The New Generation - Vision Festival XI, Angel Orensanz Foundation For The Arts, NYC - Day Five Afternoon, 17 June 2006
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.