June 2003

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If anything, Harrell
Vision Festival — Pressing family matters kept me away throughout Memorial Day weekend, including the widely heralded return of Henry Grimes. But the annual festival got off to a strong start with the pulsating abstractions of Joe and Mat Maneri with drummer Randy Peterson, and live improv dancing by Christine Coppola. DJ Spooky and the deep-voiced poet Carl Hancock Rux followed; their provocative hip-hop aesthetic, heard to great advantage on Spooky’s recent Thirsty Ear outings, threw the audience a curve and was quite refreshing. Next came Billy Bang’s sextet, which alternated between hard-swinging modal jazz and soft-spoken lyricism, the latter courtesy mainly of pianist Andrew Bemkey. Not even Frank Lowe’s screech-style tenor or the two-drummer team of Tyshawn Sorey and Tatsuya Nakatani could match Bang’s violin in terms of sheer volume; by the end of the set the leader was cranked to excruciating levels. Finally, the moment we’d been waiting for: the return of vocalist Patty Waters, in her first New York appearance since 1967, looking a bit like Grace Slick did back in the those days. In what is now a cracked, ethereal whisper, Waters sang truly harrowing versions of “Strange Fruit” and “Don’t Explain,” as well as “Moon Don’t Come Up Tonight,” the leadoff track from her 1965 ESP album Patty Waters Sings. Pianist Burton Greene and bassist Mark Dresser provided superb accompaniment and played several invigorating duo numbers as well.

Bill Cole’s Ensemble, featuring Cooper-Moore, Warren Smith, and poet Patricia Smith, opened the second night with an uneven set. But the extraordinary David S. Ware Quartet set things aright; joined by Matt Shipp, William Parker, and Guillermo E. Brown, Ware towered over the stage and played mournful, surging melodies, the band conjuring tidal waves of sound behind him. Ware will play the Iridium in July, and on three of his six nights he’ll share the bill with the reunited Henry Grimes Trio, with Perry Robinson on clarinet and Tim Price on drums. This should be special.

Richard Galliano Trio — A rare New York appearance by the accordion master, holding court for three nights at Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse. Bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Clarence Penn seemed delighted but challenged, even winded, by these flights of fancy. The gnomish Galliano (who performs standing up and speaks only French) awed the crowd with his lyricism, his harmonic finesse, and his punchy, percussive touch. Particularly breathtaking were the musettes, which swept the trio forward in a galloping 3/4. Galliano makes his blues and bop influences explicit whether he’s playing Astor Piazzolla covers or his own songs, thick with European folk references. With eyes closed one could almost imagine some of Galliano’s lines coming from Art Pepper’s alto.

Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng — An exuberant set at the Jazz Gallery, with Obeng and his eight-piece ensemble celebrating the release of their new CD, Afrijazz. Trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum led the horn section, which also included trombonists Richard Harper and Bill Lowe and bass clarinetist Paul Austerlitz. Bassist Wes Brown and kit drummer Alvin Carter underscored Obeng’s rollicking percussion and stirring vocals. Off in the corner, on guitar, was none other than Joe Morris, chording and riffing his way through the churning West African groove. Obeng’s playing wasn’t always easily heard; his unaccompanied spots, on both cowbells/woodblocks and hand drums, offered the clearest view of his gifts. The showstopper? A revelatory talking drum/bass clarinet duo with Austerlitz on “’Round Midnight.”

Peter Brötzmann’s Die Like a Dog Trio — A packed house at Tonic. Joined by William Parker and Hamid Drake, Brötzmann didn’t let up on the intensity. The first piece lasted roughly 45 minutes and found Brötzmann beginning on clarinet, switching to alto, then returning to clarinet to end. No one can make the clarinet sound the way Brötzmann does. He overblows and yet still generates a wealth of expressive detail, his legato phrases and bent notes steadily building into a misshapen yet pure sound-world, beyond the parameters of pitch. Switching to tenor sax for a brief, 10-minute epilogue, Brötzmann played a somewhat less obtrusive role as Drake tapped dancing rhythms on frame drum, while Parker plucked a simple melody on an unusual Afro-Asian stringed instrument called the sintir.

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