Vision Festival X - Day Three, June 16, 2005
All three went into a huddle centre stage, holding hands, before the set commenced with Mitchell's "Afrika Rising. Bankhead set up a twisting riff over Spencer's mallets on toms and cymbals, and Mitchell essayed sashaying bursts of flute, before leaving Spencer to emboss the rhythm alone. They all rejoined to run down the rolling theme, and then headed off for the wide open spaces. The trio's palette was enriched by Mitchell's vocalised embellishments as she played her flute, and Bankhead's wordless singing as he played a pulsing bass riff over Spencer's circling rhythmic variations. A funky bass/drum interlude led to a rootsy bass solo in which Bankhead doubled his infectious dancing lines with his voice. A tuneful drum solo followed, Spencer pounding out the rhythm and melody together, before the group restated the opening theme.
Nicole Mitchell's compositions proved the springboard for a wonderful inside/outside mix. Mitchell herself demonstrated the benefit of concentrating on the flute as her main axe, manifested by her ability to supplement her full tone with separate vocalised lines and flourishes as she played: whether bubbling sequences of notes and yelps, whooping slurs, or low growling harmonics. Her bandmates were equally adept at funk or free styles. Bankhead has a distinctive buzzing woody tone, which he frequently augmented with wordless singing accompaniment. Spencer mixed up the rhythms with a big grin on his face as he played, recalling the style and even some of the licks of his buddy Hamid Drake. He used the tuning of his drums to perfection in the heads and also made use of his elbows and even his feet (a la Han Bennink) to modify the tuning as he played.
An excursion for Mitchell on an African harp further varied the fare on offer. She picked out repeating sequences reminiscent of a thumb piano as Bankhead bowed high and sweet, like exotic birdsong. Together with Mitchell's wordless singing and playing, it evoked a timeless feeling of rural Africa. They closed the set with a funky riff over which Mitchell sang "Make it a better day, to the accompaniment of some doo-wop vocals from Bankhead. A short burst of garrulous flute and Mitchell stilled the band to rapturous applause and a standing ovation. A musically excellent set with an infectious good time feel to boot.
Kidd Jordan/Fred Anderson Quartet
There was a palpable buzz in the air before the next band: the Kidd Jordan/Fred Anderson Quartet. The two tenor sax titans have one excellent recording to their name (Two Days in April, on Eremite). But apart from a round of festival appearances following that disc and occasional reunions in Chicago, they get together all too infrequently, perhaps due to their respective bases in New Orleans and the Windy City. The quartet is rounded out by the premier rhythm section du jour of bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake. Vision Festival goers had the privilege of witnessing this supersonic duo in tandem on no less than five occasions during this Festival, but this was definitely one of their finest outings.
Jordan led off with a fusillade of splintered tones. Anderson launched into the fray and immediately honks and squeaks abounded, before giving way to a more delicate horn tracery. There is some serious chemistry between the two men, manifested in their contrasting yet simpatico styles. Like soul brothers, they crouched together centre stage and unleashed a chorus of angels. Parker began picking out sturdy supporting lines and soon Drake was working hand in gloveand the audience was already euphoric.
Jordan wailed over Anderson's muscular phrasing. Drake picked up Anderson's runs and echoed them on his snare. Both horns had radio mics. Although Anderson remained rooted, Jordan made full use of his freedom to prowl the stage, swinging from side to side towards the drums as he expelled incendiary upper register runs and some of his trademark whinnying squeals. Anderson responded with a guttural honking riff and the two horns continued to pour forth until Jordan broke off to mop his brow. Anderson paused too and the rhythm duo held sway, laying down the constant quilt of shifting rhythmic patterns which they do so well.
Anderson tended to mine the middle registers of his horn, evolving motifs and investigating them exhaustively. Jordan favoured the higher reaches, intoning falsetto cries contrasted with stentorian bellows. Nonetheless, the blues inform both men's sound. Though abstracted, it's still the blues, to be sure, and it lies at the heart of their chemistry.