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VISION FESTIVAL 17 - June 11th - June 17th, 2012 at Roulette in Brooklyn
The need for the Vision Festival becomes increasingly obvious with every succeeding year. Produced by Patricia Nicholson-Parker, it accomplishes what all the government/corporate subsidized big-deal NYC festivals fail to do: provide a wonderful week-long environment to rejoice in the spirit of communal free/jazz and other creative musics. Seven days of some five or so sets per night is almost too much to take in, but overall it is well worth the nightly admission - cheap! - and this year's location at the new Roulette performance theatre provided consistently good sound and sight lines - and air conditioning! I caught some 31 sets (!) in all and yes, there was an abundance of great music. The other thing I love about this shindig is getting to hang with avant/jazz diehards from around the world: Italy, France, Canada, the South, the Midwest and the West Coast were all represented.
Day One - June 11
Store business kept me from seeing the entire opening invocation - I missed a few minutes of this yearly ritual for the Vision Fest. It featured three vocalists - Patricia Nicholson, Fay Victor and Kyoko Kitamura - as well as William Parker on bass, Gerald Cleaver and Hamid Drake both on drum kits. Ms. Nicholson is better known for her dancing, but her voicing's were just fine as she wove her words along with Ms. Victor and Ms. Kitamura, two of Downtown's finest vocalists. The phrases they repeated were compelling to consider - 'freedom for sale' particularly. I dug the way various layers of voices and notes connected and enhanced each other. This was the first of several sets with the extraordinary William Parker and Hamid Drake rhythm team but this time Mr. Cleaver also added his own percussive embellishments making things even more creative and magical. Hamid often kept his eye on Patricia who seemed to be at the center of the storm interacting with her words or movements, the flow of ideas going back and forth. A solid opening!
Kneebody initially seemed like an odd choice for the usually free/jazz/acoustic-leaning Vision Fest line-up but they still fit well in their own way as an electric quintet. Originally from LA with Shane Endsley (now NY based) on trumpet, Adam Benjamin (who has worked with Dave Douglas) on electric keyboards, Ben Wendel on sax, Kaveh Rastegar on electric bass and Nate Wood on drums. They do have a disc on W&W wherein they cover Charles Ives with Theo Bleckmann on vocals. Kneebody are tight, occasionally funky and consistently creative. Mr Benjamin, who mostly played electric piano, often provided spiraling lines with selective use an echo device. Their sound was not so distant from certain seventies fusion bands although they were more stripped down and never did any grandstanding. Both Ben on tenor sax and Shane on trumpet took a number of inspired solos throughout the set. One later piece featured a duo of trumpet and melodica playing warm harmonies and ended with a cosmic fuzz-bass drone.
The next set was one of the most anticipated of the year and turned out even better than imagined. It featured a rare appearance by UK tenorman Paul Dunmall, who hasn't been here in four years, with Matthew Shipp on piano, Joe Morris on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The essential tenor-piano-bass-drumkit lineup, same as the classic John Coltrane Quartet - and Trane is certainly one of Dunmall's main influences. The entire quartet were burnin' from the first note. The interplay between Dunmall and Matt Shipp - who have played together several times when Matt visits the UK - was often astonishing. Matt tossed off intense lines at the piano and Paul blasted layer upon layer of Trane-like sheets of sound - actually the quartet were spontaneously developing themes and spinning in orbits around one another. The intensity was just incredible and it seems as if they the quartet were about to take off into the stratosphere and beyond. I myself was particularly elated since I helped Mr. Dunmall secure his first Vision fest appearance many years back.
I was pleasantly surprised by the duo of Elliott Sharp on guitar & bass clarinet and Tracie Morris on vocals. I've caught Mr. Sharp dozens of times live but have only seen Ms. Morris one other time before this. Tracie has a fine smokey voice and both sang and recited words most convincingly. Mr. Sharp was playing his custom-made electric/acoustic guitar and did a great deal of tapping on the strings is his own distinctive way. His playing leaned towards the blues with some jazz influence as well. The duo actually did a righteous version of the jazz standard, "Blue Skies". Sharp switched to bass clarinet during a part of the set and gave Ms. Morris something else to work with. Sharp also played some strong slide guitar on a version of "Smokestack Lightning". The last piece was called "Mahalia Theremin" and it featured Sharp on an e-bow buzzing acoustic guitar with Ms. Morris blending her quivering gospel-like voice with theremin-like bends and twists of the tongue. A great ending to another fine set.
The final set that night was another highly anticipated one - the new Marc Dresser Quintet featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto sax, Michael Dessen on trombone (from Cosmologic), Denman Maroney on piano, Mr. Dresser on bass & compositions and Michael Sarin on drums. Mr. Dresser, often known for his unique contrabass explorations, hasn't had a working band - except for Trio M - in quite a while. The crafty frontline of Rudresh's alto sax and Michael's trombone was consistently formidable. Starting with a fine intro of bowed bass and trombone, the quintet played a thoughtful, most memorable melody before the sax and bone took off together, lines weaving around one another intricately and intensely. Denman Maroney is known for his inside-the-piano explorations but here his playing was very different - he took a couple of superb solos even showing his bluesy side during one section. For one piece, they slowed the pace down and played with skeletal restraint, Rudresh played a marvelous honey-drenched bluesy solo here. Marc's strong writing kept the quintet on their toes, often shifting tempos from slow to fast and back again, always filled with surprises. This was an amazing set that I would love to hear again so I look forward to this recording being released. A perfect ending for the first night of Day 1. Could it get any better? We shall see..
Day Two - June 12
Tonight was the 15th Anniversary Celebration of the great Aum Fidelity label - a wonderful mini-festival in itself - presented by label founder Steve Joerg.
The first set was a real treat: a solo piano performance by Ms. Eri Yamamoto, a rarity for her. (Eri has five discs on Aum Fidelity, three with her longtime trio.) She played three long pieces, which included "The Next Page", and "Memory Dance", which was inspired by the ghosts or memories of some special folks who passed away earlier that year. Her playing was superb - deep, lyrical, elegant and somewhat orchestral. The pieces began quietly with a simple theme and then slowly developed the theme by adding layers to the lines, building to a rich, warm conclusion. From a stark beginning to a rich, warm, hypnotic ending. Perfect!
The next set was by phenomenal Farmers By Nature Trio (the legendary David S. Ware's Planetary Unknown Quartet was originally scheduled but due to Mr. Ware's recurring health problems it was cancelled.) Featuring Craig Taborn on piano, William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, it commenced quietly, the trio dealing out sparse, suspense-filled fragments: sizzling cymbals, hushed bowed bass and soft waves of the piano, a slowly built a line or two at a time. I was particularly captivated by the way Mr. Taborn played soft clusters at the piano. The entire set was spellbinding - there's good reason why Mr. Taborn and Mr. Cleaver have been garnering so much praise over the past few years.
Speaking of praise, multi-genre giant-killer Darius Jones was next. His quartet featuring Darius on alto sax, Matt Mitchell on piano, Trevor Dunn on acoustic bass and Ches Smith on drums, is just one of the several splendid bands he leads. All four of these men are relatively young and each brings a good deal of experience to this colossal quartet. Darius has also worked with Mike Pride, William Hooker and Adam Lane, while Matt Mitchell was once a member of Thinking Plague and is currently a member of Tim Berne's Snakeoil. Acoustic & electric bass great Trevor Dunn plays several different Zorn projects, as well as in the Fantomas and Endangered Blood. Equally in demand is drum wiz Ches Smith who works with Mary Halvorson, Marc Ribot and in various Tim Berne projects. The hallmark of tonight's set was a laid-back high melodicism. Darius has a dark, bittersweet tone that shined throughout, tugging at your heart. Matt Mitchell dazzled on the keys in spaces thrusting him to the fore. Three superb solos by bassist Trevor Dunn showed how much of a team player he is, extending the inner spirit of each song perfectly. The last piece began freely but moved into connected spirals like different planets spinning in their orbits simultaneously with Darius' poignant tone crying calmly at the center of a subdued storm. It was a perfect set that showed that you didn't need to honk/n/stomp to touch the audience deeply.
The guiding light of the Vision Fest as well as Aum Fidelity is legendary bassist/composer/bandleader William Parker. In Order to Survive is one of William's longest running bands and this version featured longtime stalwarts Rob Brown on alto sax, Lewis Barnes on trumpet, Cooper-Moore on piano, William on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. They opened with a long piece called "Kalaparusha on the Edge" which was dedicated to the older, ailing AACM saxist Maurice McIntyre. This astonishing quintet featured dynamic interplay between Cooper-Moore, William and Hamid - in a constant swirl of churning, powerful currents. Cooper-Moore, who rarely gets the real recognition he deserves amongst the giants of avant/jazz piano was in especially strong form here, whipping up those Don Pullen-like waves on the piano, sometimes using his fists, elbows and arms on the keyboard. Both Rob Brown and Lewis Barnes took a number of amazing solos. The quintet kept building in intensity and soon erupted higher and higher. You can tell that William and Hamid have been working together for so long since they seem to be connected in a powerful, propulsive singular force. It was one of those grand, transcendent sets made me feel elated to embrace its power. Although it was after 11pm, I went home tired but smiling from what I had just witnessed. Let us all thank Aum Fidelity founder, Steven Joerg, for his many years of great work keeping the spirit burning with the ongoing releases of important music. Amen to Aummmmm Fidelity!
Day Three - June 13
The third, again incredible night, was a tribute to the great Joe McPhee. Patricia Parker started the night off by giving Mr. McPhee a 'Lifetime of Achievement Award', a recognition long overdue from other quarters. The first set was called 'Angels, Devils and Haints II', named after a previous CD with similar instrumentation. This was Joe McPhee's larger (nine piece) ensemble with Steve Swell (trombone), Roy Campbell (trumpets), Joe Giardullo (saxello), Rosie Hertlein (violin) and McPhee (various horns) in the frontline and backed by four bassists (Michael Bisio, Dom Duval, Hill Greene & William Parker) and two drummers (Warren Smith & Jay Rosen). The music was in the nature of a conduction, Joe doing a splendid job of directing the flow and signaling solos. It started with a spirited solo from Ms. Hertlein on violin and Roy Campbell on pocket trumpet. The other instruments would enter one or two at a time, the music slowly expanding. Both drummers (Warren Smith & Jay Rosen) have very different styles but they played perfectly together, enhancing each other's orchestral leanings. The four acoustic bassists work together incredibly well, plucking, strumming, bowing and layers the basses superbly. Each member of the frontline got a chance to solo and stretch out - every solo was great! The last number was a ballad called "The Gypsy" - a perfect way to end the set.
The Sonny Simmons Ensemble was up next and Mr Simmons was in top form - which is to say disarmingly unpredictable. This quartet featured Simmons on alto sax & English horn, a young Thomas Bellier (from France where Sonny spends much of his time) on guitar, William Parker on bass and Warren Smith on drums. The set started out powerfully with some burning spirits featuring Mr. Bellier on Hendrix-like electric guitar and Sonny wailing for a short while. Bellier, previously unknown to me, sounded quite fine, but seemed to be limited to a supporting role. When the band slowed down to a hypnotic middle-eastern groove, Sonny picked up his English horn (a lower-pitched oboe) for a short yet superb solo; had it been longer it could've been the highlight of the set. Sonny played a ballad called "The Gypsy" which was unaccompanied and quite poignant. I am just not sure where it fit within the set. I found this set overall frustrating since the musicians didn't always connect but it still had some great moments. Perhaps I expect too much from the legendary Sonny Simmons but he rarely does pull off an entirely unblemished set.
A shorter set followed with McPhee, four dancers, plus Jason Jordan & Knocknock. The dancers moved around one another in connected combinations, sometimes two at a time working in tandem. Joe's alto sax told a story in a variety of dialects; some portions melodic, other segments involving pastiches of multiphonic sounds. A dialogue based on squeaks, occasionally stretching out certain notes one at a time so we could climb inside. Some of the dancers movements betrayed sly humor, nonetheless, they worked well with the music often enough to keep the set interesting.
The final set of this night was one of the big festival highlights. This was the much-anticipated Joe McPhee with the Scandinavian trio The Thing, comprised of Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love. Joe announced that he loved playing with this group right before the set began. Easy to see why - each of the members of The Thing are masters on their respective instruments - Mats on bari sax, Ingebrigt on contrabass and Paal on drums. They set started with just the trio, slowly burning while the flames grew higher and hotter - then Joe stepped in - ending with a garage band-like rave-up. Unlike many of the other sets this week, The Thing played mostly covers from a wide variety of sources - Don Cherry to the Ex to punk & garage rock epics. Next they played a slow gospelish song that seemed odd yet worked well at cooling down the vibe. When Joe switched to pocket trumpet, they launched into a tight punk-rock thing that mutated into some ferocious free insanity. Ingebrigt erupted into a great funky bass riff that ended with a superb unaccompanied bass solo growing quieter and quieter until it faded into nothingness. From there it was a rendition of an Ethiopian song that was once performed by The Ex with Tom Cora. It has an unforgettable melody that I still recall two decades later. Mr. Gustafsson is an incredible bari sax player and knew how to push the intensity level beyond boiling point. It was obvious why Mr. McPhee loves to play with The Thing, because they f**king rule!
Day Four - June 14
The fourth night of the Vision Fest started with a panel discussion about "Free Jazz/Free Music/Why then?/Why now?". It started at 5pm which was too early for me to attend although I heard there was some controversy surrounding it. More about that later. The first set featured a quartet called Eternal Unity with Sabir Mateen on reeds, Dave Burrell on piano, William Parker on bass and William Hooker on drums. I believe this was a first time formation although some of the members had played together in other combinations. Starting softly with Sabir on flute, piano, bass and Hooker on brushes, creating a restrained dialogue. The intensity grew slowly as Sabir switched to clarinet and Mr. Hooker played with mallets. This was a classic set of free jazz at its best that built from one wave to the next. I dug the way Mr. Burrell would insert these unique rolls, spinning his hands over the keys and creating different currents at the same time. The waves and intensity kept building higher and higher throughout the set with Hooker sometimes shouting exclamatory bursts and pushing the quartet upwards and onwards. This was fire music, free and fierce. Although I felt that this set was a bit predictable, it did feel good and illustrated a certain "free" quality to help us escape for the everyday concerns. At the end of the set William Parker spoke into the mic and said something about inviting the enemy to the panel discussion and being upset about what went down. Hmmm. No one seemed to know whom he was referring to, so rumors were flying.
'Dangerous Women / Moving Sound' was the title of the next set and it was a duo with Connie Crothers on piano and Patricia Nicholson dancing. Ms. Crothers has remained one of the most creative pianists from New York for some four decades and all of her performances are special. These two women worked together extremely well and were on a similar level of intense creativity. I dug the way Connie would start with one theme and then slowly add more another line on top or underneath. The music and dance both began in a tranquil mood with Patricia also doing bits of vocalizing here and there. Connie's playing became more cinematic as the set progressed even adding some of that Cecil Taylor-intensity in the second half. If you haven't had a chance to hear Ms. Crothers play live, I urge you to do so and she is an outstanding pianist.
Formerly from Brazil, tenor saxist Ivo Perelman rarely plays in New York although he has lived here for many years. Although he has a vast back catalogue of discs, including three newer ones from Leo, I haven't heard him live in more than a year or two. His trio for this set was Michael Bisio on acoustic bass and Whit Dickey on drums, both longtime veterans of the Downtown avant scene. What I dug about this set was the way in which it evolved from quieter to more intense spirits in a relatively short time. Ivo has a warm tone on tenor and concentrated on each note without doing any screaming yet still burning with a low flame. While Bisio slapped his bass over and over, Whit Dickey kept the flow more diversified, changing the rhythm while adding different shades. I found Bisio's bowing to be more effective than his bass slapping episodes. Ivo has a distinctive way of developing a theme by repeating certain phrases and then altering them bit by bit. One of the highlights of the set was a solo by Mr. Dickey who doesn't quite sound like any other drummers and whose playing shows a mature way of dealing with the freer aspects of the set. Later in the set Ivo began to do more squealing, almost vocal-like sounds on his tenor, often reminding me of Albert Ayler
The final set that night the Hamid Drake Ensemble which featured Jeff Parker on guitar, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Pasquale Mira on vibes, Joshua Abrams on bass and Hamid Drake on drums & compositions. Besides being the favorite drummer of many of us (musicians & fans alike), Hamid Drake is a strong bandleader and a diverse composer. Each of his three previous discs on Rogue Art have had different personnel, although the last one ('Reggaeology') has personnel similar to this version of his band. Both Jeb Bishop (ex-Vandermark 5) and Jeff Parker (Tortoise) rank among the best musicians from the large Chicago scene. Added to the all-star quintet was an Italian vibes player named Pasquale Mira and who was playing his first dates in the US. What made this band special and unique at the Vision Fest was that they didn't play free. They did play a diverse set of songs written by Hamid, each one very different. For the first piece, the bass and drums spun tightly in the center, while the guitar and trombone played some swirling themes both together and then slightly off center around one another. The vibes player did a great job of playing spicy chords and notes that connected both the frontline and the rhythm team simultaneously. The first song featured a long, impressive guitar solo from the great Jeff Parker who at times sounded like Blood Ulmer. The central groove drew from both reggae and funk, a tasty blend that Hamid specializes in, spinning faster as it moved. Hamid and his fellow Chicago percussionist (Adam Rudolph) once worked with the late Don Cherry so it was appropriate that Hamid's band cover one of Don's most festive songs with its infectious melody. Both Jeb on trombone and Pasquale on vibes took solid spirited solos, although it was Josh Abrams' bass solo that stood out the most. Even though this set was long and the evening ran late, Hamid insisted on playing a final tune which was a sort of African lullaby. It was a perfect set and it ended with the right song to leave us with a sublime melody dancing in our heads.
Day Five - June 15
Although under-attended, there was quite a bit of great music. I arrived a bit late for the first set: Sheila Jordan & Jay Clayton Bebop to Freebop, a quartet with Sheila & Jay on vocals, Jack Wilkins on guitar and Cameron Brown on bass. I am a longtime fan of the great jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan, since checking her out live at the Vanguard with the Steve Kuhn Quartet in the seventies and later sitting in with the equally great jazz singer Joe Lee Wilson in the eighties. Sadly, I haven't heard Sheila since then but was glad to hear her tonight. Jay Clayton is another more experimental vocalist that I had heard on records over many years but only saw her live a couple of times in the past few years. Both Sheila and Jay come from different backgrounds and approaches yet they work together quite well. With no drummer to lean on, Cameron Brown's bass was often at the center of the quartet with Jack's guitar also providing a mix of rhythm and the occasional solo. Each song featured either Sheila or Jay singing a song of their choice. Sheila is more of a traditional jazz singer who has been singing professionally for more than fifty years. She chose "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and it was wonderful - it swung and felt like a breath of fresh air in a fest that likes to go further out. I remember Jay Clayton from records I bought in the mid-seventies and knew she likes to go out there which is what she did, balancing the group in another direction just right. "Freedom Jazz Dance" is an old jazz chestnut from the sixties written by Eddie Harris and made popular by Miles Davis. I haven't heard this song in many years, at least since I heard Eddie Jefferson sing it at the Ladies Fort in the late seventies. This version was still fine with Ms. Clayton pushing it into some unexpected places. A lovely ballad called "Fair Weather" by Kenny Dorham was a good choice for Ms. Jordan who did a superb rendition. Both Cameron Brown and Jack Wilkins got a chance to stretch out as well as provide some of the rhythmic essence without a drummer to deal with. I felt that this quartet was a great combinations of talents and hope to see them again.
Yoshiko Chuma is a well-known Japanese dancer who played the next set with help from Roy Campbell on trumpet and an unnamed shakuhachi player. Ms. Chuma is an older woman who looked pretty serious when she was dancing. The music started with stark shakuhachi and muted trumpet with Roy slowly walking around the stage as he played. Ms. Chuma did some hand signals that looked like signing for the deaf. Her dancing came in spurts, starting and stopping several times in a row. She stood at the edge of the stage at one point and looked in my direction and asked, "Do you know Hiroshima?", "Do you know Fukushima?" Her seriousness made me feel uncomfortable and I must admit that it was a most effective performance, one that made us question what dance is and what Ms. Chuma was trying to get us to think about.
Roy Campbell was also part of the next set which was a duo with Ehran Elisha on drums. These two musicians have been playing together for many years and have a recent duo disc on the OutNow label from Israel. I thought this was a great duo since they worked so well together. With Roy on flugelhorn and Ehran playing with mallets on his drums, the communication between the two flowed back and forth righteously. Much of this set was laid back and calm with Roy switching between pocket trumpet, flugel, flutes and regular trumpet. They dedicated one piece to the late Wilber Morris who they had both played with earlier. They took their time to explore occasionally somber explorations and listened closely. At just a half hour in length, it was just the right amount of time for what they had to say and play
Another trumpet duo was next with Henry Grimes on acoustic bass and violin and Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet. It began with some explosive trumpet from Wadada and intense violin playing from Mr. Grimes. It sounded like two great solos concerts happening at the same time but I wasn't so sure that either of them was listening since I couldn't hear the connection between both men who seemed to be in their own worlds much of the time. I noticed that Wadada was not happy with the sound and/or what was coming from his monitor. At one point early in the set, he walked off stage to speak with the sound person about the problem. Henry's violin playing has gotten much better since he first picked it up a few years ago and he was in fine form that night. When Wadada made it back to the stage and was happier with the sound, Henry switched to the bass. Soon the sparks began to fly and the combination got better. I've heard Mr. Smith play a half dozen times over the past decade and have been knocked out at each gig. Wadada was in strong form tonight and showed that he keeps getting better and better. There were some magical moments in this set but not so consistently.
The final set of the night was a mixed bag featuring Jun Miyake on tenor, flute & shakuhachi, Angelica Sanchez on piano, Santi Debriano on bass & guitar, Pheeraon AkLaff on drums and Amiri Baraka doing his poetry. I think that Pheeroan is the leader of this band since did some most of the introductions. Musically this set had its ups and downs. From funky sections to the strong solos from Ms. Sanchez on piano to Mr. Debriano on guitar, an instrument I didn't know he played. The problem I had with this set is that I've heard Amiri Baraka do the same tired accusations on too many occasions. It was once interesting to hear his poem, "Who Blew up America?" but not again and again. I hadn't heard of reeds player Jun Miyake before this set but did like his flute playing more than his sax playing. Pheeroan actually sang on a couple of songs that were pretty cool. This night was too long and rather uneven so that I was glad to go home and get some well-needed rest.
Day Six - June 16
Possibly the best night of this year's fest, and that's saying a lot, given the amazing music performed on precious nights. The first set was the Steve Swell Quintet with Mr. Swell on trombone, Rob Brown on alto sax, Chris Forbes on piano, Hill Greene on bass and Michael TA Thompson on drums. This quintet smoked right from the gitgo, they were ultra-tight and consistently intense. Steve Swell is one of the hottest trombone players on the scene and took several mind-blowing solos. The other featured soloists included the amazing Rob Brown on alto and Chris Forbes on piano, who I had not heard live before. Swell is also a strong composer and knew how to challenge the members of his quintet with both tight and explosive writing. The entire set was continuous and each piece flowed organically into the next. There were some strong free sections that were interspersed among the written material. A perfect opening set to start off a great night!
The next set was trio with Joelle Leandre on contrabass, Nicole Mitchell on flutes and Thomas Buckner on voice. I know that there are those demanding listeners who have no use for jazz or classical vocalists and who dislike having to put up with Thomas Buckner. I am not one of those rigid folks, as I have always dug experimental vocalists as well as a number of jazz singers. I generally have no problem with Mr. Buckner who I find usually fits well with whomever he collaborates with. But this set was even more remarkable that I could've imagined. Both Ms. Leandre on contrabass and Ms. Mitchell on flutes are master musicians, consistently ranking up there with some of the best musicians I've heard. This set was improvised music on a very high level and it was not really jazz but successfully beyond regular categories. It was closer to chamber music in overall sound. Nicole has a unique way of playing chords by singing certain notes while she plays the flute. There were a few duos like flute and bass or voice and bass which worked since both musicians knew how combine their sounds into a well-integrated whole. The set moved though ultra-subtle moments to explosive ones, playful to serious to delicate to having a close-knit dialogue with ideas bouncing back and forth. I felt bad for anyone who missed this due to their own prejudice of Mr. Buckner's talents. It was indeed an outstanding set and one of this week's finest moments.
Another trio was next called Trio 3 with Oliver Lake on alto sax, Reggie Workman on acoustic bass and Andrew Cyrille on drums. This trio has been together for a while now with more than a half dozen discs out. More recently they've added guest pianists Irene Schweizer or Geri Allen. All three members of this trio have long careers as avant/jazz giants on their own. This was a strong and diverse set with each member contributing songs. Oliver Lake has a distinctive pinched tone on the alto sax which is somewhere in between Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. For one piece the tempo increased throughout while Mr. Lake played a fractured theme on top. Each piece showed a different side to the trio, providing a different challenge. From a Latin groove to a marching beat to a quirky blues, you never knew where they would end up. I caught Trio 3 at Birdland with Gerri Allen playing a tribute to Mary Lou Williams earlier this year. That set was great but completely different than that one. It was great to see three of my heroes playing together so sensationally.
Over the past few Vision Festivals, violinist Jason Hwang has had a rare opportunity to present some extended works and has been most successful on each one. So, I was enthused to see what Jason would cook up with for this fest. This set was called Burning Bridge and it featured a octet with Mr. Hwang on violin & directing, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Steve Swell on trombone, Joe daley on tuba, Sun Li on pipa, Wang Guowei on erhu (Chinese violin), Ken Filiano on bass and Andrew Drury on drums. I was not familiar with the pipa or erhu players here but both were great. The first piece commenced with a startling pipa and violin duo which worked since both Ms. LI and Mr. Hwang have souch a strong sound on their instruments. I've seen Min Xiao Fen and Wu Man play pipa live and love the sound of that instrument. Ms. Sun Li is also a strong player and fit perfectly in this ensemble. Their was an effective vibe of suspense due to several drones happening at the same time - with Mr. Drury bowing his cymbals, muted brass and floating strings buzzing together. Different duos of odd combinations like the erhu and contrabass interacting intensely. Jason Hwang and Taylor Ho Bynum both stood out taking a number of impressive solos. What made this set so successful was the way Mr. Hwang blended different genres - gospel, jazz, ethnic into something new, rich and unpredictable. The last piece also featured spirited solos by Ken Filiano on bass and the irrepressible Steve Swell on trombone. I would hope that this set was recorded because it needs to heard again to take it in its entirety. Thus ended another great night at the Vision Fest.
Day Seven - June 17
The final night - again, amazing! It began at 6pm with Ingrid Laubrock's Anti-House featuring a stellar line-up with Ms. Laubrock on tenor sax & compositions, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Kris Davis on piano, John Hebert on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. Over the past few years, all three of these front-line women (Ingrid, Mary & Kris) have been getting some well-regarded recognition as each one is a leader as well as being in-demand collaborators. The set begun with a long, intense solo guitar intro by Ms. Halvorson showing her to be a new voice on the guitar. Ingrid has been working hard on coming up with different strategies to challenge members of her different bands. Hence, her pieces evolve in unexpected ways. The first piece had members of her quintet playing lines around one another in tight orbits. Bassist John Hebert and drummer Tom Rainey are both perfect choices for this quintet. Some of the writing her was closer to chamber music that modern jazz and the interplay between the sax, piano ad guitar was just extraordinary. The last piece was like a ballad and showed a subtle yet no less intense size of the band.
The Burnt Sugar Arkestra, founded and led by Greg 'Ironman' Tate, has been in existence nearly a decade during which I've seen them perhaps a dozen times, every gig great, including DMG Anniversary shows, and a previous Vision Fest, each show markedly different. Their recordings include collaborations with Butch Morris, Pete Cosey and Melvin Van Peebles. With all of that said, this set was perhaps their finest moment! This was a larger version of the ensemble with some 15 or so members: 4 guitars, 3 vocalists, 4 saxes, trumpet, keyboard, el. & acoustic basses and drums. Each piece was started with an infectious repeating riff from Greg's guitar. "Blood of the Seraphim" was first and it had a killer groove! One of the highlights of the set was their vocalists Lisala, Abby Dobson and Mikel Banks. The blended earthy funk, rock, rap and gospel influenced into a multi-layered soul chorus that pushed the entire band higher and higher. Mr. Tate directed certain sections and/or musicians and then layered them selectively while the groove got hotter and even better. Lewis Barnes on trumpet and Avram Fefer on tenor sax both took spirited solos in the first long and sprawling piece. The second song ("Driva Man/Freedom Day") had an even better riff/groove at the center, it was both hypnotic and made me want to get up and dance. It was a psych/funk/rock thang with all of the horns spinning their lines together. The third piece with an uptempo rock & soul groove. Lady drummer LaFrae Sci is one of the secret weapons of this band and sounded swell throughout the set, navigating the rhythmic stream perfectly. Greg Tate did a marvelous job of directing this massive band and knew exactly when to have certain sections drop out while another sections soars and/or solos together. The last piece, "Fear" had a dynamite punk/funk riff and made me/us feel great to bathe in the fabulous layers of groove, grit, passion and creativity. An incredible set that will not soon be forgotten by anyone in attendance.
The next set was a performance piece: dancer James Jordan accompanied by Daniel Levin on cello. This was a strong duo since Mr. Jordan was so focused and intense. He danced with a mannequin in a dress that seemed like an apt partner. Daniel Levin is one Downtown's best cellists and also was a great collaborator. I believe that Mr. Jordan picked Mr. Levin to play earlier that night but it worked well nonetheless. Both men delivered the goods in different yet connected ways.
An even better duo with a history of collaboration was Rob Brown on alto sax and Daniel Levin again on cello, since they were communicating on several levels. Both men started with similar warm, thoughtful tones, bending notes on occasion together as one force. I dug the way that Rob Brown never resorted to doing any screaming or screeching, the usual sound of free jazz sax. Both men spun lines together, weaving their tight-knit tapestry and having spirited dialogue. Since there was no rhythm section to lean on, both men filled in the gaps with rhythmic, melodic and inside/outside ideas. Although Rob Brown has a part of the Downtown scene for some twenty years, nowadays he doesn't play in the Apple very often which is certainly our loss. He seems to be very selective about each and every gig he plays and I always look forward to each of his sets. Daniel Levin plays at DMG usually twice a year and often solo, duo or trio. He keeps getting better and finding more musicians to collaborate with. Both men outdid themselves here with a stunning set.
The final set of the festival was by none other than the legendary Kidd Jordan Quintet with Kidd on tenor, Charles Gayle on tenor sax & piano, JD Parren on bass sax, alto clarinet & flute, William Parker on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. This set started out quietly with Charles Gayle on piano and then built to storm like conclusion. Mr. Gayle played some powerful piano as the quintet's power kept escalating. It was great to hear longtime Downtown reedsman JD Parran in a freer setting and he did a fine job on flute, kalimba (with a pick-up) and later bass sax. William Parker and Hamid Drake are the dream rhythm team and were in strong force here tonight. Hamid was at his best and pushed the group like a gale force wind. To balance the set out, the next piece was an unaccompanied blues-drenched ballad by Kidd Jordan which was both low down and lovely. The following piece was kicked off by William and Hamid playing magnificently together. The others soon entered with JD on alto clarinet and Kidd Jordan on his Trane-like tenor, a powerful force to be reckoned with. The piece built up to another blistering blow-out with Kidd and Charles Gayle both on tenors wailing together. This is cosmic music at its best and it was a perfect way to end this festival. It left everyone reeling and shouting for joy!
This year the Vision Fest was only seven days as compared to ten or more from previous years. Still at 30 plus sets, it was almost too much for troopers like myself to take in. Mostly it was another wonderful year and it worked out on most accounts with the move to Brooklyn at Roulette. I did feel very burnt out by the end since I caught almost every set but I also felt invigorated and inspired by all the great music, dance and art that I caught. Another great thing about this fest is fine family of folks who attend almost every year so hanging out with Roberta & Richard, Harold M, Bob Beilecki, Peter Cox, Lynne, Pat Frisco and other people from around the world. A toast to Patricia Nicholson-Parker, William Parker and the rest of her staff for their hard work. As the world continues to sink into the swamp of greed and stress, we need the Vision Festival now more than ever. Say hallelujah!
- Bruce Lee Gallanter/ Downtown Music Gallery