Vision Festival 2008: Day 4
Unfortunately Grimes' bass suffered a persistent sound problem with the bottom strings, which wasn't fixed and which clearly distracted him and the band to the extent that the execution didn't really match the conception, in spite of some fine rasping, soaring solos from Siddik, and the always fluent Mateen. A shame as they were clearly looking towards something beyond the standard free-jazz blow-out session.
Having heard pianist Connie Crothers discussing Lennie Tristano and Dizzy Gillespie with Phil Schaap on WKCR earlier in the week, I was expecting her Vision set to be a more traditional recital. But Crothers began by stating how inspirational she found the Vision Festival, and she certainly did seem inspired. Despite a serene look on her face, she pitched a stabbing left hand against dark rumblings in her right in the first of four thrillingly expressionistic, freely improvised pieces.
Sadly her set was cut short, with MC Lewis Barnes even asking the audience if they wanted more after the third piece. When answered with a resounding yes, Crothers responded with a forearm smash on the keyboard, then used the flats and heel of her hands to pound the registers, before morphing into measured chords contrasted with an extemporized bluesy line. Finishing with a series of karate chops up and down the keyboard, Crothers received an affectionate standing ovation for her all too brief appearance.
Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet
The last set of the evening was a monster. For this performance trumpeter Leo Smith's Golden Quartet became a quintet with the addition of second drummer Pheeroan ak Laff to join bassist John Lindberg, pianist Vijay Iyer, who also contributed electronics, and drummer Famadou Don Moye of Art Ensemble of Chicago fame.
Though surrounding himself with leaders, Smith made no concessions to cooperative modes of working: he was imperious, holding up scores to indicate the next piece without turning round to those behind him, and marshalling his forces in line with a fiercely honed aesthetic. While his directing style may not have been pretty, it produced outstanding results and was a Festival highlight, keeping me on the edge of my seat throughout in spite of the length, heat and late hour.
During five pieces lasting over 70 minutes, Smith's compositions proved tantalising: a unison line here or a riff there, but so integrated into the group conduction that each seemed organically whole. Starting with a spacey drone from Iyer's electronics backed by arco bass, Smith etched muted, echoplexed trumpet lines across the top. Dressed all in black and playing looking at the ground, the trumpeter seemed to have had acquired attitude as well as funk from his investigation of Miles Davis' mid 1970s electric bands. Stopping proceedings, he indicated to the two drummers to join, before layering long, intense trumpet tones over the churning rhythm.
Though Smith gave his band members lots of space, he also showed he could be particular about how they filled it. Lindberg played with great authority and purpose throughout. One solo stemming from a duet with Moye commenced with morse code pizzicato, spiced by slapping the body of the bass, and then the strings, in a dazzling musical and rhythmic display. Smith stood next to him as he continued, the leader seemingly intent on the bassist drawing ever deeper on his creative resources and on preventing the band from kicking in until the bassist subsided into silence, eliciting wild applause from the spellbound audience.
With electronic squiggles and wah wah trumpet alternating with passages of crushing funk, the final piece encapsulated Smith's compelling amalgam of visceral power and conceptual vision for a storming set closer. Given the massive overrun, the after Festival jam session was cancelled, but in truth I was already musically sated and it was hard to see how this performance could have been followed let alone bettered.
Saturday promised to be packed full of quality too, with the showcase for emerging artists in the afternoon and then a series of highly anticipated performances from Matthew Shipp, Paul Dunmall, George Lewis and Joelle Leandre, as well as unanticipated pleasures from a quartet of Italian musicians to complete the day's festivities.
Frank Rubolino (Ullmann and Swell)