Vision Festival 2008: Day 3
Powered by Reggie Nicholson on drums with the exuberant Sabor on percussion, the band certainly lived up to its name. The lengthy opener summed up its approach with a quiet incremental start from Eric Lemon's ruminative bass over percussive splashes, before first Richard Clements delicate piano lines and then the leader's fluttering flute evoked a rainforest awakening. Moving to alto saxophone, Spaulding essayed a coruscating free jazz soliloquy before being briefly joined by the rich baritone voice of Gregory Porter, who then disappeared from the stage. Taking this as their prompt, the band leapt into an irresistible Latin rhythm, with Spaulding encouraging the audience to clap, before another cooking solo over the driving backing, And so they continued.
Not until the start of the next piece did Porter reappear, coming forward from the back of the hall shouting "New world's comin,'" an exclamation taken up by the band and even some of the audience, before the band kicked in for another groove. Such smart arrangements, allied to Spaulding's thoughtful original compositions transformed what might have been a straight ahead set into something special. Percussionist Sabor reveled in the spotlight with an indomitable sense of fun, which encapsulated the band's appeal, earning them a well deserved standing ovation.
Even better was to come with both Hamiet Bluiett and Billy Bang returning from the previous evening for a grooving ensemble, merging innovation with tradition by way of garrulous group interaction. With them they brought another top notch rhythm team of long standing: Chicago's Harrison Bankhead on bass and Hamid Drake once more on drums. Accompanying them was Sun Ra veteran Ahmed Abdullah, added to the programmed lineup for good measure on trumpet.
Another slow burning start saw Bluiett blowing his first notes on baritone saxophone with his hands behind his back, before laying down a brawny WSQ style riff. Bang and Abdullah ratcheted up the intensity until you feared they might combust, egged on by Drake's rocket propelled cymbals, setting the scene for an explosion of intertwining lines, with solos emerging from the volatile mix.
Drake watched Bang intently as his hands became a blur during a quicksilver violin and drums duet, while the irrepressible violinist worked his bow frantically to keep up. Even so, Drake still found time to reference the thematic rhythm and execute a turnaround to cue Bluiett back in. Denying the cumbersome nature of his horn, Bluiett sustained a lengthy upper register passage with unrivalled control, before a contrasting series of multiphonic blurts. Energetic face offs with Bang ensued with both sparring head to head, grins splitting their faces. A tumbling circus music theme climaxed the lengthy opener, before a final blow out from the raucous front line.
For the next piece, longtime Bluiett associate, pianist D.D. Jackson, made a guest appearance. His expansive introduction deconstructed into a swirling maelstrom, before finally morphing into a serene rendition of Coltrane's "Naima." Just as the announcer attempted to cut them off, Bluiett launched into a dynamite version of Ellington and Strayhorn's "Take The 'A' Train." Bluiett signaled Jackson to go wild, which he did with a two handed abandon, symptomatic of this joyful noise. Whether convened just for this show I don't know, but this all-star lineup deserves greater visibility and a live recording at the very least. Another standing ovation was their inevitable due.
Ensemble of Possibilities
Following three storming sets upped the ante for the cooperative group filling drummer Whit Dickey's festival slot and meant it was more like an ensemble of impossibilities to command the audience's attention at the end of a hot evening. Joining him was a star studded lineup of downtown talent, with Rob Brown on alto saxophone, Daniel Carter on flute, alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and trumpet, Eri Yamamoto on piano, Joe Morris on bass and Jason Kao Hwang on violin. While connections abound between these players, this was only their second performance as a unit.
Their brand of non-pulse based free improvisational ebb and flow required a reorientation of mindset which took a while to achieve. Nonetheless tracking the group trajectory provided an object lesson in seat of the pants navigation. A nervy quality to the proceedings stemmed from the largely non-linear movement of bass and drums, with Yamamoto actually the source of a lot of the rhythm, explicitly so in the later part of the set when she asserted more repeating patterns.