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Vision Festival XV Review by Bruce Lee Gallanter
The fifteenth annual Vision Festival began during a hot spell in NYC on June 20th and ran for some 11 days and took place at a half dozen different locations. 11 days seems to be a bit too long for some folks, so a number of my friends decided to pick only a few nights of this massive event. As the diehard avant/jazz music fanatic that I am, I tried to take in as much as I could. As I still had to work five days a week from noon till 6, there was still quite a bit to look forward to. I missed the opening day afternoon series of poetry, spoken word and music solos & duos on Sunday, June 20th as well as a couple of outdoor sets with the Little Huey Sextet and Roy Campbell Trio at Campos Playground on the same day.
I did make it to the regular Monday night set at Local 269 for four mostly fine sets. The first set the Brad Farberman Ensemble, who were scheduled to do the last set but decided to go on first. The front-line featured Jason Hwang on violin, Chris Demeglio on trumpet and Brad Farberman on guitar. Although I heard a version of this band (without the rhythm team) play previously at DMG, I found their set of electric jazz/rock to be to not very interesting. Considering that the frontline included Jason Hwang of wah-wah violin and Chris DeMeglio on trumpet, both strong soloists, the music was pretty predictable. What's sad is that Brad's set at DMG was much better & showed that he is a gifted composer & guitarist. Perhaps if they played last like they were scheduled, some folks folks could've danced & had some fun.
Next up was the Darius Jones Trio featuring Darius on alto sax, Adam Lane on double bass and Jason Nazary on drums. Over the past couple of years, Darius Jones has emerged as thee local alto sax sensation to watch. His trio disc and work with Little Women (both on Aum Fidelity) remain some of the best discs of the last year. The trio paced their set incredibly well. From the slow and simmering opener, they kept on burnin' without overdoing anything. Darius kept bending these notes and stayed completely focused. The second piece kept changing tempos & dynamics in different sections while staying completely connected. Adam Lane is one the best bassists in town & was in fine form throughout this amazing set, taking a couple of spirited bass solos along the way. Darius' great alto tone moved between power, craft and passion. Whether blowing freely or playing a touching ballad near the end of the set, this was a most perfect trio.
For the past month or so, alto sax great Tim Berne has been busier than usual playing a half dozen sets with different bands & in varied improv situations. For this set Tim utilized longtime partner Herb Robertson on trumpets, valve trombone & assorted oddities, Philly's Matt Mitchell on electric keyboards and Dan Weiss on drums. Four musicians from diverse backgrounds. This was a complete improv situation with four players taking chances and searching for common ground. I was not sure that everything they did worked and it took a while to find different connections but there were a number of brilliant and demanding moments. What I dug most about this was that all four players took chances, experimenting in front of us and came up with some startling results. Both Tim & Herb used mutes to alter the sounds of their instruments coming up with some strange sounds. With no bassist at hand, Matt used his keyboard to both add some low end notes, insert some twisted electronic sounds and switch between electric piano and organ samples. There were moments when I was confused about what was going on or what would happen next but it felt exhilarating when it all came together.
The final set that night was by Crackleknob, a trio I love but have not heard in a long while. Crackleknob features Nate Wooley on trumpet, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Reuben Radding on acoustic bass. At the end of long, hot & sweaty night, after three other sets in the crowded and usually uncomfortably small confines of Local 269, Crackleknob were a breath of fresh air in numerous ways. Nate Wooley introduced the trio by saying that they hadn't played in a while, that their one & only CD was recorded some six years earlier but only released last year (on Hatology). Nate mentioned that this was the biggest crowd they had played for, considering there were perhaps 25 folks left. Like the previous set, their set was also completely improvised and extremely focused. There were moments when the trio came close to lower-case improv, especially when Nate used a small square piece of metal as a mute, Reuben tapped on the strings of his bass with his both or with his fingers and Mary played her own distinctive bent chords & pedals to turn those notes inside-out. The trio tossed around ideas quickly, completing each other's phrases and worked their way through a wide variety of styles or genres. Nate took one solo that started with more modern smears & bent notes and then reached back to some Louis Armstrong-like swinging lines before ending with notes plucked from different jazz & improv eras. Much of this set was quiet and often filled with suspense. The last piece was kicked off by Mary on solo guitar and showed how far she has come to be one of the most gifted & unique players around. She seems to have blended influences from many extremes - jazz, rock, folk, psych, noise & other streams too hard to pinpoint or describe. And at only 35 minutes, it was just the right length and a perfect way to close the evening.
I missed Day 3 which featured Frank London's Kali Krew and the Celestial Funk Band with Kidd Jordan, William Parker & Hamid Drake at Drom since I needed a little break before dealing with the next seven nights at the Abrons Center.
Day 4 featured six sets and pretty much ran on schedule which is rare for the Vision Fest. The Opening Ceremony featured some nine musicians including festival organizer Patricia Parker singing. It was short, spacey, somber, prayer-like jam with William Parker on gongs, Hamid Drake on frame drum and Cooper-Moore on a home-made 3-string banjo type of thing. I think it would've worked better if Patricia had some spoken words about the need for a Vision of Hope during these times, rather than singing. The set was short and a good way to start the night off.
The Blues Escaped was next & featured Roy Campbell on trumpets & flute, Kidd Jordan on tenor sax, Jason Hwang on violin, William Parker on bass & Hamid Drake on drums. This set started softly with some lovely muted trumpet, haunting tenor sax & subtle plucked violin and built into a great groove funky, slamming groove. The entire vibe of the set felt great and Roy, Kidd & Jason all took a number of wonderful solos a piece. The blues seemed to have escaped due to the joyous feeling that this music provides.
Pianist Matt Shipp and drummer Whit Dickey have been playing together in their individual groups as well as with David S. Ware in the early days for many years, although this is the first time I can recall them doing a duo set. Although it started off softly, there was an undercurrent of dark waves connecting these two old friends and collaborators. Matt does a fine job of setting up a theme and then exploring it fully while Whit creates circular patterns and sympathetic waves underneath. It seems obvious that these two musicians have been playing together for many years since we hear so many connected themes and variations flowing between the two of them. The one song I recognized that Matt worked into the set was "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again", which felt appropriate although I am unsure why that is.
Rob Brown's New Quartet features Rob on alto sax, Matt Moran on vibes, Chris Lightcap on acoustic bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. For just about every Vision Fest, Rob Brown brings another new project and each is one is quite different, yet consistently strong. This quartet has a most unique sound with Matt Moran taking the place of a pianist and also adding something new & unexpected. I was often reminded of Eric Dolphy's 'Point of Departure' (1964) which featured Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. Gerald Cleaver has become the favorite drummer of many discerning listeners in NY & elsewhere since he sounds so great in so many different situations. This quartet is tight and Rob's strong writing keeps them on their toes throughout. Besides taking a number of inspired solos, vibesman Matt Moran does a splendid job of supporting Rob and playing great interconnected ideas with the bass & drums. When the quartet slows down for a desert like piece, Matt bows his vibes to great effect to get that suspense-filled aura. One piece has two duos doing separate yet connected lines together: the vibes & alto going one way while the bass & drums go another way and all ending up on the same page together. Another piece has Rob slowly twisting each note one at a time while Matt shadows him on marimbas. For me it was indeed a perfect set & I would hope it will be released in the future for further investigation.
Patricia Parker Nicholson is perhaps a dancer first as well as the Vision Fest organizer, at least I think she has been studying/doing dance before she turned to organizing. She has made sure that the Vision Fest presents dance & other visual arts along or with the music, which is often under-appreciated by those attending. This set featured the duo of Patricia dancing with Matt Shipp on piano. Since this is the only time during the year that I get a chance to check out any serious dancing, I always give it a chance and try to appreciate or understand what the dancer(s) are doing or trying to convey. For this set, it seemed as if Matt were laying back and playing in a more restrained way. His playing was even sparse at times and often more elegant than I've seen or heard in the past. Matt kept his eye on Patricia and often responded with his most lyrical and reflective playing. Watching Patricia, I got the feeling that she was tired and had the weight of the world on her shoulders, a feeling I know well since the the last couple of years have been so difficult spiritually, personally and financially for many of us. Dancing is way to shake off the chains that hold us all down to the earth and it seemed as if Patricia were trying to break those chains.
The final set of Day 4 was truly triumphant. It was the return of William Parker's In Order to Survive, a group that has been around for a long time but changes personnel whenever they resurface. This version featured Cooper-Moore on piano, Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Rob Brown on alto sax, William Parker on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. Wow, right from the first note, this grand quintet erupted with a tight, powerful and uplifting sound. The interplay between the trumpet, alto & piano was phenomenal! I haven't seen my man Cooper-Moore play piano in while so I was not ready for his impressive, smokin' playing. When the horns sat out and the piano trio emerged, the effect was devastating. There is an obvious special connection William & Hamid when they play together, they combine forces & become the ultimate creative rhythm team. I hadn't heard Lewis Barnes play in a while, since he only seems to play with William in certain projects but I amazed at how great he is. Lewis took a couple of incredible solos. It is shame we don't get to hear him more often, since NY is filled with great trumpet players who occasionally hog the spotlight. This set was outstanding & seemed a bit short since everyone wanted more when it ended. It was a perfect night, nonetheless.
Day 5 was the heavy day for the Vision Fest. The night started off with two announcements. One was that the great Chicago saxist Fred Anderson had passed away the night before in his sleep after being a coma for the previous week. This was a shock to everyone in attendance, since Mr. Anderson played at the Vision Fest almost every year & was scheduled to play later this evening. The other announcement was honoring Muhal Richard Abrams by giving him a Lifetime Achievement Award. Mr. Abrams was the founder of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Music) in Chicago during the mid-sixties and Fred Anderson also an original member. The organization helped nurture a school of musicians (Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Air & many more) and still exists today. Muhal is a brilliant pianist, composer, bandleader & teacher and an inspiration to many musicians & listeners around the world. I can think of no one more more deserving of this award. Mr. Abrams graciously accepted the award and sat down to play some solo piano.
Both Muhal Richard Abrams & Fred Anderson are/were associated with the Chicago scene for many years and did play together on occasion. After the announcement of the passing of Mr. Anderson, Muhal sat at the piano and seemed to pay tribute to this fallen giant. Commencing with stark, dark notes and chords, Muhal painted a picture of a long and fruitful life. Muhal's solo embraced the history and diversity of modern music, with elements of jazz (old & new), blues, modern classical and other streams, all finding their way through this epic solo set. It was one of the most intense, introspective and filled to-the brim with ideas sets that I've heard in a long time. I was overwhelmed with so many feelings, that it was hard snap back to the regular mood of joyous release afterwards.
After the thunderous ovation for Muhal Richard Abrams had come down, Patricia took the stage and said that since Fred Anderson was supposed to have played the second set that night. It was decided not to have someone take his place since no one really could. Hence, she asked for 15 minutes of silence to think about the loss of Fred Anderson, an important part of the Vision Festival's tradition of presenting musical giants well-worthy of more recognition. The silent time gave us all a chance to ponder his loss and how to deal with it in our own way.
Appropriately, another AACM man & member of the Art Ensemble, Joseph Jarman's Trio was next. Jarman's trio consisted of John Ehlis on guitar, Rob Garcia on drums & Mr. Jarman on alto sax, flute & vocals. Jarman still plays with the Art Ensemble of Chicago on occasion, is a practising Buddhist and has been ill for the past few years. He loves to play mellow, more spiritual songs. This set was mostly laid back and a bit sad. They played a ballad which was haunting, dreamy and drifting, with some superb, sublime guitar. The trio played one standard which sounded a bit Trane-like, although Jarman seems to be struggling with his reed. They played a piece called "Za Zinn Blues" which featured two flutes, a lovely drum solo and Mr. Jarman's charming voice. The highlight of the set was the surprising appearance of John Tchicai who took to the stage unannounced and played some inspired tenor sax. The song itself was beautiful both saxes sounded perfect together with Jarman chanting "Muhal is the King" near the end.
The final set of the night was a great trio featuring Ari Brown on tenor sax, Muhal Richard Abrams on piano and Harrison Bankhead on contrabass. This set was also fully improvised and consistently superb. Ari Brown is another great Chicago sax player who rarely comes to New York and certainly hasn't gotten the recognition he has well deserves. This was my first time checking out Mr. Brown. Another Chicago figure is bassist Harrison Bankhead, who I recall fondly from an incredible duo set with Fred Anderson at an earlier Vision Fest that was later released on Ayler Records. Starting with Ari's hushed tone on tenor and Harrison's lush bowed bass, this was indeed a superb intro. The trio took their time and build up together, slowly swirling in a dreamlike state, making very note count. This was a perfect three way conversation in which each member was an integral part of the whole. Muhal's playing consists of a set of strategies as he is constantly reinventing what we does. Harrison Bankhead is one of the greatest of all bassists, his playing radiates a certain warmth and creativity that puts him in a class of his own. Ari Brown also has a strong, warm tone and when he & Harrison hit their stride their playing sounds most majestic. Another perfect set and wonderful way to bring the note to a great close.
Friday, June 25th was Day 5 of the Vision Fest and I decided to attend a different this night since Mephista (Sylvie Couvoisier, Ikue Mori & Susuie Ibarra) was playing two sets at The Stone with different guests on each set: John Zorn & Joelle Leandre. Both sets were pretty great although Susie Ibarra couldn't make it due to illness with Kenny Wollesen & Tyshawn Sorey taking her place. I missed Fay Victor, Sabir Mateen, Jayne Cortez & Amiri Baraka's ensembles that night at The Vision Fest. Although I often enjoy sets by Jayne Cortez & Amiri Baraka, I wonder why they play almost every year. Why not let some younger blood spoken word artists up there to take their place. I did feel bad missing Sabir Mateen's ensemble since Sabir is my friend and so rarely gets a chance to lead his own band. I was a part of a panel discussing "free music & the recording industry" earlier that night and enjoyed hearing what Steve Joerg (Aum Fidelity), Joe Morris (Riti), & Phillip Blackburn (Innova) had to say in the age of downloads and the recession.
Due to work, I also missed the the afternoon sets on Day 7 at the Abrons Center. I enjoy checking out new musicians and would've loved to see Lorenzo Sanguedolce, Areni Agbabian with Tony Malaby and Kyoko Kitamura. Kyoko has played here at DMG on numerous occasions with Ras Moshe and she is one of my favorite vocalists. Lorenzo has a duo LP out on NoBusiness with Michael Bisio that I dig. That duo will play at DMG on Sunday, August 22nd at 7pm. I look forward to that one.
Saturday evening commenced with Reggie Nicholson's Percussion Concept, which I glad to check out since reviewing their CD the previous year. This quartet featured four drummers (Warren Smith, Don Eaton & Reggie) on assorted percussion, ethnic & otherwise with Salim Washington doubling on woodwinds. Although the group played mostly percussion (trapset, djembe, congas & marimba), their sound was diverse, engaging and enchanting. They would start with a simple groove and build layer upon layer. Salim, who has three discs out as a leader, also played some excellent sax & oboe. Being a percussionist myself, I have long loved percussion ensembles and this one is superb. Warren Smith is another of the hidden treasures of the longtime NY creative music scene and sounded great throughout this set especially when he took a marimba solo towards the end of the set.
Borah Bergman is one the greatest & most distinctive pianists to emerge from NY in the mid-seventies. He can also be a talkative, cranky and difficult musician on stage as well. Mr. Bergman had a cold, often sniffled through the set and was rumored to have been in the hospital earlier in the week. Borah apologized about his health and talked at length about what is unique about his playing. He shouldn't have to do this since his playing speaks for itself. His first piece was for left hand only and it was rather poignant and at times beautiful. Considering that Borah is better known for his explosive piano and has done heavy duets with Thomas Chapin, Evan Parker & Roscoe Mitchell, his playing that night was extremely melodic and reflective. Borah has a unique way of playing separate themes with each hand simultaneously and exploring each one at the same time. Although Borah's set went on a bit too long and he talked too much, his playing was consistently touching, if occasionally sad.
One of the things I dig the most about the Vision Festival that it encompasses a wide range of creative musics, both local and international, certainly not just jazz or even just avant/jazz. This entire five set night featured musicians mostly from the NY area, yet each set was completely different. Ned Rothenberg's Sync was next and sounded unlike any other ensemble at this long and winding fest. Sync features Ned on alto sax, clarinets & shakuhachi, Jerome Harris on acoustic bass guitar and Samir Chattejee on tablas. This trio has been together for more than a decade, has three fine discs but plays live only on rare occasions. Their instrumentation is unique as is their sound. Their set was continuous with the tablas being the one instrument played throughout. The set was like a series of ragas with Ned's reeds leading the change in direction and doing most of the soloing. The tablas have an enchanting sound that blends both rhythmic and melodic tones seamlessly. The interplay between the tablas and Jerome's acoustic bass guitar was consistently inventive and ever-shifting through different contours. Ned took solos on alto sax, regular and bass clarinets and each one was a gem. Both Jerome and Samir took a solo a piece and these were also superb. At one point, Ned took an alto solo where he was circular breathing, ideas flowing in a most organic way. Sometimes circular breathing a stream of notes can be exhaustive for members of the audience, but not here since Ned paced himself and changed the stream enough to not overwhelm any of us. The fact that this trio shifted roles throughout the set showed that they are masters of their own invention, keeping themselves and us attentive throughout the entire set.
The following set featured another great trio, Mark Helias' Open Loose with Tony Malaby on tenor & soprano sax, Mark Helias on acoustic bass & compositions and Tom Rainey on drums. Open Loose has also been together for a long time and this seemed apparent as well. Besides being a great bassist, Mr. Helias is a fine composer who finds ways to keeps things interesting for his players and audience. Open Loose is an appropriate name since this trio is both loose & tight or focused at the same time. This is a most well-selected trio where each musician defines a certain part of the magic triangle. Each piece was very different and each piece was challenging since the players consistently switched roles. From more melodic moments to free episodes to swinging parts, we never know where the trio will end up. Tom Rainey is still one the best drummers around and when he solos, you realize what an incredible musician he is. When Rainey switches to mallets, the communal interaction between the bass and drums is extraordinary. Malaby moved to soprano for one ballad like piece which is both lovely and skeletally sketched. Helias used to play with Dewey Redman for a number of years and Dewey's influence is still there lurking on a couple of these tunes. There are times when the sax and rhythm team move in opposite directions yet end up on the same page. Open Loose is/are a completely unique trio and sound quite different from all of the previous sets yet remain an important part of the downtown network. They provided another blast of fresh air.
The last set of Day 7 featured free/jazz sax legend, Charles Gayle's Bass Choir and it featured four bassists, drums & Mr. Gayle on saxes & bass as well. The bassists consisted of Ken Filiano, Francois Grillot, Larry Roland & Jane Wang, the drummer was Michael Thompson. I caught Charles Gayle play with four bassists at Victo many years back so this wasn't a first time offering. Charles actually directed the bassists to solo or play together. While Mr. Gayle wailed on tenor sax, the wall of bassists strummed, plucked and bowed and sounded great together. Each bassist got a chance to solo and each one did a fine job in their own way. At times it sounded like a turbulent sea of strings, especially when Charles picked up his acoustic bass and joined in, while the occasional chaos also led to great moments of inner power and struggle. There is something special about the sound of 4 or 5 bassists playing together that is most impressive and inspiring. It felt like a good way to bring another great day at the Vision Fest to a grand close.
Sunday, June 27th was another day which included some college jazz bands during the day at Abrons Center which I missed as well. The first set of the evening was the North/South Clarinet Ensemble which featuring Perry Robinson & Michael White on clarinets, Charles Eubanks on piano, Ed Schuller on bass and Bob Meyer on drums. Dr. Michael White hails from New Orleans and is a professor. I was under the impression that Dr. White was an elder clarinetist but he looks younger than me (& I'm 56). Perry Robinson has been playing clarinet for more than fifty years and has the ability to fit into any musical situation. He rarely leads his own ensemble but loves to sit in with musicians from around the globe. This band did an incredible job of blending the old & the new, the free with written, always remaining focused & filled with exuberant spirits. I thought that Dr. White might have a hard time keeping up with Perry, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Dr. White was equally wonderfully on clarinet and took a number of superb solos. One piece by Dr. White was called "Death and Rebirth" and it was about the plight of New Orleans in recent times. The interplay between both clarinets was phenomenal, the slower section recalled a New Orleans funeral march. The quintet was also in fine form with everyone contributing to the tight, spirited sound.
The next set featured the Breuklen Tek Orkestra, led by Guillermo Brown. This was the only set at the visit fest that I walked out of. This ten-piece band was more of loud, funk band and I admit that they were tight and well-rehearsed. The fact they they were too loud and really didn't fit with the rest of the bands involved was what made me question why they were there. I know that Guillermo used to be the drummer for David S. Ware & Matt Shipp but they would've been better off playing outdoors to folks who like to dance & have fun. I would've preferred Burnt Sugar or Antibalas any day. Oh well.
There were a number of sets which took place downstairs at the Abrons Center, although I missed most of them. The one set (or 2 half sets) I did catch featured a solo alto sax set by Patrick Brennan. I've known Patrick for many years & have seen him in a few different bands but this the first time I heard him play solo, something he rarely does. He dedicated his set to saxists who inspired him like Ornette Coleman and Roscoe Mitchell, covering a song by each master. I liked the fact that Brennan explained that he was originally from Detroit and was inspired by certain under-recognized Detroit musicians. I dug the way he would pick out certain notes and twist them in odd ways, criss-crossing different rhythms and lines. He played Roscoe Mitchell's "Nonaah", which places silences in odd places, no small feat. The Ornette piece mixed bebop ideas with streams of notes that were joyous to hear. He concluded with a cover by the Contemporary Jazz Quintet which sounded almost harmelodic as it switched between more melodic and more jagged themes. Patrick will be playing a solo set here at DMG later this year, don't miss it!
Violin master, Billy Bang, has been struggling with cancer for the past few years and was given an award for his long and special music career. His new ensemble is called Spirit of Sir One and it featured Mr. Bang on violin & compositions, Henry warner on alto sax & clarinet, Dick Griffin on trombone, Andrew Bemkey on piano, Hill Greene on bass and Newman Taylor-Baker on drums. Billy dedicated his set to Sirone (also known as Sir One), the great bassist who passed away within the last year. "Prayer for Peace" was first and it features a cosmic drone with bowed bass and violin humming together. The written harmonies for the violin, trombone & alto clarinet were especially touching. Henry Warner is another one of those older cats who rarely gets recognition but here sounds so fine on both alto sax & alto clarinet. "Dark Silhouette" was also special and featured some great circular-breathing trombone from the legendary Dick Griffin. Pianist Andy Bemkey has been playing with Billy Bang for a number of years and also plays consistently well. His final piano solo of this set was indeed spectacular as was Billy Bang's violin solo and strong writing throughout the set.
David S. Ware got the gift of having someone donate a kidney to him last year so he could survive. He hasn't played live too much since his operation so we were glad to hear him once again. Mr. Ware had a new trio featuring old collaborator William Parker on bass and Warren Smith on drums. This was an intense, powerful free trio that sounded splendid throughout. Warren Smith has been one of the most in-demand percussionists since the sixties and remains that way today since he is inventive in so many different situations. His mallet playing is extraordinary and he listens and responds to each & every section perfectly. The trio kept building and burning, ascending higher & higher. William was also the right person for this job both locking in with Warren, pumping hard and supporting David S. Ware magnificently. The trio played as one tight force and sounded wonderful for the entirety of the set. Mr. Ware did some awesome circular-breathing near the end of the set showing he still has the stamina to blow minds.
The final set of Day 8 was Dave Burrell's Peace Out Trio with Mr. Burrell on piano, William Parker on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. "Inner Earth" was first and it erupted with thunderous piano from the Dave Burrell. Burrell has a unique way of rolling his left hand on the keyboard while the other hand pecks out certain notes. Although Mr. Burrell was the leader of this trio, it was the intense and creative drumming of Hamid that really showed power and resourcefulness. His drum solo was a whirlwind yet completely musical. There are times when I felt as if I were about to get lost in the maelstrom of activities but the trio would hold back a bit instead of going all of the way into a hurricane force. What was great about this trio was that all three members determined the direction and dynamic of their sound. It felt as if there were no leader just one solid force.
Monday, June 28th was Day 9 of the Vision Fest and it was the night I most eagerly anticipated. The Stone Quartet were first and they played at The Stone the first time in December of 2006 when my business partner Manny & myself curated the month. French bassist Joelle Leandre organized this great quartet which still features Marilyn Crispell on piano, Roy Campbell on trumpets & flute, Mat Maneri on viola and Joelle on contrabass. Their set at The Stone was recorded and released on DMG/ARC, thus their name. I am still proud of that release. The Stone Quartet finally got back together last year for a couple of concerts, one was in Guelph. Ontario which I sadly missed. Hence I was truly glad to hear them again. Their that Tonight they were even more extraordinary. They have obviously grown closer, their improvisations more assured and magical. Joelle expressed to me that it was important for the quartet to get there early and do a strong sound-check. The sound & balance was perfect. There was a dreamlike atmosphere that surrounded the quartet as they wove their wares around and with one another. Marilyn Crispell is one of my favorite pianists of all, yet she so rarely plays in NY although she only lives in the Woodstock area. Joelle Leandre is also one of the finest contrabassists we have and she too doesn't come to NY often enough. All four members of this all-star quartet were integral to the set's transcendent vibe. Roy Campbell, who we luckily get to hear more often, was in great form. His muted pocket trumpet solo was one of the gems of this set and microtonal specialist Mat Maneri fit better than I have heard in any other context except for his playing with his father. For me, this was the best set of the festival and I remain proud to have helped the quartet play their first set and have it captured on disc.
Strangely enough, the next set was almost as great. Touch the Earth was originally a trio with (pre-Wadada) Leo Smith on trumpet, Peter Kowald on contrabass and Gunter 'Baby' Sommer on drums. Their trio disc on FMP is still one of the treasures of the label. Since the passing the great Peter Kowald, the group is a duo called Touch the Earth II. Many of my friends are big fans of many European jazz musicians and the more that play in NY & at the Vision Fest, the better off we are are. Over the past couple of years a number of European musicians have made their way to our shores but have not played in NY since there are so few places left to play, plus the Homeland Security/State Department/US Musicians Union & Gestapo have made it difficult for many musicians to come over here. Unless something is done & done soon, few of our European heroes with play NY in the future. This set showed what we are missing. Both Wadada Leo Smith and Gunter Sommer are extraordinary, unique musicians, their set was just incredible. Every sound, every note, every gesture worked just right. Tension & release, humor & seriousness, free & focused, no stone was left unturned. Mr. Sommer's approach to the drums is animated, refreshing and musical. He kept coming up with his own ideas that were beyond just rhythm and more fully realized. He avoided any sort of regular groove yet was constantly interacting with Wadada on a more subliminal level. I've heard Wadada play more notes and even pull some Miles-like notes from his big bag, but here he was more minimal, only erupting when need be. It was a perfect duo set and the audience responded with a hearty reception.
The final set that night was Mike Reed's People, Places & Things, a great quartet from Chicago. The quartet featured Greg Ward on alto sax, Tim Halderman on tenor sax, Jason Roebke on bass and Mike Reed on drums & compositions. Over the past few CD's & years, Chicago drummer & composer Mike Reed has put together an impressive & intense ensemble with well-selected guests added. Tonight, Mr. Reed brought his basic quartet and that's all he needed to blow us all away. The inspiration behind this group is a number of Chicago musicians & composers from the fifties & sixties like John Gilmore, Johnny Griffin & others. This double sax fronted quartet were burning right from the first note. The rhythm team was extremely tight and powerful throughout with a number of astonishing solos from both saxists. On "Velvet Session #1", the group calmed down to a near whisper for Greg's simmering alto solo. Each solo by both saxists were special and showed a good deal of ideas & influences. The interaction with the rhythm team was consistently spirited throughout as well. I was exhausted by the end of the set and perhaps it was a good way to bring this great day to a strong close.
Tuesday, June 29th at Day 10 of the Vision fest and the final day for me. I caught some of the first set by Station # 9969 which featured direction from Patricia Parker and eight dancers with music by Connie Crothers on piano, Jason Hwang on violin and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The dancers dressed in black worked well with the trio who played with dreamy, skeletal and subdued gracefulness. I dug this set since everything seemed to fit just right and nothing was overwhelming or overdone. All three of these musicians are master improvisers, their music flowed organically as did the subtle interactions of all of the dancers involved.
By Any Means is a trio that has been together for about two decades and featured Charles Gayle, William Parker and the late Rashied Ali. They were scheduled to play at the Newport Jazz Festival last year, the week that Rashied Ali passed away so Rashied's brother Muhammad took his place. Muhammad Ali is another fine free/jazz drummer who played on a handful of albums in the sixties & seventies with Alan Shorter, Frank Wright and Noah Howard. Muhammad lived in Europe in the seventies and is back living in Philly, but hasn't played in NY in many years. Charles Gayle started on tenor sax, something he doesn't play much at this point and screamed softly, his tone like a human voice crying out, reaching out to touch us. The center of the trio was often the intense, probing and pumping bass of William Parker. At one point when the trio let up their energy, Muhmmad shouted, "freedom train, get on board!", it fit at just the right moment. Mr. Gayle switched to piano mid-set and slowed the pace down by adding more cautious layers of lines. The trio eventually erupted again before they concluded with a lovely, more restrained conclusion.
Baltimore-based pianist Lafayette Gilchrist's Inside Out trio were next and featured Lafayette on piano & compositions, Michael Formanek on contrabass, Eric Kennedy on drums. I wasn't very familiar with Mr. Gilchrist except for one disc I heard in passing a couple of years back. Inside Out was a piano trio unlike any other at the Vision Fest or unlike any piano trio I've heard in many years. Their music was not free yet it was consistently inventive and adventurous in other ways. Lafayette has written songs which involve odd structures with unexpected twists & turns. One song reminded me of Monk with the its bent off-kilter theme yet it was refreshingly original. The trio chose older styles to draw from, from an austere, romantic melody to a film noir-like shade. The music often reminded me of the soundtrack for silent films from yesteryear. The exploration of memorable melodies and quirky intersections made this a set worth investigating further so I need to hear this trio again either on record or live.
The final set that night was a Drum Tribute to Rashied Ali, who passed away suddenly last summer and was one of the greatest and most influential modern jazz drummers of all. It seemed strange to me since I remember talking with Rashied at last year's Vision fest, as he seemed healthy and in good spirits. So we never know... This set featured a wonderful international crew with Warren Smith, Vladimir Tarasov (Russian drummer from the Ganelin Trio), Gerald Cleaver, Michael Wimberley and Brahim Frigbane. Mr. Wimberley played mostly clay pot or hand drum while Mr. Frigbane played oud, hand percussion & voice. Warren, Vladimir & Gerald all played drum sets with Warren doubling on other percussion. The set started out like a prayer with Brahim chanting & playing oud. It build organically with layers of small percussion interlocking superbly, adding a layer at a time. "Ali's Alley" was the name of the jazz club that Rashied Ali ran in the seventies in Soho and the name of the next piece. Warren Smith's started solo and remains one of the guiding lights of all drummers who work between established categories. The music kept building and evolving and was spiritually uplifting, a joy to behold. Each drummer brought something unique and magical to the combined trance-inducing vibe that pervaded the entire set. The set worked its way through various twists and turns and finally that "Love Supreme" groove and chant emerged. It was a most fitting conclusion since Rashied Ali was the last drummer to collaborate with John Coltrane in 1966 & 1967. Now Trane and Rashied are together again in the beyond & forever. It was a perfect conclusion for this year's Vision Festival. There was in fact one more night which took place at Le Poisson Rouge with William Parker's Southern Satellites and the Extended Akron Family with Hamid Drake & William Parker as their guests. I didn't make that night sadly, but was overwhelmed with everything I had witnessed.
Eleven days is a long time for the Vision Festival and perhaps too long, as least this was the consensus for many of the folks I spoke with. I caught thirty sets which seemed like a bit too much and could've caught another ten if I was up to it and didn't have to work or sleep. Besides the endurance test vibe of the fest, my only major complaint is that there were too many photographers up front clicking away too often throughout the fest. I counted as many as ten on a few nights. This is somewhat distracting to those of us who pay to get in and prefer to sit up near the front. Still, I must admit that the Vision Festival is joyous orgy of positive stimulation, adventurous music making and a diverse cultural community get-together. Times are tough for musicians and audience members alike on may fronts, so the Vision Fest helps to bring us together and heal the wounds of greed, politics and ignorance. Sometimes I just feel grumpy or disenchanted with the way things are, but the abundance of creative music helps keep us all sane and hopeful.
- Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery - July, 2010