Vision Festival XI, Angel Orensanz Foundation For The Arts, NYC - Day Two, 14 June 2006
Next up was the Warren Smith Ensemble who took the stage at 10.20. Master musician Smith boasts a diverse resume from Aretha Franklin to Max Roach's M'Boom, and has also worked extensively with Sam Rivers. Strung across the stage from Smith was an intriguing horn section of Mark Taylor on French horn, Jack Jeffers on bass trombone, Roy Campbell on flugelhorn, trumpet and pocket trumpet and Andrew Lamb on tenor, with Jaribu Shahid on bass behind.
A drum fanfare from Smith launched the proceedings, with the rest of the band on an assortment of shakers and percussion, before the horns intertwined in a multi voiced theme. Smith nodded to Jeffers to take the spotlight over a churning rhythm, soon abetted by a wonderfully boisterous horn chorus. A lyrical French horn excursion presaged a slow burning flugelhorn soliloquy from Campbell and a storming knotty tenor outpouring from Lamb. This first piece by Smith was called Free Form #10 (" I called it that so that I would have to write the other nine ).
Smith switched to balaphon for the next composition - "A Gift from William Parker - a reference to that very instrument which Parker needed to get rid of to free up some domestic space. A multi-sectioned head coalesced into an insistent riff with the horns falling into step, evoking a garrulous procession through the rain forest. Taylor drew out a bluesy elegiac feel over a dissonant horn choir, before Smith gave Campbell the go ahead. His muted pocket trumpet essayed long pinched tones climaxing in high register whoops before giving way to repeated flurries with an overall understated Spanish feel. Great solo. Lamb was also inspired - laying down the law with elemental lines in his meaty chewy tone, before hitting the high registers, prompting Smith and the other horns to cut loose in a raucous frenzy of support. The temperature subsided as Smith returned to the balaphon and Lamb came back out of orbit and they all concluded on a gentle riff as Smith shouted "Thank you for that gift William . A great set but too short at thirty-five minutes.
Sam Rivers Trio
Sam Rivers' current working trio, with Matthews and Cole reprised from the Orchestra, provided the conclusion to the evening. This was a much looser set than the Orchestra's, designed to showcase Rivers' instrumental prowess, in a quicksilver, though episodic, cavalcade of moods and textures. Cole initiated a hard hitting drum maelstrom, leading into walking bass with trenchant tenor declarations from the seated Rivers. Mathews swung his bass frantically from side to side as he played, while Cole smiled serenely as he lay down the pulse. Rivers' trajectory proceeded in short radiant bursts, closely shadowed by the attentive Cole. When Rivers hit a lyrical line it prompted Cole to slip into steady time, before becoming abstract, then boppish by turns and finishing with a catchy theme.
There was a celebratory vibe to the whole set and the trio enjoyed showing off their paces. Cole co-opted the piano for an outburst of slashing chords over which Rivers wailed, accompanied by high arco smears from Matthews, before morphing into a soulful tenor ballad. Cole showboated on piano before giving way to Matthews for a forceful bass solo. It was all change again for the next piece with Rivers on soprano, and Cole on tenor saxophone, initially conversing over a bass drone, until Matthews interpolated bass clarinet into what became a three way improv. Eventually an arrangement emerged with Rivers lead, Cole counterpoint and Matthews underpinning. Rivers also incorporated outings on piano and flute into the forty minute long set and they finished to a warm standing ovation, luxuriating in the affection and love emanating from the audience, friends and family. Rivers' daughter gave a short oration at the end of the set. The 82 year old Rivers, laughing and joking, clearly enjoyed the evening enormously.