in New York City (View a video here: http://bit.ly/1dQUpQi).

Whalan describes The Lesson as being "really high energy, almost like a spiritual experience connecting the music and the crowd to something bigger."

"It involves people of all ages and backgrounds, which points to my belief that hip-hop is a universal language," he said.

Whalan said that like the ebb and flow of a good story, The Session dynamics will naturally arch through the course of the evening.

"The jam changes and shifts but the flow doesn't get interrupted," said Robby Baier, a musician and founder/producer at SubStation Studio in Housatonic (soultube.com).


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Baier, along with Pittsfield native and drummer Brandon Lewis, and Lewis' partner and Latin percussionist Carmen Estevez, will serve as the central musicians for the evening, with several other guest performers stepping up throughout the night.

The effect will be similar to a jazz session, but with a hip-hop focus and freestyle lyrics manifesting before the audience throughout the night.

"Unlike jazz, there's not a set chord structure," said Baier.

Baier, who will be manipulating his guitar to make percussive sounds for The Session, said he was interested in the concept, "because it's unusual, and allows for a musical dialogue between performers."

Both Whalan and Baier see The Session as an opportunity to introduce experimental music technique and new sound in an up-and-coming cultural arts venue in their own Berkshire backyard.

Baier has known Whalan for a long time, since he was a mentor to a teenaged Whalan through Railroad Street Youth Project in Great Barrington.

It was at that age that Whalan, now 21, said he had a lot to get off his chest. So he turned to hip-hop.

"I needed an outlet for expression," said Whalan.

Though he graduated last spring with a music degree from the Eugene Lang College at The New School for Liberal Arts, he said he's still in the early stages of finding his own identity as a sort of modern bard. He also has a band with Lewis called Technicolor Lenses (soundcloud.com/technicolor-lenses).

Co-owner and tea importer Lisa Landry said Six Depot is working toward playing its own role to cultivate new concepts of community-building and lifestyle in its corner of West Stockbridge and the Berkshires.

"We have lots of events coming up," she said. "Not so much in July and August, because there's already so much to see and do then. But in the winter time, we're really into the idea of having lots of events because people want to get out of the house."

Six Depot -- an old train station that now houses a roastery, café, gallery and retail business -- has begun to integrate live performance in its repertoire. Past events have included: Art show openings, a concert by Emily Mure; and an Indonesia Night sponsored by Outpost, featuring live dance, original film screenings and members of the Indonesian Embassy.

Last week's events included an opening for "A Tango Diary," a photography exhibit by Sabine Vollmer von Falken. A night of tango dancing followed. Vollmer von Falken's work will also serve as a backdrop for performers of The Session. Landry said more than 200 people circulated through the space throughout the evening.

On Friday night, the café will also be serving dinner, wine and beer from 5 p.m. on.

"I think [Six Depot is] really great. It's aesthetically beautiful and their work is really high caliber," said Baier. "It's turning into a destination spot, not just in West Stockbridge, but in and around the Berkshires as well. I'm excited to be a part of it."

Whalan agreed, inviting others to take part in something new too. "It's gonna be a really transformative event, allowing people to see what can be created without expectations and to discover what can happen when you leave room and space for creativity.

"I want people leaving the event feeling inspired or empowered and wanting more," he said.