Vision Festival X - Day One, June 14, 2005
The first piece kicked off with a fast unison theme, incorporating drum interludes, before Rivers took a sinuous burnished tenor solo. Mitchell followed on alto, digging in for a barnstorming excursion. Mitchell's tart ululating lines were extended with circular breathing in a virtuoso display where technique was subservient to musicality. Aklaff whipped up a storm and Workman strummed frantically with one finger. Rivers re-entered the fray and the two horns collided before Mitchell continued his solo, gradually turning up the heat with multiphonic cries, over booming bass slurs and fierce drum punctuations, before pulling to a sudden halt.
Cue an explosion of applause, and the bar was raised for everything else that followed. The piece continued with a bass/drum break, leading into an intense Aklaff solo which developed incrementally with powerful strokes on tuned drums, before the restatement of the opening theme.
Workman set up the second piece with a buzzing arco drone, over which the two horns loosely phrased a slow burning theme before giving way to soulful duets with Workman's bass. Aklaff laid down a funky groove on his cymbals, and the horns rejoined in loose tandem for some spirited interplay. Workman briefly forsook his bass to add exotic sonorities, at first bowing on a saw, then blowing on didgeridoo, while at the same time plucking his bass string with one hand. There was a lot of space in this piece which evolved into a conversational duet for Mitchell's snakecharmer soprano and River's waspish flute over broad arco strokes from Workman. The frontmen again switched, Mitchell to alto and Rivers to soprano, to match continuous intertwining lines over a powerful rhythm. Another excellent set and a deserved standing ovation from the crowd.
The switch from the intended two stages of the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center to the single stage of the Angel Orensanz Foundation inevitably resulted in more time being spent on changeovers than originally envisaged. Even though some of the sets had been curtailed, the final groupThe Gifttook the stage long after their intended hour in front of a dwindling audience.
The Gift is William Hooker on drums; Roy Campbell on trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn and flute; and Jason Kao Hwang on electric violin. The group opened with Campbell floating a swirling line on flute over plucked notes from Hwang, while Hooker prowled the stage, interjecting thoughts on "intuition." Hooker beat a soft tattoo on brushes as Campbell's muted trumpet unfurled around wah wah violin lines from Hwang. Intuition is a quality which these players have in abundance, derived from long years of experience of each others strategies in a variety of settings. The extemporised set developed from restrained beginnings via a series of duets, solos, and ensemble sections into a high-energy blowout.
In spite of its limited size, the Gift has an expansive sound: Hooker in particular has always struck me as a very composerly improvisertightly controlled and ordered, marshalling his resources in the moment into almost orchestral constructs. A Hooker wall of sound solo quietened into a duo as the trumpet returned. Campbell mined the upper registers, turning boppish as Hwang plucked a bass riff and Hooker demarcated time. Campbell rejoiced in the space and developed a masterful solo with brass smears and flurries, while Hwang bowed a fierce riff and Hooker energised both the band and the remaining audience.
They were still playing at 1:15 am, when I could no longer stay awake and regretfully crept away from what had been a great opening night, and just a foretaste of what was to come...