The New Generation - Vision Festival XI, Angel Orensanz Foundation For The Arts, NYC - Day Five Afternoon, 17 June 2006
Saturday afternoon at the Vision Festival was billed as the New Generation, intending to show that this is not just about a bunch of old guys with a combined age approaching that of Methuselah on the bandstand.
Ras Moshe and the Music Now Unit
The afternoon kicked off in fine style shortly after One pm with Ras Moshe and the Music Now Unit. Moshe (pronounced Mo-shay) was born in New York into a family of saxophonists, and has been performing since 1986. The Music Now Unit was formed in 1999 and has been Moshe's most frequent performing ensemble since that time, appearing frequently in NYC and elsewhere. This version of the Unit featured Matt Lavelle on trumpet and bass clarinet, Tor Yochai Snyder on electric guitar, Matt Heyner and Todd Nicholson on bass and Jackson Krall on drums.
What followed was fifty five minutes of fluent fiery avant-garde jazz, with short heads acting as compositional signposts linked, suite-like, by solo interludes. Moshe on tenor saxophone and Lavelle on bass clarinet laid down a stately opening line before a dense rhythmic underpinning set Moshe on the run, building from the middle register, taking his time to craft an invigorating solo. The two basses purveyed a rumbling blizzard of notes, while Snyder slashed piercing marginalia and scratchy runs and Krall erupted in a multidirectional maelstrom. Moshe ascended the heights with overblown skronking runs and squeals, then regrouped and ended with a flourish. As Snyder scrubbed ethereal dissonances the rhythmic backdrop loosened. Lavelle blew ardent slow lines on bass clarinet over an increasingly frantic collective and then vocalized multiphonics, drawing in Moshe for more juddering tenor sparring. Moshe directed the band through a number of sections incorporating a Krall drum solo and a rock influenced guitar outing. Moshe's flute and Lavelle's flugelhorn combined in roughly etched lyricism to conclude this first piece.
This was a fearsome band which laid down a veritable wall of sound with one or both the horns preaching over the top. Moshe played alto as well as tenor and flute and reminded me of Sabir Mateen in his ability to spin out streams of ideas in daredevil flights. Lavelle, who also plays with the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra as well as his own groups, played trumpet and flugelhorn as well as bass clarinet. He is developing a distinctive style around smeary distortions, half valve effects and whinnying runs, linked by fanfares. Krall, who has been drummer in Cecil Taylor's trios since the mid 90s, stoked the band with a polyrhythmic pulse. Though busy he still allowed lots of space, hitting cymbals then deadening them with his hand, before sweeping around his kit in a circular motion. The tandem basses explored a range of strategies, sometimes both pizzicato, other times one bowing and one walking, but generally intertwined in a dense thicket of notes. At one stage Heyner bowed a languorous drone while simultaneously plucking deep resonant notes with his thumb. In another duet, this time arco, they chose to double up and mine similar mother lodes, with Heyner following Nicholson's lead from deep bass drones to high creaking scratching. Snyder, a longtime foot soldier in Boston's Full Metal Revolutionary Jazz Ensemble, covered all the bases, from noise to delicate pastel washes, bringing an adventurous guitar vocabulary to the mix. A satisfying well organized set, showing variety and pacing and a great way to blow away the cobwebs to start the day's proceedings.
Yosuka Yamamoto/Ben Monder
The next set was a marked contrast, featuring just two musicians in a continuous improvised set of slow shifting almost ambient textures. Yamamoto studied as a classical percussionist in Japan, before coming to Berklee where he studied vibes with Gary Burton among others. This afternoon he also incorporated electronics and flute alongside his drums and assorted percussion. Yamamoto, having been given the choice of band mate for this set, brought along Ben Monder on electric guitar.
Initially Yamamoto divided his time between vibes and electronics, setting out an indeterminate percussion wash, accompanied by quietly scrabbling guitar textures from Monder. Yamamoto shifted between his vibes, trap set and electronic gizmos while Monder remained stationary throughout. They combined in an episodic improv, largely following two separate tracks, but switching direction in response to each others changes. Nonetheless theirs was a restricted sound palette, evoking inner landscapes of alienation: a feeling enhanced by the disembodied laugh repeated on an electronic loop, which emerged from the scribbling ether part way through. Monder's sudden strums were one of the few sounds to jerk one upright out of the ambient flow. They closed with thudding heartbeat sounds echoing Monder's strumming. Interesting, but the even pacing meant that after fifty minutes the set had outstayed its welcome for me.
Matana Roberts Mississippi Moonchile
Although Matana Roberts is from Chicago, and a member of the Windy City's illustrious AACM, this autobiographical project was all about her familial roots in Mississippi. Roberts was born on the full moon, making her a true Mississippi moon child. Joining her in this personal exploration were Matt Bauder on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, regular associates Thomson Kneeland on bass and Tomas Fujuwara on drums, and Tyshawn Sorey on piano.
Roberts, wearing glittery face paint and a flowing costume to look every inch the Moonchile, led the band through a complex and varied sequence of compositions, combined in a free flowing non stop set. They moved, sometimes rapidly, between thematically diverse areas: free-bop, spiritual, blues, swing, abstract improv, and finishing with an upbeat almost South African township jive, though never digging deep into any one vein. Roberts has a rich keening tone on alto and imposed modern sensibilities onto whatever area she covered.
Bauder, whose credentials include a recently released duet with Anthony Braxton, incorporated his outside techniques into inside playing and combined well with Roberts. He seemed equally comfortable playing popping bass clarinet obbligatos in counterpoint to Roberts preaching blues cry or essaying a catalogue of advanced techniques: muffling honks with the bell of the horn against his thigh; squealing; or circular breathing sequences of bubbling distorted tones. Sorey held up his end well with fleet fingered runs, crashing dissonances and manipulation of the piano innards as the moment demanded. The rhythm section managed the stylistic switches with competent ease.
Roberts recited her autobiographical narrative over the music at various stages with stories of her sharecropper grandparents in Mississippi, interspersed with a repeated refrain of: "there are some things I can't tell you about honey. As the set drew to a close she revealed the poignant end to their story, with both dying on the same day. The moving set finished to a mini ovation from the afternoon's audience.
A rapid changeover saw Baltimore pianist Lafayette Gilchrist take the stage, accompanied by Hamid Drake on drums. Gilchrist first came to my notice in David Murray's Octet Plays Trane group in London in 2002, and he is now a regular colleague of Drake's in Murray's quartet.
They played a forty-five minute freely improvised duet. Unlike the Dave Burrell/Billy Martin duo there were no compositional references during the set, although they never went so far out. Gilchrist lead off with block chords and Drake responded with a loose rolling rhythm. Gilchrist has a florid stream-of-consciousness style, mixing rippling runs, stabbed chords, lyrical interludes and even abstracted boogie woogie passages. Drake was very sensitive in terms of dynamics, adroitly adjusting to changes in volume and tempo. He occasionally mixed in some time playing, but couldn't tempt Gilchrist into a groove.
At one point Gilchrist paused to leave Drake alone: his solo spot started with just cymbals and hi hat. His left hand was a blur of up and down strokes on the edge of the cymbals while he superimposed patterns on hi hat with his right, sounding like an accident involving a marching band in a sheet metal factory. Finally he brought in snare and toms in a thoroughbred exhibition of controlled power and imagination. One of the big pluses Drake brings to any free setting is his ability to impart a clear sense of structure even in spontaneously generated passages, and his presence enlivened and illuminated Gilchrist's set.