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Live Reviews

Vision Festival XI, Angel Orensanz Foundation For The Arts, NYC - Day Four, 16 June 2006

By Published: September 17, 2006

Drake was simply magnificent radiating an aura of calm, even while summoning a tempest around him - he is the ultimate drummer for this sort of rhythmic free jazz - seamlessly moving between rhythms, accenting the detail, while still leaving enough space and air for the others to weave in their threads. The group closed their excellent set to a richly deserved standing ovation. Drake was all smiles. He said earlier of the horns that he was truly happy that they had graced him with their playing, and that sentiment was heartily endorsed by the gathered crowd.

Rob Brown Quartet

I was looking forward to the Rob Brown quartet as this was his only appearance in this year's Festival (in contrast to five appearances last year). Brown has been a mainstay of the NYC downtown scene ever since his emergence some 20 years ago and his distinctive vibrato laden alto squawk has graced the bands of William Parker since 1993. Brown composes music and improvises for film, poetry, dancers and performance art. Even though he operates across the spectrum, his recorded output under his own name has generally been composition based, small group jazz. His two most recent offerings, "The Big Picture on Marge and "Radiant Pools on RogueArt are outstanding and betoken a growing artistic maturity. Brown was joined by the inevitable William Parker on bass, Gerald Cleaver on drums and Craig Taborn on piano for three lengthy pieces over the course of a forty five minute set.

Parker drove the first piece from the off with a muscular riff. Taborn added an electronic wash and random tinkles before locking in, with Cleaver in his slipstream. Brown whinnied over the ominous driving rhythm, all slurred and bent notes, before setting out a simple theme and then unfurling a marvellously convoluted extemporisation over the shifting rhythmic quilt spread by the band. The endlessly inventive Parker rang the changes even within the confines of the driving ostinato. Taborn took a great solo - stabbing morse code with his right hand as he bounced back and forward and up and down the keyboard over the hard driving rhythm. Pealing chords gave way to double handed pounding and sweeping runs before he leapt back from the piano at the conclusion. Parker deconstructed the riff in his feature and it was impossible not to revel in the sheer physicality of his playing which underpinned an explosive start to the set.

The long flowing angular piano alto unison theme of the second piece, inspired Brown's best solo of the evening, featuring an inventory of fast runs, falsetto cries, false fingered notes, vibrato drenched squeals, and overblowing. Taborn cut loose in febrile support, while Parker plucked frantically and Cleaver invoked a percussive storm. Brown dug deep for repeated highs, his brow creased in concentration, in an excellent, almost desperate excursion. Drum rolls at the end segued into the final piece with a potent exposition from Cleaver, full of fast crisp rolls, hit so hard that one stick flew ten foot into the air. As the ferment calmed, Taborn picked out music box sonorities with added electronic beeps, over which Brown and Parker, in arco mode, essayed a short downbeat line leading into an open dark brooding improv. It closed with Parker lightly circular bowing while Brown added long distorted dissonant tones. Parker extracted unsettling creaky door sonorities bowing high just above the bridge, before subsiding into silence. An excellent set, packing a visceral punch one would perhaps not associate with Brown, and garnering another well deserved standing ovation.

Billy Bang Quintet

After a twenty minute pause to change over, Billy Bang took the stage with regular cohorts Andrew Bemkey on piano, Todd Nicholson on bass, James Zollar on trumpet and Newman Taylor baker on drums. As with much of Bang's recent work, this evening's programme was deeply rooted in his experiences as a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, drawing on the repertoire from the Vietnam the Aftermath book.

Zollar's piercing trumpet fanfares over staggered tattoos from Baker heralded the introduction to "Yo Ho Chi Minh is in the House , with Bang plucking his violin guitar fashion. Bang picked out the oriental sounding pentatonic theme, quickly doubled by Nicholson on bass with Baker kicking in behind. Bemkey dropped in spare chords and then finally when the tension had reached an unbearable peak, Bang bowed the theme riff a couple of times and the band was firing on all cylinders. A sequence of fiery swinging solos boosted excitement levels and captured the crowd's attention.

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