Vision Festival X - Day Four, June 17, 2005
Jordan and Oluyemi Thomas had similar styles, in that they both displayed a preference for high pitched sonorities, often in a continuous climax of shrieking howls. This is not to say that no-one was listening: Jordan frequently followed Thomas' lead, his raised eyebrows giving him a quizzical twinkle as he did so. Thomas, dressed in flowing robes with matching headgear, majored on bass clarinet, contrasting vocalised pops and yelps, with guttural honks and a mellifluous woody tone in the lower register.
The freely improvised set pulsated with frequent crescendos, stoked by the churning rhythm section, taking its lead from the front men. In the quieter interludes Ijeoma Thomas resumed her sprechsang recitation with commentary from horns, bass and sparse percussion until the group interplay inspired a riff, and they rocketed skywards once more. The visceral excitement they conjured up had been something of a surprise and the set drew a well deserved standing ovation from the audience at the end.
The poetry of Cleveland born, Vermont based, poet David Budbill was accompanied by William Parker on flutes and percussion and Hamid Drake on drums. The grey tonsured and bearded Budbill selected his poems from a book for a matter of fact recitation with gentle understated accompaniment from wood flute and brushes. After he finished one poem, Budbill would leaf through the book until another took his fancy.
The accompaniment was not directly related to the content of the poems, continuing in the same vein even when a new poem started. Budbill's poems were expressed in a downbeat vernacular: "This evening on the news, The Emperor said he had not yet ordered a war, as if ordering a war was as easy as ordering a pizza. The rhythm interludes appeared naturally, while Budbill paused to select another poem or to take a drink of water, with Parker blowing shakuhachi or gently smiting gongs while Drake traced rhythmic patterns with hands or sticks.
Bill Dixon Quintet
There was an air of expectancy surrounding master trumpeter Bill Dixon's group, as he appears so infrequently in NYC. He brought with him long time associate Stephen Horenstein on baritone saxophone and bass flute, Warren Smith on vibes, percussion and tympani, Tony Widoff on synthesizer and keyboards and Andrew Lafkas on bass. Dixon dedicated the performance, which he termed a work in progress, to French photographer Thierry Trombert. The group played against a projection of a wonderful sequence of Dixon's drawings, paintings and etchings, (familiar to anyone who has any of his later recordings, the sleeves of which they adorn).
The baritone sax introduced the performance alone with fluttering lines interrupted by juddering yawls and interspersed with a delicate tracery of squeals. A brooding atmosphere congealed around the sax with rumbling tympani, dark washes of synthesized noise and bowed bass. Dixon selected his moment to return to centre stage, quieting the band to blow bubbly breath sounds into a mic equipped with a delay so his exhalations reverberated around the hall. Lafkas snatched airy strokes across his strings and Smith rubbed a wetted finger across the tympani skin to produce a resonant squeak.
The piece proceeded amid a meditative calm. Dixon, a painter of sound, carefully placed subdued blurts over the groups subtle dark underpinning, with only occasional pointillistic accents from Smith's vibes or tympani. As Dixon became more emphatic, the group responded: Horenstein essayed a catalogue of baritone squawks and Smith clattered the shells of the tympani. Dixon, listening attentively signalled the keyboards to come forward in the mix as a counterbalance. The performance allowed ample space for sounds to dissipate into silence and timbral contrasts of light against the shade of the predominant bass tonalities of which Dixon is so fond.
Dixon used reverb to striking effect, sending bright trumpet bursts echoing around the hall, then layering deep resonant growls against the decaying echoes. The arco scrapings, baritone flutters, keyboard creaks and vibe clusters blended to form a shifting quilt of sound beneath him. Lafkas was constantly in motion up and down the fretboard, while his bow skated over the strings bringing forth whirring drones. The keyboards were used largely for textural nuance - electronic washes or judders. The performance stood in sharp relief to much of the Festival in its organic pacing, eschewing of pyrotechnics and painterly emphasis on the overall sound, with individual contributions largely subsumed to the greater good. The ambient, submarine sounds of Dixon's music are so sui generis that they transcend jazz idioms and demand to be judged on their own terms.