Vision Festival XI, Angel Orensanz Foundation For The Arts, NYC - Day Three, 15 June 2006
Paul Rutherford trio
The opening set for the third evening of the Vision Festival featured the veteran UK trombonist Paul Rutherford, combining with the Vancouver based rhythm team of Torsten Muller, originally from Hamburg, on bass and percussionist Dylan van der Schyff. Rutherford has had a long and varied career, best known for his free inclinations with Iskra 1903, Globe Unity Orchestra, LJCO and his ground-breaking solo trombone album "The Gentle Harm of the Bourgeoisie .
Rutherford sat eyes closed, on a stool at the rear of the stage as arco bass and puttering drums and cymbals mingled in a hyperactive opening. Rutherford contributed a series of fragmented blurts and then pitted high slurred runs against abyssal bass scrapes. The trio dealt in abstract forms, with Rutherford's trombone like a cat slinking through the rhythmic undergrowth, growling, buzzing, squelching, and whispering. That's not to say this was a full on display of virtuoso technique - Rutherford was conversational and understated for the most part, content to take his part in the ebb and flow of the improv.
They were responsive to each other's leads, but never really caught fire, in spite of some notable individual moments. Van der Schyff is a busy player who likes to vary the textures: using a towel to dampen his snare, or a cymbal placed on the drum head; contrasting rapid hand pattering with crisp hihat splashes. High frequency rubbing of the bass body prompted a stick scraped across cymbals. Van der Schyff produced a measured textural tone poem in the second piece, juxtaposing short bursts of clashing timbres. Muller's face was creased in concentration, whether he was drawing forth a frighteningly deep full toned arco drone, bowing as he squeezed the strings together to bend the pitch, or expansively plucking ringing notes which he tossed over his shoulder.
The trio explored four pieces over the course of a short set of just over half an hour.
John Coltrane Tribute Band
Billed as the John Coltrane Tribute Band and featuring two of Trane's former sidemen in Reggie Workman and Rashied Ali, this band was nonetheless assembled under the direction of downtown trumpet maestro Roy Campbell. Campbell, resplendent in a sharp turquoise jacket, completed his line-up with pianist Andrew Bemkey, his erstwhile band mate from his ensemble Tazz, and saxophonist Louis Belogenis. Belogenis has made something of a career of new takes of classic 60s aggregations, with the band Prima Materia, also featuring Ali, giving their take on Trane's Meditations. Nonetheless, any connection with Trane's oeuvre was metaphysical rather than literal.
The band started casually before the audience knew what was happening. Even MC for the evening, Steve Dalachinsky was taken unawares, until he realised and took his cue, reciting free verse, based on a rap around Naima and a litany of Coltrane song titles, over a slow burning stasis. The band gradually turned up the heat with Campbell and Belogenis blending elongated tones over an increasingly animated Bemkey. Ali's promptings became more insistent until they reached a blistering crescendo and Dalachinsky finished. Space opened up for a heartfelt statement from Workman, whose lacerating runs down the fretboard culminated in gorgeous bent notes. The veteran bassist was on fire this evening and took a prominent role throughout the single freewheeling piece. At one point he introduced an echo effect and elicited a resonant arco buzz - imposing dark sienna slashes on the aural canvas, then swiping shrieking strokes just above the bridge. Campbell interjected a smouldering pocket trumpet line and Ali dropped some restrained beats before Belogenis dovetailed in a magnificent anthemic upwelling.
The uplifting feeling continued with Campbell on flugelhorn signalling a loosely voiced unison with Belogenis, before embarking on a lyrical slow burning, almost spiritual extemporisation over a spare Bemkey counterpoint. Although there were music stands on the stage, any composition acted as a reference point rather than a stale rehash of familiar territories and the piece moved forward with solos emerging organically from the evolving interplay. Belogenis called down the spirits on tenor, building with multiphonic cries to invoke late period Trane. Ali maintained a constant commentary throughout, with an insistent pulse and subtle incitements, resisting the temptation for bombast, even in the most intense moments. Living legend Workman was astonishing whether frantically strumming on a single string, plucking harmonics or setting down booming bass notes. Bemkey just ate up the keys all night, whether in support or on the front line, with mercurial runs surging against crashing oceanic chords.
Another peak of intensity was reached with Campbell and Belogenis speaking in tongues, before a majestic restatement of the loosely phrased theme. Bemkey plucked at the piano's innards as Workman rubbed up and down the fret and Ali pattered. Dalachinsky returned to murmur over the dissipating energy and they closed their excellent fifty minute set to a well deserved standing ovation.
Denis Gonzalez and Maria Naidu
A very short set followed with Texan trumpeter Denis Gonzalez making one of his rare NYC appearances in a first time collaboration with Swedish dancer Maria Naidu. Naidu has performed as a guest artist with European dance companies and worked for eight years as a soloist in many leading roles with Jennifer Muller's company "The Works . Against a pre-recorded backdrop of white noise and snatches of music, Gonzalez recited from the side of the stage while Naidu exploded in short bursts of sinuous motion, interspersed with long held poses. Gonzalez sculpted a series of extended tones on trumpet as Naidu flowed towards and around him as he blew. There was a theatrical aspect to the interaction as Gonzalez turned his horn skywards, indifferent to Naidu's entreaties.
Gonzalez left the stage with Naidu lying half on and half off of it, and sprayed snatches of tune from around the hall. As the exhortations became more animated, Naidu roused herself and quickened in sympathy. Roy Campbell joined on pastoral flute from the far side of the hall and Louis Belogenis on cool tenor from the rear. Naidu left the stage and danced through and around the audience until all the performers had left the hall. A very pleasant soothing interlude.
Day and Taxi
The next group was new to me, Swiss trio Day and Taxi, consisting of Christoph Gallo on soprano saxophone, Christian Weber on bass and Michael Griener on drums. Originally formed in 1988, the group has been through several changes and a long lay off before resurfacing recently with this new line up.
Gallo, on soprano throughout, cut a restless figure. He crouched and swayed to essay his angular lines or hopped from foot to foot as time speeded up. Weber had a strong dark sound, deployed in close tandem with his rhythm partner. Griener was powerful and precise on drums. It was the group's overall precision which perhaps led to them stopping in the second piece when a mobile phone went off in the audience, perfectly timed, almost as if part of the arrangement, but leaving a certain downtown music emporium owner looking somewhat sheepish.
They played seven short compositions characterised by tight Lacyesque heads seamlessly flowing into intricate and tightly focussed interplay. At thirty five minutes, it was a concise and spirited set mixing contemporary new music and jazz, though with barely a hint of the blues.
Bill Dixon and George Lewis: Videosonic Projections
The finale was provided by he horns and electronics of Bill Dixon and George Lewis in their first appearance together. Dixon first came to prominence through his leading role in the Jazz Composers Guild and the 1964 artist-presented avant-garde festival, October Revolution in Jazz. Lewis emerged from Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1976 through his work with Muhal Richard Abrams and Anthony Braxton. Although of different generations the career trajectories of the two brassmen have some marked similarities: in pursuing academia and also in embracing electronics in addition to their horns.
After a hiatus to sort the projection and his, Lewis called for the lights in the hall to be dimmed. The darkness reverberated to Dixon's blurts and breath sounds on trumpet through an echo mic, while Lewis conjured up electronically treated snatches of voices. Dixon has perfected an amazing command of the trumpet's lower registers and pitted subterranean growls against a whispering breathy backdrop. Lewis joined on trombone and blew soft long tones in a convergence of susurrating brass. Both played rapid-fire bursts of small sounds with Dixon's sonar soundings and Lewis's waspish buzz blending in a lyrical confluence.
The set progressed in a gently minimalist dialogue. If your expectations of these players were shaped solely by their biographies and playing associations you might be disappointed with the lack of fire breathing and overt virtuosity. The improvisation was more about the placement and decay of sound with only the merest of hints of even the most abstracted jazz or blues tinge. At times Dixon played away from the mic affecting a plaintive human cry against the electronic ether. Part way through, Lewis initiated the projection of Dixon's paintings and lithographs with videos of waves, gulls and so on. There was a fragile beauty in their interweaving sniffs, breaths, blurts, blatts, eruptions and murmurings. With electronic distortion it was sometimes impossible to tell who was playing what, itself a signifier of an undoubted meeting of minds. They gently subsided into inaudibility after some fifty minutes and shook hands in front of an enthusiastically appreciative audience.