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THE 12th ANNUAL VISION FESTIVAL - JUNE 19th - JUNE 24th, 2007
by BRUCE LEE GALLANTER
The annual Vision Fest is the most vital, most necessary and most diverse festival of New Jazz & Improvised Music, Dance and Art Work in the New York area. Folks come from around the planet to check out the sounds and sights and scents of this unique once a year experience at the Orensanz Center, a former old Synagogue on Norfolk Street in the Lower East Side. Every year I think that they will not be able to top the previous year and every year I leave satisfied with the state of creative music, art, dance and film presented over seven nights. As is often the case, I missed the opening night of films at Two Boots, since this is our night at DMG for our free music series. We did have our own celebration for my birthday with an amazing set from Lisle Ellis on contrabass and Louie Belogenis on tenor sax playing solos and duos here at DMG with some sushi & saki to go round.
My actual birthday is June 19th and this was the opening night of the Vision Fest at the Orensanz Center. This night began with an opening invocation featuring Patricia Parker doing dance & voice, William Parker on ethnic instruments and Hamid Drake on percussion. Patricia chanted a blessing and did some odd vocal things while William played that gimbri (African bass) and Hamid played his trusty frame drum. It was a lovely, enchanting groove that flowed nicely over all of us and a fine way for our festival to begin.
The second set was a world premiere of William Parker's "Double Sunrise Over Neptune" for a large 16-piece orchestra. It was a most ambitious work that was partially marred by sound problems and perhaps needed a bit more work to refine its multi-leveled layers. The instrumentation was unique and included 3 saxes, 2 double reeds (Bill Cole & William Parker), four strings, oud, banjo, two basses and two drummers, plus a fabulous Indian woman vocalist who was one the evening's highlights. The piece was one long work that developed a handful of themes. It had a middle Eastern/Indian sort of sound and evolved and repeated like a raga. Rob Brown took one of the most lyrical and breathtaking of all on his alto sax and later traded lines with the Indian vocalist, adding even more magic to the piece. William left the bass duties to the young but ambitious Shayna Dulberger, while William played some fine kora in the second half. This piece needs to evolve even more and in a good studio situation will show another side to William Parker's already full plate of diverse musical successes.
Fieldwork currently features Vijay Iyer on piano, Steve Lehman on alto sax and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, all leaders in their own right. Fieldwork is certainly one of the best trios to emerge from the downtown scene in a while and they continue to evolve and change. Their set suffered a bit from the sound/balance but they still worked their intense magic. They started out with that wonderful M-Base like tight, fractured groove that they do so well, all three musicians swirling intricately together. For the next piece and the rest of the set the trio slowed down and showed a much different side to their excursions. The pieces were almost done in slow motion with Steve stretching out each notes carefully as Vijay played similar notes with his right hand, while Tyshawn played tightly with Vijay's left hand. Each piece would build slowly into a controlled storm. The trio seemed to orbit around one another in inter-connected spheres. Listening to this music at a slower pace was fascinating as we could listen to each note closely as the themes evolved. Their set was very much different from the their set at the Victo set last year which was much quicker and intense on another level.
The next set was another unexpected delight and filled with surprises. Piano great and home-made instrument maker, Cooper-Moore, presented his new "Keyboard Project", but Cooper-Moore only played some occasional electric keyboard, doing a great deal more singing and band-leading. His band featured Assif Tshar & Darius Jones on saxes, Willie Applewhite ( ?) on trombone, Nioka Workman on cello, Chad Taylor on drums and was joined by a strange woman named Marlies Yearby doing dance and some weird vocals. The set started with Cooper-Moore belting out a version of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child", first unaccompanied and then backed by the band playing some great gospel/blues type of riffs. The up & coming new saxist, Darius Jones, who we've heard with Wiliam Hooker and others, played a soulful solo while Cooper-Moore played organ lines on his keyboard. For the next piece Ms. Yearby did an odd spastic dance with equally twisted vocal sounds as the band played some great funk licks. For the entire set, Cooper-Moore had the band playing like a soul revue with some funky solos by Darius and Assif on saxes. Cooper-Moore returned to the refrain that "Jazz is a motherless child" and poking fun of the word « jazz », which seemed most appropriate since this festival and the simultaneous JVC "Jazz" fest uptown are both not really or exclusively jazz by anyone's definition. This was one of the most fun sets that I can remember at The Vision Fest in many moons.
The first evening ended with an intense and a bit controversial set from Marc Ribot's Spiritual Unity, a tribute to the late sax titan & composer Albert Ayler. This incredible quartet features Marc Ribot on electric guitar, Roy Campbell on various trumpets, Henry Grimes on double bass & violin and again Chad Taylor on drums. Mr. Ribot did turn his guitar up a bit, hence some complaints from the jazz-snobs in the audience, but the sound was soon balanced so that the entire quartet could be heard blasting away together as one powerful unit. The band name is well chosen from the title of a great tune by Albert Ayler and their music does have that "spiritual", uplifting and often an overwhelming quality at times. As Mr. Grimes bowed his bass with power and passion he blended just right with Chad Taylor's masterful drums while Ribot & Campbell both bent their notes together into a furious storm of high energy. Ribot does have a way of twisting his notes inside-out, reminding me of the way Ayler screamed and bent notes on his sax. When Mr. Grimes took out his newly acquired violin, I wasn't sure it was a good idea, but he did scrape and scratch some odd notes that fit well with Ayler's alien music. There was one piece near the end that had a hushed and solemn vibe, with Ribot playing more of an acoustic sound on his guitar as Roy played some exquisite muted trumpet. One person wrote to me complaining that Marc's playing was too loud and disrespectful to the spirit of Albert Ayler, but I beg to differ. For me, it did capture the burning spirit Ayler's music just right.
The second night started with a poet named Barry Wallenstein with Daniel Carter and Kali Fasteau collaborating with him. I know of Mr. Wallenstein from the four discs he has on Cadence & Bleu Regard, but haven't heard any of these. Both Daniel Carter (various reeds & trumpet) and Kali Fasteau (reeds, piano, drums, etc.) are restless improvisers that like to switch between different axes. I dug Barry's words about the uselessness of war with Daniel playing some solemn alto sax, as well as the poem about the "spaceman" while Kali rubbed the strings inside the piano. Kali played some fine blues piano for one poem while Barry told a story about a classic car. I was touched by Barry's "Elegy for John Hicks", that described Mr. Hicks' playing so well. I was surprised that Wallenstein did a poem about the mythic Belle Starr called "Legend of the Wild West", backed by some fine bebop licks and realized that these poems could be taken in different ways, looked at from different angles, and that often things are not what they seem.
Bill Dixon, legendary trumpeter, composer and professor, was bestowed a "Lifetime Recognition Award" for this year's festival and is well deserving of this honor. As a reward for everyone in attendance, Mr. Dixon composed for, directed and performed an incredible world premiere with the all-star Sound Vision Orchestra. Their ranks featured Stephen Haynes, Graham Haynes & Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpets & cornet, JD Parran, Will Connell, Michel Cote, John Hagen & Andrew Raffo on reeds, Karen Borca on bassoon, Steve Swell & Dick Griffin on trombones, Glynis Lomon on cello, Joe Daley on tuba, Andrew Lafkas on acoustic bass and Warren Smith & Jackson Krall on percussion. The hour-long piece was one of the most serious, focused and evocative works I've ever heard. Mr. Dixon worked hard on stretching sonorities, slowly altering textures and layered harmonies and drones selectively upon one another. There were moments that were dense and a bit scary and times when he would twist different layers of the fabric into Xenakis-like webs. All three trumpeters got a chance to solo although some of their notes were ghost-like fragments. This piece had much more in common with the better works of modern classical composers than anything we've heard from most "jazz" composers. What amazed me was the way Mr. Dixon was able to control the flow, density and various substructures that were going on simultaneously. Word is that this piece was recorded and hopefully we will all get a chance to hear it again so that we have time to absorb many of the fibers that make up its grand tapestry.
The next set was supposed to be a duo with Marilyn Crispell on piano and Henry Grimes on bass, but the great Rashied Ali was added on drums as well. Mr. Grimes introduced the first piece and said it was an old piece written by Bill Dixon. Mr. Grimes started with a violin solo, an instrument he has recently been working with and it soon became a soft free-flowing trio piece with Marilyn playing harp-like sounds on the piano. It was dreamy and quite lovely to behold, slowly going further out as it evolved, eventually becoming more explosive near the end. I loved the way this set was both free and lyrical at the same time, a direction that Ms. Crispell has been going in for the past few years. Marilyn, who has long been influenced by John Coltrane, has played a number of his pieces throughout her long career, sounds connected to the wonderful rhythm flow that Rashied provides. Rashied Ali, of course, was Coltrane's last drummer before Trane's passing in 1967 and this trio does a great job of evoking that free/spiritual stream that Trane and his collaborators helped to invent.
The final set of the second night was Joe McPhee's Survival Unit II featuring Fred Lonberg Holm on cello & electronics, Michael Zerang on drums & percussion and Joe McPhee on sax & trumpet. What this trio has in common is that each one is a member of Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet. You could tell that Fred and Michael have played together at length since they were often connected to a similar undertow or current the flowed through the music. Albert Ayler has long been an inspiration to Joe McPhee, hence I was reminded of Ayler's spirit and sound as McPhee played tenor sax, often sputtering multiphonic sounds while Fred created buzzing waves on his cello. Fred enjoyed sampling and distorting sounds from his cello and manipulating the feedback. I dug Fred's varied sounds and approached to playing his cello, but not so much the electronic sounds he dealt with too often. Michael Zerang is a completely unique percussionist and the most musical member of this trio for this set. His playing often moved in slow motion and he fused melodies and rhythmic fragment together. McPhee has a way of creating cries at the center of his free terrain and then finding a lyrical fragment to repeat over and over. Joe ended with some haunting wind sounds on his flugelhorn as Fred twisted his strings and Michael rubbed the heads of his drums with strange objects, bringing the set to a grand conclusion.
I missed Tribes (poets from NY) and The Weavers (poets from France) on Thursday since it started too early for me at 6pm. I did get there in time to catch the highly anticipated set by Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble from Chicago. Ms. Mitchell is a great flute player, composer, bandleader and secretary for the AACM. Her nine-piece unit featured David Boykin on sax, David Young on trumpet, Justin Dillard on piano, Tomeka Reed on cello, Mankwe Ndosi on vocals, Josh Abrams on bass and Arveeayl Ra & Marcus Evans on drums. Like each of Nicole's three great discs, this set embraced a variety of styles and influences. This was truly spirit music, uplifting and full of grace and passion. Many of the pieces began with a skeletal structure: spooky vocalese drifts on circular waves of flute, sax, trumpet with soft waves of piano, bass and two percussionists. It was often rather Sun Ra-like, yet it was never too far out, it was calmly cosmic. Sometimes I wished that there was more going on but it did unfold organically and everyone got a chance to take a fine solo.
Hard Cell is one of the half dozen bands that Tim Berne works with each is special in their own way. Hard Cell features Tim Berne on alto sax, Craig Taborn on keyboards (piano for this set) and Tom Rainey on drums. Hard Cell is a unique band and sound unlike any other band. The first piece began with Tim Berne creating circular fractures, slowly repeating and building lines one layer at a time. Craig also build his lines slowly on the piano, accenting certain notes and inter-connecting with Tim's circular lines of attack. All three players circle one another in a constantly shifting orbit that surrounds each one, yet there is a constant thread that holds them tightly together which is not always visible but is often subliminal. Each piece built more intensely and more dramatically until you felt as if they were about to explode. It was one of the best sets of the entire fest and showed that Tim Berne, who plays in this, his home turf not that often, is still one of the local giants, his bands a strong force to be dealt with time and again.
Local Lingo is a new duo that has played together for years in other formations like the Far East Side Band, and features Jason Hwang on violin and Sang Won Park (also in Invite the Spirit) on kayagum, ajang & voice. Both of these men are great soloists and love to push themselves into unexpected situations. Sang Won Park is Korean and plays two instruments, the kayagum & the ajang, which look like smaller kotos and are more bowed than plucked. They played songs with Eastern-sounding melodies, sometimes solemn yet lovely as well as bending and twisting their notes into strange barbed pieces. It was a nice change to hear Sang singing what sounded like more traditional sounding songs which felt spiritual and were mixed with bluesy melodies. This duo blended ancient (sounding) songs with more modern improvisations and created something quite different.
The evening closed with an incredible set from poetess Jayne Cortez and the Firespitters. Ms. Cortez was once married to Ornette Coleman and her bands always include her son Denardo Coleman on drums with Bern Nix on electric guitar, Alex Harding on bari sax, Bill Cole on double reeds and Al McDowell on electric bass. Considering this band includes three members of Ornette's great Prime Time band (Al, Bern & Denardo), the music does have that wonderful harmelodic funk/rock/jazz hybrid sound. It was mighty nice to hear some dynamic solos from Bern Nix, Alex Harding and Bill Cole, as well as the slamming rhyhthm team grooves of Al & Denardo. But best of all was the oustanding fire-spitting words and delivery by Jayne Cortez , who is one of the finest poets we have. Ms. Cortez words were so sharp, so powerful, so real that they always rang true and pointed the hypocrasy and unnecesary violence of modern society, especially of things here in the US and the way the world views us. Ms. Cortez was on the most captivating poets I've ever heard. I guess it's time to check out some of her great discs.
Friday, June 22 began with an incredible tribute entitled, '50 Violins for Leroy Jenkins'. An early member of the AACM, Leroy Jenkins, played violin unlike anyone else and was a member of The Revolutionary Ensemble, a legendary avant/jazz trio that formed in the late sixtes, recorded five albums and broke up in the seventies only to reunite and play a previous Vision Fest just a few years back. Mr. Jenkins passed away earlier this year and left many of us saddened by his loss. He played a fine duo set with a dancer at last year's Vision Fest. This memorial piece was an extraordinary work that was coordinated by Jason Hwang and led by Billy Bang. The assembled orchestra included heavy-weights like Charles Burnham, Mark Feldman, Henry Grimes (on violin), Ron Lawrence, David Soldier, Tomas Ulrich, Reggie Workman and Ken Filiano. The music was breathtaking, beautiful, dream-like, delicate and sublime in places and transcendant like a movie score that washes over us in cosmic waves. Highlights included an intense duet with Jason Hwang and Henry Grimes. It was, however, the entire sound of an orchestra that was crying, buzzing and triumphant in their sound that brought tears to my eyes and brought everyone together into one large connected family.
Multi-trumpet master, Roy Campbell, premiered a new work called the « Ahkenaten Suite » and I must admit that it didn 't sound like anything else I've heard from Roy. Roy's new quintet featured Billy Bang on violin, Roy on trumpets, Bryan Carrott on vibes, Hill Greene on bass and Zen Matsuura on drums. The sound of the quintet was much like an early 70's Blue Note date, and always swinging infectiously. What made it different from other projects by Roy was how melodic and charming it was. One piece had a theme that reminded me of «Sketches of Spain » by Miles, while another song, composed by Billy Bang, had an Eastern vibe. There were a number of superb solos from Roy on trumpets, Billy Bang on violin and Bryan on vibes. The rhythm team of Bryan on vibes, Hill Greene on bass and Zen Matsuura on drums were excellent throughout the set. I recall Mr. Matsuura from loft jazz gigs in the 70's and wondered why we don't hear from him very much nowadays, since he's that good! This was one of the most enchanting sets of this fest and I know folks will be looking forward to a disc of this lovely, radiant music.
Another one of this year's highlights was a a devastating solo piano performance by Matt Shipp. Matt released a solo piano disc on Thirsty Ear almost two years and has been touring around the US, Europe and Canada and playing a slew of solo sets. This set was the culmination of a few years work, refining and expanding different themes that Matt has been working on. It began with notes that were solemn, dreamy and haunting, as Matt slowly bought in darker chords. There were often two streams moving at the same time, one somewhat melodic and one more dense and probing. There was one recurring theme that kept coming back in the undertow beneath the waves that Matt kept weaving. One melodic current would rise and then submerge as Matt would let other waves erupt intensely. Matt did a beautiful job of balancing a few different layers, you had to listen close to hear how fragments were related to the different themes that were developed throughout. Towards the end, there was a section that was most majestic as Matt would exquisitely combine a few different themes simultaneously. It was another set that had folks remarking how wonderful it really was.
Patricia Parker's 'A State of Mind' was one of the most unique and successful sets at this fest and combined dance, music and projected artwork in a completely distinctive way. The entirity of the large Orensanz space was used in a most distinctive way. Each of four dancers (Miriam Parker, Julia Wilkins, Gus Solomon & Patricia Parker) and each of four musicians (Lewis Barnes, Rob Brown, William Parker & Hamid Darke) were set up in different places, sometimes strolling slowly around the room, sometimes standing in the corner of the second floor playing solos like Lewis and Rob did. Images were also projected on the big screen above the stage as well as onto the dancers as they moved around. The dancers were also using the railings on the second floor to dance with. Most often one dancer and one musician would do as duet at the same time. Rob sounded very Dolphy-like during his great solo and Hamid played frame drum, as William also played that four-string African instrument. In the last section, all four musicians and all four dances combined forces on stage and worked together in an incredibly focused way.
The final set of the night for me was another winner, Fred Anderson, Harrison Bankhead and Hamid Drake, a Chicago all-star trio that has been playing together for quite awhile. First, Mr. Anderson began with a fine solo tenor sax intro that set the pace for rest of the set, slowly burning as he began to bring us higher. The rest of the trio soon erupted and took off for outer regions. You could tell that Harrison's probing acoustic bass and Hamid's drums were completely together as one hard swinging force, building it up as an Africa/jazz-like force of nature. Harrison Bankhead's bass solo was astonishing and left many of aghast. Equally amazing were Hamid's masterful drumming, swinging, soaring and building up a rhythmic storm that was a joy to behold. Fred Anderson is the elder stateman of the Chicago avant/jazz scene and was a perfect match for this amazing rhythm team. The set was a bit long, but did build to an incredible crescendo at the end, leaving us all smiling and happy to be alive. I sadly missed the last set from Myra Melford's Spindrift, another tribute to her friend & bandmate Leroy Jenkins. I heard it was stunning.
Unfortunately, I also missed the Saturday afternoon performances since I had to mind the store. It was an intriquing line-up that I would've loved to check out : Michael Bisio Quartet (new disc on CIMP is swell), Synergy w/ Saco Yasuma (fine new saxist & composer w/ her own great new CD), Ras Moshe, Dave Ross, Chris Sullivan & Lou Grassi + Amir Bey doing the costumes ; Braxton collaborators Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone and Corey Wilkes Quintet. Corey is the newest member of the Art Ensemble and an incredible trumpet player.
The Saturday evening performance was hosted by poet David Budbill and commenced with Ganelin Trio Priority. This was the American debut of the new Ganelin Trio featuring their founder Vyacheslav « Slava » Ganelin on piano, synth & percussion, Petras Vysniauskas (Greece) on soprano sax and Klaus Kugel (Germany) on drums & percussion. The original Ganelin Trio was an amazing and legendary trio and perhaps the first Russian avant-garde musicians to tour the US and elsewhere. I caught them at Town Hall many moons ago and was knocked out. Slava Ganelin now lives in Israel and has put together another superb trio of excellent improvisers. They began quietly with some delicate piano and built in intensity and creative spirit. All three members of the trio are powerful performers and combined their talents just right. Petras is a virtuoso on soprano sax and weaved both lyrical and serpent-like lines, balancing between Slava's piano and Klaus' masterful drums. Slava used his synth sparingly, creating different colors and tones often as he played piano or pecussion with his other hand. Although this music was obviously « free », it didn't sound that way, as the trio always worked together as one connected force. « Beautiful, deep and cosmic » is what is written in my notes.
My good friend and legendary trumpet hero, Eddie Gale, was up next and had an incredible line-up for this fest : Prince Lasha on bari & soprano saxes, Kidd Jordan on tenor sax, Eddie Gale on trumpet & direction, Valerie Mih on piano, William Parker on bass and Alvin Fielder on drums with Patricia Parker on dance. Prince Lasha (pronounced « Lashay ») is a legendary west coast saxist who has worked Sonny Simmons, Eric Dolpy & Elvin Jones in the sixties and seemed to have disappeared until Odeon Pope had him sit in with Odeon's Sax Choir at the Blue Note a couple years back. Many folks thought that he was dead. Eddie Gale put together his All-Star Band for a special performance in San Jose, where he lives and which was filmed for a DVD release which is now available. When Mr. Gale played at the Vision Fest two years ago, he brought with him an amazing group of mostly lesser known players from the Bay Area. This time he brought just pianist Valerie Mih from that group and selected all of these members for an another incredible performance. Beginning with a lovely piano intro with eerie bowed bass and simmering cymbals, Kidd Jordan started slowly burning on his tenor, as Alvin Fielder switched to some rich mallet work. Patricia's dancing well-matched the spirited sounds emenating from the stage. Both Eddie Gale on muted trumpet and Prince Lasha on baritone, took sublime, bluesy solos. « Love is All » was next and it was a smokin' uptempo piece with inspired solos from Eddie, a Trane-like soprano solo by Prince Lasha and a burning tenor solo from Kidd Jordan. Prince Lasha composed a lovely ballad called « Take Time to Feel », which featured a touching bari solo from Prince while Kidd Jordan and William Parker (on bowed bas) played haunting sounds behind the bari sax. The set concluded with the explosive « High Ton Emergency », which featured an amazing, powerful solo from Kidd Jordan, as well as an Eddie Gale solo that had folks screaming for more ! What a triumpant set ! Check Eddie Gale's new DVD if you weren't there for a similar jolt of spirit music.
Longtime downtown alto sax hero, Rob Brown, is someone who continues to surprise us since each of his performances and projects are so different. For this set, his quartet featured Rob on alto sax, Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Todd Nicholson on bass and Guillermo E. Brown on drums & laptop. The first piece was an odd, melodic yet freely improvised thing that swung in spots. The next piece was quite unexpected, it began with eerie electronics (laptop) from Guillermo as Todd played some equally strange sounds on his bowed bass. Rob & Lewis played a series of bizarre bent notes that worked well with the unsettling soundscape created by the bass and computer. Next was a fine duet for alto sax and trumpet that showed how well these two players work together. Eventually Todd added a rather funky bassline as Guillermo kicked it in with a second-line beat. I dug the way Gillermo put upside-down cymbals on each of his toms and created a twisted groove while playing on these cymbals. The groove sounded almost South African and was quite memorable as Rob played the final, spirited alto sax solo. This set sounded unlike any other set I've heard from Rob Brown and different from any other set at this fest.
Free'jazz drum great, Whit Dickey's trio was next and featured Sabir Mateen on saxes, flute and clarinet, Todd Nicholson on bass and Whit on drums & directions. Whit began with a great ritualistic, free drum solo that was a multi-rhythmic storm as he spun quickly and intensely. The mighty Sabir Mateen has become of the most dynamic and intense of all avant/jazz reeds heroes in NY over the past decade and never ceases to amaze us at any of his many gigs. As Whit spun furiously, Sabir slowly began burning on tenor sax, the trio trio soaring together as they escalated skywards. Over the past few years, bassist Todd Nicholson has also been coming into his own playing with Billy Bang in various bands, as well as with Ras Moshe's fine two bass quartet. Todd sounded splendid through this set, holding the center together and taking a few superb bowed and plucked bass solos. Each section of this set featured Sabir on a different instrument, playing a poignant flute solo and later an incredible clarinet solo. Whit is a master of giving direction by keeping things flowing, using different dynamics and rhythmic schemes for each segment of the set. When Sabir switches to alto clarinet, the trio gets into a hypnotic middle-eastern groove. For me, this set is like the history of modern or free jazz and it was completely captivating throughout the length of the set.
The final set of this night started late, so I didn't get to hear the entire thing. It featured two great jazz poets, Amiri & Amina Baraka and their band Blue Ark. Their all-star group featured Rene McLean on tenor sax, Steve Colson on piano, Curtis Lundy on bass and Pheeroan AkLaff on drums. They opened with a fine version of Miles' « All Blues » with strong words from Mrs. Baraka, « Blues Was a Woman », descibing the various ways the a woman's life is often filled with the blues. Amiri Baraka was once known as Leroi Jones and has long been one of the best of all living jazz poets. His words are still thoughtful, provocative, honest, intense, forthright, in-your-face and describe the trials and tribulations of jazz musicians from the sixties onwards. I dug the way the band played a series of jazz standards and groove-songs so that we all could hear the wise words of both of these fine wordsmiths.
Sunday, June 24th was the final day of this Vision Fest and it began early at 5pm. The first set was another debut of a new ensemble called the T.E.C.K. 4Tet which featured Tomas Ulrich on cello, Carlos Zingaro on violin, Elliott Sharp on acoustic guitar & dobro and Ken Filiano on bass. It was a rare opportunity to hear Portugese violinist Carlos Zingaro play in the US as well as to hear Elliott Sharp playing acoustic guitar at the Vision Fest. This was another one of those marvelous improvised sets that moved in unexpected directions and gave each of these four strong players a chance to solo and interact on a spirited level. Starting with a cosmic web of « out » strings, the violin, guitar, cello and bass, wove their notes around one another in a most startling way. Each piece began with one musician soloing, and all four players were able to stretch out and play powerful, provocative solos. Carlos had a large curved bow that used to bend his notes into twisted shapes and sounds. Each piece seemed to push the quartet further out, yet there was a thread that held them together : perhaps listening closely and responding quickly as they became one hive of activity. A couple of my friends remarked that they thought this was one this year's highlights and I have to agree that it was unique and often mind-blowing. This fabulous quartet has a new CD out on Clean Feed that we should have in stock soon.
The ever-incredible Hamid Drake put together a new unit for this year's fest which featured Paolo Angeli on his hand-made, prepared acoustic guitar, Sabir Mateen on various reeds, Patricia Parker on dance and Hamid Drake on drums & percussion. Paolo Angeli hails from Italy and plays this odd-looking prepared guitar that you must see to believe (check out his website at www.paoloangeli.it/). Paolo began by quietly plucking his strings as Hamid played some subtle grooves on his frame-drum. As Paolo switched to bowing his guitar-thing, Sabir concentrated on clarinet, as both players exchanged some frenzied playing while Hamid increased the tempo and intensity. Paolo has a small fan inside his guitar that rubs some the strings and gives a rhythmic pulse, as well as a foot pedal that also keeps an occasional beat. Patricia moves slowly around the stage and at one point let out a scream which Sabir imitated and answered quickly on his alto clarinet. Hamid eventually switched to his drum set and began swinging and building up to a joyous tempo as Sabir started wailing on tenor sax, squealing and soon screaming. Paolo puts some cards between his strings to give his guitar an odd rhythmic effect, plucking and tapping as Sabir makes equally strange sounds which fit well with Paolo's nimble tactics. Patricia adds her own vocal wackiness to the brew and they become a fine out quartet going in and out, in and out. Hamid does a consistent and splendid job of holding this unique band/set together by balancing the pulse and textures just right.
The next set featured a fine, unique trio with Roscoe Mitchell on soprano, sopranino, alto & flute, Thomas Buckner on vocals and Jerome Bourdellon on flutes & bass clarinet. This set was closer in sound to modern chamber music than avant/jazz and was quite successful. Although I am not much of a fan of operatic or even many jazz vocalists, I found Mr. Buckner's deep, expressive voice to fit well with the reed instruments at either side of him. I was unfamiliar Mr. Bourdellon except for two duo disc he has with Joe McPhee and Buckner, but I was most impressed by his playing throughout the set. Roscoe is still one of the best and most focused reeds wizrads alive and instantly established his authority by spinning layers of quick notes on his alto sax at an astonishing rate. Jerome often provided the bass role with low-end drones and slow rhythmic sounds on flute and bass clarinet. Roscoe has unstoppable source of ideas and energy that kept this set flowing and his partners on their toes. There was a point when Roscoe played alto & soprano at the same time and again set up some unusual harmonies for his collaborators.
The following set by the Daniel Levin Quartet was also closer to modern chamber music and had a third stream type of sound. Daniel's superb quartet featured Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Moran on vibes, Joe Morris on acoustic bass and Mr. Levin on cello. The first piece was delicate and calm, yet complex and filled with subtle ideas. The next piece was the complete opposite, it erupted with a furious flurry of intricate playing from the vibes and bass as the cello was plucked quickly and the trumpet played a series in intense, bent notes. Daniel's explosive cello solo was one of the high points of this set ! Daniel's compositions were well written and well thought out and were well executed by his great quartet. The next piece was a solemn, dream-like work for floating cello & trumpet as the vibes and bass added their hushed harmonies underneath. Daniel's slow motion cello solo was quite haunting while Joe Morris took a great bass solo in the second half of this piece. I dug the way Daniel often split the quartet in half by having the vibes and bass playing one theme and the cello & trumpet playing a different but inter-connected theme at the same time. The set ended with great version of « St. James Infirmary », which was sublime and it was an odd yet fitting way to conclude this great performance.
The final set on the final night of the 12th Annual Vision Fest was the much anticipated return of South African drum master Louis Moholo. Mr. Moholo is the last surviving member of the legendary Blue Notes who moved to France and then England in the mid-sixties and were extremely influential to this British modern jazz scene from then until today. A big surgence of interest in the Blue Notes, the Brotherhood of Breath and dozen of sessions with their members have paved the way for a host of reissues & unreleased discs from labels like Ogun, Atavistic, Steeplechase & DMG/ARC over the past decade plus. Louis has only been in the US a few times and had played at an earlier Vision Fest at the Knitting Factory, hence his appearances here are very rare.
For this set, Moholo was joined by an all-star quartet with Kidd Jordan on tenor sax, Dave Burrell on piano and William Parker on bass. The set started with a great duo of William & Louis playing softly together and building the tension as it moves to the next level. Louis has a unique way of holding his own hand-made drum-sticks and his own way of moving around the drums. Soon Dave Burrell and Kidd Jordan joined in and created an intense level of high energy. The playing for the entire quartet felt telepathic as they remained connected on some very high level. For many of us, this is the essense of what is known as 'free jazz', as each member blends and bends his sound and ideas together into a constant connected force. Louis was the focal point of this energy web and is the guiding force beneath the waves. He seems to reside somewhere between Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, as a drummer of authority. When he switched to mallets, he brought the energy down a notch, only to build it up again later. The second long piece opened with some cosmic bowed bass that only William Parker can provide as Kidd Jordan slowly began wailing and Dave Burrell began a stream of soft, sustained notes with one hand while the other picked up the tempo and pushed the quartet higher. Kidd Jordan's tenor playing was the most hypnotic and melodic that I can remember. The quartet ascended once again into a controlled frenzy and left us all astonished with their overwhelming spirits. When they finally concluded after about 40 minutes, the crowd roared and begged for more, knowing that they had witnessed something completely special. Someone decided that this is enough and perhaps it was. It was certainly an incredible set that no one in attendance will ever forget. It was a perfect conclusion for another great Vision Festival.
The 12th Annual Vision Festival was once again a triumphant success and again coincided with the over-hyped and over-priced JVC Fest uptown. While the JVC Fest featured more pop, blues and vocalists and mainly dealt with the big names & big draws, neither festival can claim to be a so-called « jazz « festival. The Vision Festival should be applauded and given credit for taking chances and putting together a most adventurous festival of diverse musics, dance, poetry and other artforms. It is called the Vision Fest because it does have a Vision of hope for a better world at the center and does a fine job of bringing together opened-minded listeners from around the world. Thanks once again to Patricia Parker, her staff, the volunteers, the musicians and other artists who were involved in this wonderful experience. Thanks for the cosmic medicine that you all provide which helps us to make it through the rest of another ridiculous year.
- Bruce Lee Gallanter from Downtown Music Gallery / July 12, 2007