Vision Festival X - Day One, June 14, 2005
While it goes without saying that all the players are accomplished improvisers, Drake and Lamb also both have that knack of being able to shape and add structure to a improvisation. Allen is a master of the instant response, and the band was at its best when extemporising around a riff, as at the conclusion of the second and final piece when Allen, on clarinet this time, introduced a bluesy feelwhich first Lamb, then Drake and Grimes, both playing time for once, picked up. They briefly donned the guise of a klezmer band before Lamb erupted with honks and squawks in an incantatory solo. At the conclusion, Grimes attempts to introduce the band were again sabotaged by the impish Allen launching another blast on EVI, until they all left the stage.
Ellen Christi Quartet
The Ellen Christi Quartet followed, with vocalist Christi joined by Hamid Drake, once again, on drums, William Parker on bass (for the first of eleven appearances in this Festival), and Daniel Kelly on piano. Kelly was a new name to me, but one who more than held his own with his more celebrated confreres. While Christi's mic arrangement (two micsone with reverb, one without) was set up, Parker had to borrow reading glasses from the audience to deal with the scores. A two part invention for bass and piano started the set, with Christi's breathy expressive singing floating on top. The piece evolved into a melodic four-way improv, with Parker playing arco, supported by Kelly on piano strings and Drake's frame drum pattering like gentle rain. Christi's voice swooped and soared, her body mirroring her voicecrouching, clutching, teeteringas she used both mics simultaneously.
The group was remarkable for its high level of interaction: Christi locked into repeated patterns which were effortlessly reflected by Kelly and Drake. These two had a particularly strong interaction, even though they were at opposite ends of the stage. Kelly's thick flowing lines with fierce clusters prompted sympathetic snare and cymbal crashes from Drake. Kelly was inspired and flailed and pummelled the keyboard with abandon as he bounced up and down, appearing likely to fall headfirst inside as he modulated the sound of the strings with cymbals.
The interplay ebbed and flowed as the spotlight shifted around the group. In one section Parker used two bows, one above the bridge and one below, extracting squeaks and overtones, as Drake fragmented the rhythm and Kelly took sticks to the piano's innards, before throwing his cymbals inside as he played. The single flowing piece drew to a close via a bluesy improv, peppered with piano crashes and drum explosions, before Christi referenced Van Morrison's "Crazy Love" for a tender conclusion to an excellent set.
There was a change of pace next for Bejewelled, a women's multi-arts ensemble featuring Terri Jenoure on violin and voice, Margo Simmons on flute and percussion, and the dance of Maria Mitchell. The set consisted of a single piece, "Lydia on the Top Floor," a retrospective sketch of Jenoure's mother integrating music, dance and a mix of poetry and prose. It was based on incidents remembered from her childhood on the fourteenth floor of the Bronx River Projects.
The piece began with Mitchell dancing silently, slowly, in front of a screen centre stage. Jenoure and Simmons conjured a violin and flute duet from opposite ends of the stage while Mitchell moved in time to the jerky improv. Jenoure talked as she plucked the violin and Simmons continued her trajectory on flute. Mitchell waved her butt, recalling a image of Jenoure's mother seen from the fourteenth floor window, before rag dolling around the stage. "Music makes my mother do thingsforget the washing up and dance salsa." The images were brought to life by the wonderful movement of Maria Mitchell. Together they painted a warm and intimate portrait of life growing up in the Bronx.
An air of expectancy preceded the debut of supergroup WARM, featuring the veteran Sam Rivers on tenor, soprano, and flute; Roscoe Mitchell on alto, soprano, and flute; Reggie Workman on bass; and Pheeroan Aklaff on drums. Sometimes such aggregations can be less than the sum of their parts, and so I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but tonight we were in luck as the group more than delivered on its promise over the course of two lengthy pieces.