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THE 11TH ANNUAL VISION FESTIVAL : THE REVOLUTION CONTINUES...
by BRUCE LEE GALLANTER
Every year, I look at the Vision Fest schedule in advance and think about just what Patricia Parker and her board of directors have in store for us and every year I am amazed at how much better it is than anyone could've imagined. Vision Fest XI was certainly the most diverse and filled with even more surprises than previous years. For six nights and one entire day, we were able to witness 30-plus sets of music, as well as a one-night film fest. Like the previous year, the vast Angel Orensanz Center was utilized and completely filled with an array of artwork in very nook and cranny, wherever you looked. Lots of rare photos of many of our avant-jazz heroes, paintings, drawings, sculpture and metal-work, hanging from walls, stairways on each level and above. The Orensanz Center is a big old synagogue that combines the vibe of an old church. For many of us this is a truly a religious experience, especially for those who rarely get to a sanctioned house of worship. This is why folks come from far and wide, from across the US and around the world, to attend this once a year explosion of music and a vision of hope. This year, DMG had a big table of CDs & DVDs for sale upstairs and this is where I caught much of the music from a different vantage point than previous years. Carting numerous boxes of discs by hand was a bit tiring in the muggy weather, but sales were good and it was nice to talk with other folks who are as passionate about avant/jazz as we are.
I missed the film fest on the first day (June 13th) since I had to work and hopefully the much talked about 'Sam Rivers Retrospective', which premiered then, will find its way onto DVD in the near future, just as Robert O'Haire's 'Music Witness/Spirit World' has already been made available for those who weren't able to check out the premiere. I also missed the very first set on the first night (June 13th), due to moving boxes of CDs upstairs for our sales table. I only caught the tail end of this trio with poet David Budbill, Art Ensemble reeds wiz, Joseph Jarman and the ubiquitous William Parker on bass. My fiance, Huguette and I caught every other set after that (some 30 of them), except for Saturday matinee show, which I heard mostly good things about.
The first set I caught on the first day of the festival proper was the Raphe Malik Tribute Band featuring Sabir Mateen & Jemeel Moondoc on saxes, Roy Campbell & Lewis Barnes on trumpets, Dave Burrell on piano, William Parker on bass and Warren Smith on drums. Always an intense trumpeter, Raphe Malik, succumbed to cancer earlier this year and passed away. All members of this feisty band either worked or were friendly with Raphe. This incredible septet was burning from the gitgo. As the rhythm team churned, their vibrations rose higher and higher, while both trumpeters took long, spirited solos, that would've made Raphe proud. As Sabir wailed on his tenor sax, the other horns whipped up a tight massive force underneath him. Warren Smith has been one of the unsung heroes of the drums for some forty plus years in NYC and was in great form on this set, as well as for his own set the following night. He wrote a prayer like piece, "A Toast to Raphe". that was slightly funky and completely touching. The best piece was called "Problematic" and the horns spun furiously lightning-like intersecting lines with the rambunctious rhythm team. As each horn soloed, the other horns would whip up quick, sharp sputtering lines underneath, as well as trading licks amongst themselves. It was a perfect way to start this year's Vision Fest.
The next set was the first of three sets that featured mostly European musicians, actually three different trios on three different nights. This trio was led by Klaas Hekman on bass sax (Holland), Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello (Chicago) and Veryan Weston on piano (UK). I must admit that I know of quite alot of European players, but I was completely unfamiliar with Mr. Hekman before this. I do know Mr. Lonberg-Holm quite well, since he used to live in NY and has been living and playing with many of Chicago's best in recent years. He is the newest member of the Vandermark 5. I also know British pianist, Veryan Weston, from his work with Phil Minton, Lol Coxhill and Eddie Prevost. Hekman's set was a tribute to the late Steve Lacy and it is pretty rare to hear someone soloing on a bass sax, let alone lead a group. Their playing was much closer to European chamber music and they rarely swung. It seemed like an odd choice for the Vision Fest, which often offers a wide variety of modern jazz, but I am always glad when the promoter takes a chance and pushes the limits of the audience.'s patience. There was some of that Braxtonian angularity that I dig so much and when it got more dense, no doubt some folks were not sure where they were. I dug the way the trio would start tightly together in charted territory and slowly come apart, soloing simultaneously. Both the bass sax and cello have a similar range and sounded great blending their notes together. One piece would move from a flurry of the freer regions into quieter, cautious moments while another piece would have one player solo as the other two spun quick lines around the soloist. Impressive, but I'm sure more a few folks were scratching their heads.
The following set also had some folks wondering as well. It was supposed to be a trio with Borah Bergman on piano, William Parker on bass and Rashied Ali on drums, but Louie Belogenis was an added attraction on tenor & soprano sax. Borah can be one of the most intense and dark of all free/jazz pianists, but here decided to lay back and play quite minimally, slowly building and concentrating on a few notes at a time. The quartet felt like multiple conversations going on at the same time, yet it often worked in ways that were not that obvious. It was like a strange dream-world that moved in slow motion with each player weaving cautiously around one another. Waves upon waves washing over us. Instead of fire and flames, Rashied Ali is the master of simmering, spinning and directing the currents. Both Louie and William played much different than they usually do, with Louie taking just a few fragments and letting them simmer and William buzzing his bass with more restraint. It felt as if Borah were playing a ballad and dissecting it a few notes at a time, slowly working his way into his usual cross-handed excursions.
The final set that night was the NY debut of an odd couple, two musicians from much different backgrounds, Dave Burrell on piano and Billy Martin on drums & percussion. Philly legend, Dave Burrell, is one of the originators of free/jazz piano, whose career stretches back to the late sixties. His historic albums on the BYG label were some the scariest of all and his longtime work with Sunny Murray and David Murray pretty incredible. He is also unpredictable and breaks into stride and other older jazz streams when you least expect it. Billy Martin is an excellent drummer who is well known for his work with Medeski, Martin & Wood & the Lounge Lizards, yet he has done some great work with Bob Moses and Calvin Weston in drum duos, as well as some recent doing improv sessions with many of downtown's best: Shelley Hirsch, Okkyung Lee, Ikue Mori and DJ Olive. I was unsure of how this duo would work, but it really did. Dave would start by playing a simple, funky riff over and over as Billy built up a groove around the riff. Dave took his time to play one that one line at a time, slowly changing it as Billy added more syncopated beats. Dave eventually began to play waves of notes, rolling his hand on the bottom end of the piano as he plays some fractured parts on the piano's high end, reminding me of Don Pullen's rollicking playing with Charles Mingus. Dave appears to love these rich yet simple melodies, which he builds into more explosive moments. This duo works together well at developing thematic pieces that evolve together a fine tapestry of snug fabric. No doubt their new duo CD on Billy's Amulet label is something to behold.
The second day was 'Sam Rivers Lifetime Recognition Day' and it was the most well-attended of the entire fest. Sam Rivers' Rivbea Orchestra came all the way from Florida where Sam has been living and teaching for the past decade. I was unfamiliar with practically all of the fine young players, expect for the rhythm team who are also members of Sam's current trio and have also been around for quite a while now. Sam's orchestra were super tight, swung really hard and played at a volcanic intensity. It reminded me more of some of Maynard Ferguson's big bands from the seventies and nothing like the previous Sam Rivers big bands I've heard in the past. Sam had a number of strong soloists up there and there were loads of great solos from many of the horn players. Sam also played some spirited solos on soprano and tenor saxes, sailing superbly above his fire-breathing band. Sam's splendid rhyhtm team of Doug Mathews on electric bass and Anthony Cole on drums were colossal throughout, keeping the big band in a tight, focused force. A tune called "Spunk" reminded me of Zappa's Grand Wazoo band and had complex layers of interlocking horns spiraling around one another. Wow! Sam's own Rivbea Sound has recently released a disc of this fine orchestra and we've sold through a bunch already. We will have it back in stock sometime soon.
Blue Note trombone legend, Grachan Moncur III's was up next and included Khan Jamal on vibes, Bruce Edwards on guitar replacing Byard Lancaster, Noriko Kamo on piano and an unlisted rhythm section. I found this set to be disappointing and lacking in spirit. Both of Grachan's two Blue Note albums, as well as his two discs for BYG, are filled with great composing and spirited playing from the members of his all-star groups. Even his octet disc, 'Exploration', from recent years was filled strong writing and playing from an all-star cast. This group seemed quite lackluster in comparison. There were some fine solos from Khan Jamal on vibes, Bruce Edwards on guitar and Ms. Kamo on piano. They covered two of Miles' classics, "Footprints" and "So What", but there was something missing, no fire. It felt like bad timing to be placed after the explosive Sam Rivers Big Band.
Veteran percussion master, Warren Smith's Studio WIS Ensemble was up next and featured a well chosen line-up: Andrew Lamb on tenor sax & flute, Roy Campbell on trumpets, Mark Taylor on french horn, Jack Jeffers on bass trombone and Jaribu Shihad on bass. What made this group special was the way Warren's charts had the rest of the band slowly burning underneath as each of the great horn players too long, powerful solos. The music often had an organic feel and moved in waves as the soloist navigated the currents and soloed above. There was a sublime piece called, "A Gift from William Parker" that featured Warren playing this hypnotic repeating line on a balafon or African marimba, as each of the horn players took superb solos, especially Roy's middle-eastern muted pocket trumpet solo. Warren Smith is a wonderful percussionist, bandleader and diverse composer, too bad he doesn't have more discs out under his own name.
The second night concluded with a fine set from the Sam Rivers Trio, featuring Doug Mathews on acoustic & electric basses & bass clarinet and Anthony Cole on drums, piano & tenor sax and Sam Rivers on tenor & soprano saxes flute & piano. This trio was burning from the very first note, yet they do it with a bit of restraint. Sam is sitting through most of this set, instead his usual jumping about with excitement, perhaps at 80+ years, it is time to take things a bit easier. They started with an explosive opening and slowly wind down to a quieter storm. The next piece begins with Mr. Cole playing some lovely piano, as Mr. Mathews plays nice bowed bass and Sam playing some laid back & tasty flute. All three take great solos on this piece, most impressive is Mr. Cole's expressive piano playing. Next is a freer reeds trio with Sam on soprano, Doug on bass clarinet and Anthony on tenor sax. It is a most contemplative piece, all three reeds playing a ballad and swirling superbly around one another. When Sam moves to the piano on the next piece, the rhythm team explodes and shows how amazing and intense they can really go. There are a few moments when Sam's two partners overshadow him a bit, they seem unstoppable and filled with energy and ideas. Sam appears to take his time and wait until his partners wind down a bit and then take a strong solo, giving the set a fine balance of dynamics.
The third night, June 15th, was a very oddly balanced set-wise. Each of the five sets was completely different, making for some strange overall vibes and forcing us to ask questions like: What is jazz or what is creative music and is there a thread running through this surprisingly diverse collection of musicians or bands. The night started with veteran British trombone legend, Paul Rutherford, bassist Torsten Muller and the young Vancouver-based drum wiz, Dylan Van Der Schyff. Paul Rutherford has been exploring the strange sonorities of solo trombone playing for nearly forty years and is considered a master of these explorations. Considering how long his career in music is, I believe this was his first appearance in NYC. I was unfamiliar with bassist Torsten Muller before this, although it seems as if he has played with Rutherford and Lol Coxhill on occasion. Mr. Van Der Schyff is, of course, one of the best and most in-demand drummers to emerge from Vancouver, known for his work with Dave Douglas, Wayne Horvitz & MIchael Moore. This trio played that European style of subtle, little note, insect-like improv that some of us love so well. It forces you to listen close and be patient through the more spacious terrain. Torsten Muller both looked a bit like Peter Kowald and even played like him on his acoustic bass, plucking the strings in odd ways, bowing and bending the notes inside-out. Rutherford is the master of odd, cartoon-like sounds and is filled with surprises, coaxing a variety of sounds from his trombone, using multiphonics and singing vocal harmonies through his trombone. You could tell that these cats were listening closely, bending their sounds towards one another and intricately weaving their wares into a fascinating sonic tapestry. Being on the big stage in a large room made it difficult to concentrate on the more restrained aspects of this music.
The next set was one of the festival highlights, the amazing John Coltrane Tribute Band. It featured a stellar cast with Roy Campbell on trumpets, Louie Belogenis on tenor & soprano sax, Andrew Bemkey on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. The MC for this night was downtown's best poet, the cantankerous Steve Dalachinsky. It seems that some of Steve's on-stage chatter has been rubbing people the wrong way. I find Steve's poetry to be often insightful, soul-bearing and on-the-money, but it did get in the way of the overall spiritual vibe of this particular set. The music of later period John Coltrane is deeply spiritual music and this ensemble captured that spirit perfectly. They played each Trane tune as long and winding epics that moved in oceans of waves. Contrabassist, Reggie Workman and drum legend, Rashied Ali, both played with Coltrane at different points in Trane's career, but here they play together as one massive, swirling force. I've heard Reggie play on many occasions, but his first solo of the night was perhaps one of the deepest and more resonant of all bass solos I've ever heard. It pushed the spiritual notch up to a higher level, so that when Roy took the next solo on muted pocket trumpet, he has to reach for the stars, soaring higher and higher. There were incredible solos from every member of this monster band, Louie screaming powerfully on tenor, Roy blowing a beautiful flugel solo that brought tears to my eye and Andrew Bemkey also taking a couple of astonishing solos. The one person that held it together was the colossal Rashied Ali on drums. Rashied keeps the currents spinning, the waves washing over us all and fanning the flames underneath each member of the band. He is the grand-master of drumming and tonight he helped set all of our spirits free.
No doubt that it was difficult to follow the previous set, but trumpeter, Dennis Gonzalez, and dancer Maria Naidu, did a fine job of helping us all float back down to Mother Earth. A solo trumpet offering is indeed a hard thing to pull off, especially after what came before, but Dennis always rises to the occasion. It began with tape of odd sounds and static as Dennis recited a poem about the rustling leaves of autumn. As Maria danced slowly, expressively and sensuously about, Dennis played haunting, solemn tones, one note at a time, letting each one resonate in space. I thought both Maria's streamlined dancing and Dennis' lonely trumpet worked well together, although when Maria began wrapping her limbs around Dennis in one section, he did seem just a bit surprised. Dennis eventually moved into the audience and walked slowly around the room playing a few notes as he moved. He was joined from the sides of the room by Roy Cambpell on flute and Louie Belogenis on sax, all three musicians softly weaving their sounds around the room with the selective use of movement and silence, giving us time to breath and think carefully. It felt so natural and unrestricted.
Another of the unexpected delights of this year's Vision Fest was by a little known European trio called Day & Taxi. Although, they have a half dozen discs out in the past decade, they have remained an unknown quantity here is the US. The trio features Christoph Gallio on soprano & alto sax, Christian Weber on double bass and Michael Griener on drums. Christoph is the leader and the only person on each of the Day & Taxi discs. Their music has a playful, slighted twisted groove. Tight, yet somewhat fractured rhythmically. This music is adventurous without being free. It swung in odd ways and the flow was broken into neat little bits. Some of the pieces are Monk-like and remind me of the Steve Lacy Trio at times. Christoph has a funny way of jumping around and occasionally makes some funny faces. The set had a nice circus-like atmosphere at times, which was a nice way to balance the more serious sets of this night.
The final set that night was the unique pairing of two legendary musicians, Bill Dixon on trumpet with electronics and projections and George Lewis on trombone, computer and video manipulations. I must admit that many of the sets I've heard from Bill Dixon over the past few years have left me disappointed and often puzzled. I felt the same way about this set, but George Lewis did add the element of surprise to this odd duo. It began with Mr. Dixon doing his usual layers of goofy electronic and echoed trumpet sounds as Mr. Lewis interjected odd vocal samples and seemed to manipulate the images of Dixon's artwork projected on the screen above them. When George finally picks us his trombone, he engaged Bill even more. Both of these pioneers have come up with an assortment of techniques to extend the different sounds that come from their horns. Dixon often sticks to the mid-range of his trumpet, concentrating echoed smears and slow-moving sputters as George deals with a larger, more dynamic palette. At one point they drift together and provide eerie, ghost-like sounds, like distant whales swimming in the sea.
The fourth day of the Vision Fest began with Donald Byrd's Spectrum Dance Company with Hamid Drake playing percussion. There were just a couple of dancers involved. Since Hamid is the favorite drummer of many of us here in NYC, it was indeed a good thing to watch him play his frame drums and hand percussion. I am not so much a fan of modern dance, but do appreciate it when it works well with the music. As one dancer observed, another danced slowly and the sped up providing something interesting to gaze upon. For me, it was more of watching and listening to Hamid work his percussive magic playing natural rhythms, slowly building as the dialogue between him and the dancer(s) increases.
Even better for us Hamid fans was the NY debut of Hamid's own ensemble, Bindu, which featured four wizards of the reeds and horns, two from NY: Sabir Mateen and Daniel Carter, and two from Chicago: Ernest Dawkins & Greg Ward. Their set began with Hamid playing this infectious, funky beat, as all four saxes grooved together. All four of the fine hornmen takes strong, spirited solos. Watch out, 'cause Sabir is burning down the house! On the next piece, Hamid switches to tablas and provides a subtle funky eastern-like groove. As Ernest Dawkins takes another great alto solo, the other three reedsmen play enchanting harmonies around him. The third piece is an even quieter, yet freer one with a shakuhachi, two altos and clarinet. There is a soft, slowing burning intensity at the center with all of the reeds swirling righteously together as Hamid's subtly holds it all together. This magic set that was completely focused, with each member of the band playing their parts just right.
Another surprise was the great set from Rob Brown Quartet, which featured Rob on alto sax, Craig Taborn on piano and a small synth, William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. What was surprising was not how good it was, since Rob's sets are always engaging, but that it didn't sound like any other set I've heard from him in the past. Right from the beginning, the quartet began with this great electric voodoo-like groove, completely mesmerizing us all. The sly, somewhat funky groove was provided by Gerald Cleaver, who blended the rhythmic attack of Tony Williams & Jack DeJohnette when they were playing with the electric Miles bands. Even Craig Taborn provided some that Herbie Hancock-like rolling piano and eerie synth sounds to the brew. Rob's Ornette-ish solo was the icing on the cake that pushed the quartet in to the stratosphere, building the intensity higher and higher. The next piece seemed to combine electric Miles with Prime Time Ornette and turn it into something new. I dug the way Rob held back, just playing a few notes at a time, letting the band simmer as things built in itensity. Craig took an amazing, powerful two handed solo that pushed the intensity even higher. William provided that cosmic pulse that he does so well and waited until most of the way through the set to take one his best most spirited and inventive solos ever. Gerald Cleaver has become one of the best and most in-demand drummers in town and here showed why he is one of the greats. His solo was one of great craft and told a strong story as he concluded the spiritual vibe of the last piece. This set was one this fest's best and will not be forgotten for quite a longtime to come.
Another festival regular is the Billy Bang Quintet featuring Mr. Bang on violin, James Zollar on trumpet, Andrew Bemkey on piano, Todd Nicholson on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. Billy has been working on a three-album project based on his experiences and the music of Viet Nam. Two of these discs have already been released so far. His set began with some lovely trumpet and violin playing this enchanting eastern melody. The piano, trumpet and violin each take sublime solos. It is unique to hear a violin and trumpet frontline, but Billy and James sound consistently wonderful together. They both burn through the theme of the next piece together and Billy takes a smokin' solo. The late pianist John Hicks was a member of Billy previous Viet-Nam based projects, his recent passing, inspired Billy to dedicate the next song to him. It is a fine, fragile ballad that quite beautiful. The final piece again smokes with more outstanding solos from Billy, James and Andy, as well as strong rhythm team work from Todd and Newman.
The final set of the night is another unexpected treat, a duo with the great Henry Grimes on bass and a poet named Sekou Sundiata. I had not heard of Mr. Sundiata before this, so I was truly knocked out by his performance. His poems were consistently fascinating, thoughtful and both humorous and enlightening simultaneously. I found Mr. Grimes to be more supportive than usual and there was a strong balance of push and pull throughout the set. As Henry reached for his bow, he reached down deep inside to orchestrate the incisive points that Sekou made throughout the set. You had to listen closely to hear all of the fascinating ideas that Sekou came up with. Both of these men were/are great storytellers and worked superbly together. There was one poem that I found both hilarious and revealing, as Mr. Sundiata gave a long list of the many types of "niggers" that exist. This set was a fine way to end day four.
Saturday, June 17th, was another of the annual double headers with a set during the day, as well as at night. I missed the four sets during the day since I had to work at the store, but my friend Michel Levasseur who runs the Victoriaville festival did attend and mentioned that he dug the sets by Matana Roberts and Ras Moshe. I missed the panel about the rebuilding of New Orleans and would've liked to attend that as well.
The first set that night was yet another of this festival's highlights: Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite featuring Steve on trombone & compositions, Sabir Mateen on reeds, John Blum on piano, Matt Heyner on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums. This was indeed one of the most intense and explosive sets of this year's fest. The band was on fire some the first note and my man, Sabir Mateen, erupted on the first solo on alto sax, the impressive rhythm team kicking hard underneath Sabir's screaming sax. Matt Heyner opened the next piece with some mysterious bowed bass, and soon the theme evolved with a most memorable melody and superb slow burning solos from Steve's trombone and Sabir's tenor sax. Sabir's solo started out softly and soon built to boiling point. The third piece had one of those enchanting South African-like gospelish themes that we all love so dear, with the under-recognized John Blum playing another of his great piano solos. Both Steve on trombone and Sabir on various reeds took a number of impressive solos throughout this fine set. This is, without a doubt, one of the finest bands to emerge from the downtown scene in many years, check out their new disc on Not Two for further proof.
Another of the more highly anticipated sets was from Roscoe Mitchell's (new) Chicago Quartet, which featured Roscoe on reeds, Corey Wilkes on trumpets, Harrison Bankhead on bass and Vincent Davis on drums. Roscoe Mitchell, who also leads the legendary Art Ensemble of Chicago of which Corey Wilkes is a current member, as well as leading a quite few different bands. The set began with Roscoe playing some eerie, minimal soprano sax hat that constantly built in intensity as Corey matched wits with him, eventually erupting with his fire-breathing choice of trumpets. Each of Roscoe's sax solos, show his immense prowess and way of twisting notes inside-out. Harrison Bankhead is one the finest bassists in Chicago and is powerful and a constant source of inspiration throughout set and works well with the new (to me) drummer, Vincent Davis. This set was a bit overwhelming at times, since Roscoe likes to push things further and further out. I look forward to their new double disc on Rogue Arts, due out very soon.
The next set was again from the opposite extreme, an acoustic duo with Joe Morris on guitar and Barre Phillips on contrabass. Both of these players come from much different backgrounds and projects. Although both are strong improvisers, Joe tends towards quick streams of notes while Barre is more nimble and minimal in the choice of notes or sounds he uses. They began quietly, playing only a couple of notes a time, slowly bending notes toward each other. Barre is a master of bowing and made some strange sounds as he bowed his bass with the wood side and the hair side. It was a most dream-like set, skeletal and spacious. One section featured Barre just tapping with the bow on the strings in different way as Joe plucked the strings below the bridge. The response to this set was opposing view-points: some thought it was indulgent and boring, while others thought it was thoughtful and enchanting, my feelngs were somewhere in between. It was again one of those sets where the big stage, quiet playing and large audience made it difficult to concentrate.
Another fine set that was out of the downtown tradition was by Jason Hwang's Edge. This version of Edge featured Jason Kao Hwang on violin & compositions, Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpets, Ken Filiano on bass and Andrew Drury on drums. Mr. Hwang is an early member of the downtown scene & has been in numerous, diverse projects throughout his two decade career. From Commitment, the Far East Side Band & the C.T. String Quartet, to current trios with The Gift (William Hooker & Roy Campbell) to Trio Tarana (w/ Ravish Momin & Shanir Blumenkranz). Braxton collaborator, Taylor Ho Bynum, is one of the freshest new voices on trumpet and the perfect man to play the challenging music of Jason Hwang's great quartet. The first piece erupted quickly with the violin and cornet swirling quickly around one another, navigating Jason's difficult changes with ease. Former Seattle based drummer, Andrew Drury, is another downtown's under-recognized heroes and plays superbly thoughout the set, his mallet playing especially inventive. Former L.A. contrabass great, Ken Filiano, is also the right man for the job, as he shows he has a variety of interesting ideas and supportive sounds. One piece has each player doing something very different, as Ken plays a deep bass drone, Taylor plays some twisted muted flugel, Jason plucks his strings percussively and Andrew bangs on his cymbals which are placed upon each drum. Sections of this set are closer to modern chamber music than jazz, so many surprises are in-store. A number of these pieces work with splintered rhythms, the quartet is broken in duos that lock in with each other then switch roles. They end the set with an old downtown piece by Commitment which once included William Parker & Jason Hwang. This piece was filled with haunting harmonies, and with the violin and trumpet playing delicately together. It was a prayer-like work and a fine conclusion to an excellent set.
The final set of the night was for many the most talked about set of this year's fest, it was the return of By Any Means, which featured Charles Gayle on alto sax, William Parker on contrabass and Rashied Ali on drums. Over the past few years, free/jazz sax master, Charles Gayle, has switched over to alto sax and piano, no longer playing his tenor sax live. He also seems to record and play live less frequently, making each performance more special. This particular trio made just one disc, the great 'Touchin' on Trane' on FMP from 1991 and hasn't played live in many years. Patricia Parker persuaded them to do it again and this was an incredible set, from start to finish. Charles has changed over the years and played more lyrically and with less fire than is his heydays. This gave William Parker more space to burn, playing faster and more intensely than ever. William's powerful playing pushed Rashied to play even more intensely and both musicians swirled together in tight waves. Charles takes his time to build his jagged lines, bending notes here and here, never pushing it too far. About midway through the set, the trio plays a haunting ballad, so slow and mesmerizing. Charles' tone on his alto is so close to a human cry, that it reaches out exquisitely to touch everyone there listening closely, making each note count. It is the cosmic cry for humanity that reaches so deep inside all of us. For the final piece the trio again begins burnin' and takes us with them on a giant ride to the stars. It is the perfect set and many folks are still talking about it.
Sunday, June the 18th was the final day of Vision Fest XI and it began early at about 5pm. The first set was a fine trio with Miya Masaoka on koto and laser koto, Sylvie Courvoisier in piano and Peggy Lee on cello. Again, this was a mixed group with three women from very different backgrounds. Koto virtuoso, Miya Masaoka moved here from the Bay area in recent years, is now married to George Lewis and they had their first child together. Swiss-born piano explorer now lives here with Mark Feldman, they both work with John Zorn & have a couple of discs out as a duo. Vancouver-based cello wiz, Peggy Lee has worked with Dave Douglas, the Now Orchestra and is involved with Dylan Van Der Schyff. This trio began an all-acoustic one and were most enchanting throughout their delightful set. All three work with extended techniques on their respective instruments and are fascinating to watch as well as listen to. Ms. Lee bowed her cello with both sides of her bow, both plucking and strumming her strings. Sylvie remains the master of working inside the piano with assorted objects and pieces of tapes, and is never less that astonishing. Miya also consistently comes up with wonderful sounds on here acoustic koto, as well as her strange looking laser koto. This set again shows the diversity and freshness of strong, magical improv that isn't necessarily jazz-based.
New Orleans native and tenor sax master/blaster, Kidd Jordan was up next and was joined by two of his longtime cohorts, Joel Futterman on piano, Alvin Fielder on drums. as well as another great bassist that he has played with on many occasions, William Parker. This quartet was burnin' it up right from the beginning of the set. Kidd Jordan has his own sound as he squeals and squawks on his trusty tenor sax. Mr. Futterman is another of the incredible unsung heroes of avant/jazz piano. Joel produces dense rolling waves and his big hands bouncing up and down the length of the piano. William Parker takes one of those intense bowed bass solos that had some folks screaming for more and Mr. Fielder took a great drum solo that displayed off his immense percussive prowess. When the drum solo ended, the quartet, again built from the bottom on up and unleashing waves upon waves. Different duos emerge and join forces, first the bass and drums erupt together as the piano and sax also explode together, creating a storm of colossal forces. They finally sail back down to the earth with for a lovely, sublime bowed bass segment, as Kidd squeals quietly, assembling fragments, a few at a time, most melodically.
Festival organizer and dancer, Patricia Parker, was next and was accompanied by a fine trio of Joseph Jarman on flute, William Parker on bass and assorted Afican instruments and Hamid Drake also on various percussion instruments. Patricia combined dance and some spoken word, as well as giving us something to think about. The trio switched off on every piece with one fine trio playing flute, sintir (4 string African acoustic thing) and tablas. Much of this music was quite lovely and had a most spiritual/natural vibe. At one point both Patricia and Hamid were chanting and it evoked some ancient, peaceful spirits that touched all who were in attendance.
Master free/jazz drummer Whit Dickey plays almost every year at the Vision Fest and always has something new to deal with. This year, his new group featured Daniel Levin on cello and Matt Moran on vibes. It began quietly with just a skeletal trio slowly building a well-balanced web of activity. With no bassist to be found, Daniel Levin often plucked basslines on his cello. Matt softly bowed his vibes, creating eerie drones. Even when the tempo began to speed up, it never became too dense of frenetic. This was a most well-balanced and completely cerebral trio. Nothing like the explosive Whit Dickey sets of previous years.
The final set of this year's Vision Fest was the most anticipated of all, the final US performance by the great David S. Ware Quartet. When it was first announced that this was to be their final appearance, we got a great deal of e-mail from fans around the world wondering how could this great band come to an end. According to Matt Shipp, 17 years is a long time and it is time for the group to move on. Mr. Ware would like to do more recording with strings and both Matt & William are quite busy with dozens of other projects. Ware did some acting in France last year as well, so perhaps his or their time has finally come to do something else. Orsensanz was packed for this set and there was a great feeling that something special was about to happen. Perhaps we expected too much. The first piece began with solo tenor sax, followed by a solemn, gospel/blues-like them from the rest of the trio. It was an elegant, memorable theme and quietly hypnotic. For the second piece, Ware took another long solo tenor intro, full of bluster and restrained fire. Again the trio plays by themselves faster and freer, but they are not really connecting with Mr. Ware. Very strange. Matt was most impressive, playing layers of dark chords with more hushed passages. When Matt laid out, David soloed more intensely with just the bass and drums, the temperature starting to rise. Finally, for the third piece, the quartet erupts together with the piano and sax pushing each other higher and higher as the bass and drums also ascend together. The next piece begins with dream-like bowed bass and hushed, lovely piano. It slowly builds in tempo and intensity, remaining as just a duo. The next piece is another great quartet piece, that I recognize from an earlier Ware CD. The melody is one that you can never forget and David takes a dark yet beautiful sax solo. The last piece of the set is a prayer-like song, with the piano rumbling dark chords as David takes a soulful, warm and enchanting solo on tenor. The encore is an odd choice, which erupted quickly, then stopped and started again. The piece is filled with fractured moments, explosive, yet incomplete. It is almost as if the Ware Quartet doesn't want to really let go and give up the spirit completely. It was a most historic set, with some brilliant moments, yet there was something unresolved. Word is that the David S. Ware Quaret will play a few festivals in Europe this year, before they give up the ghost completely.
Was the 11th Annual Vision Festival the best one yet?! Hard to say, since every year has so many memorable sets. This year was, for me, the most consistent one that I can remember. There were no really bad sets with just a couple of disappointments. I caught some 30 sets this year and a third of them were pretty f**king amazing! I think that Patricia and her crew have found a great balance between the various strands of modern jazz, with local heroes and musicains from across the US & Canada, as well as some of our European brethren, plus a handful of fine dancers and poets, an impressive amount of visual art and historic photos and movies. It was a great source of pleasure to hang with our friends from around the world who find their way here for just that one-week out of year. Coming together like a great family reunion and celebrating the joy that this music and the other related arts can bring. There is good reason why this is called the Vision Festival, it is a vision of things to hope for when the times are too dark and hold us all down. So give praise to another extraordinary Visionary year and hope that the Vision Fest continues to shed some light in the future.
-- Bruce Lee Gallanter