Vision Festival X - Day Four, June 17, 2005
The Friday night crowd brought an eager buzz to the fourth night of the Vision Festival, though there was still room for more. The intimate atmosphere meant that it was possible for fans to rub shoulders with their heroes and meet like minded souls from across the US and further afield. It is perplexing that the roster of cutting edge jazz creativity assembled for the Festival each year, doesn't result in sell out shows, but I guess it is common knowledge that jazz is undervalued in its homeland, and all the more so when it revels in its sharper edges. The festival needs all the support it can get though. The late switch of venue from a city owned facility to a private performance space, necessitated by the non-installation of fire prevention measures, means that the organisers are looking at a $16,000 hole in their budget. Go to the Vision Festival website for details of how you can help.
Other Dimensions In Music meets the Sound Vision Orchestra
The first set of the evening promised an intriguing marriage of Other Dimensions In Music, one of my favourite free jazz improvising ensembles, and the Sound Vision Orchestra. Other Dimensions are Roy Campbell on trumpet, flugelhorn, pocket trumpet and flute, Daniel Carter on reeds and trumpet, William Parker on bass and Rashid Bakr on drums. The Sound Vision Orchestra is an aggregation of NYC improvising talent, twelve pieces on this occasion, whose mission is to provide large ensemble support for some of jazz's most visionary performers. They have performed in the past with such giants as Cecil Taylor, Alan Silva and Bill Dixon. There are many strategies to organise an improvising large ensemble, ranging from compositional signposts to the conductions of Butch Morris and Alan Silva. The strategy for tonight was a first: the game plan was for the members of the Orchestra to follow the lead of the appropriate member of Other Dimensions, so Campbell would guide the horns, Parker the strings and so on.
They opened in typical Other Dimensions fashion with a loose unison between Carter and Campbell on tenor sax and trumpet respectively, over free rhythm. Campbell matched his upper register arabesques against Carter's long high tones before embarking on a caustic solo. A brief flurry of saxophones hurried Campbell on his way, with punctuations from the vibes of Warren Smith and the darting strings. Slow extemporized lines emerged from the collective brass of Campbell, Steve Swell on trombone and Stephen Haynes on trumpet, like grinding tectonic plates, as Carter's flute propounded drifting melodicisms over Parker's more urgent pulse.
There was so much happening that it was difficult to know where to focus. The orchestral tumult took on the organic nature of waves crashing on the shore. The galaxy of talent on hand was largely sublimated to the whole, with just brief moments in the sun, before being subsumed into the orchestral mass. However, within the dense ocean of sound, there were many marvellous episodes.
At one point, Haynes pocket trumpet stuttered short flurries of notes, over a dawn chorus of horns coming in behind. Swell really went for it, shaking blustery squalls from his trombone. Campbell, now on pocket trumpet, and Carter, on trumpet too, contributed to the brass convocation, slowly switching to elongated tones as Swell finally exorcised his ghosts.
Later, the lyrical interplay of Carter's alto saxophone in collusion with Campbell's trumpet stilled the orchestral traffic jam, as Bakr morphed into time on his cymbals. Mark Hennen comped on piano and a lush chorus of horns coalesced behind the duo. Emerging from the throng, Jason Kao Hwang's high pitched bowing on violin blended with a flowing singing line from Rob Brown on alto. Campbell gestured for the other saxophones to join Brown, and Scott Currie enthusiastically accepted the invitation, wailing on alto, as the band reached a crescendo of fanfares around him.
Campbell increasingly took an active role in shaping the performance, at one stage signalling a piano solo from Hennen, who pummelled the keys, his whole body shaking. Parker and Bakr's furious underpinning quietened to leave Hennen in a lucent duet with Smith's xylophone, before becoming submerged once more in the glorious noise.
As the evening progressed the orchestra seemed to take its signals less from the core quartet and actively organised themselves, whether Bang and Hwang improvising a backing motif while Daniel Levin soloed on cello, or Swell and Haynes joining to riff behind fiery fanfares from Campbell.