Vision Festival 2008: Day 6 - Finale
Fast turning into vocals night, Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure's brand of African roots jazz foregrounded Kali Z Fasteau on nai flutes, soprano saxophone and vocals alongside the leader's guitar and vocals, with backing from piano, bass, drums and African percussion. Their infectious grooving songs, peppered with jazzy solos, certainly got the audience going, with one appreciative punter coming down front to shower the stage with dollar bills. The percussionist delighted in embellishing the rhythms with both talking drum and gourd, earning himself a further payoff from the enthusiastic punter.
William Parker's Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield
Closing out the Festival for another year was the NYC debut of William Parker's Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield project, drawing inspiration from Mayfied's pioneering songs addressing issues of African American pride and community. Parker's arrangements of the late soul legends songs mixed in original compositions, alongside additional words by poet/playwright Amiri Baraka. Sharing vocal duties with Baraka was the elegant Leena Conquest, from Parker's Raining On The Moon ensemble. In the horn section were Sabir Mateen on reeds, Darryl Foster on soprano and tenor saxophones, and the returning Lewis Barnes on trumpet, while the powerhouse driving the band comprised Hamid Drake on drums, Dave Burrell on piano, Barnes' son on guitar, and of course Parker himself on bass. Fittingly given the emphasis on community at this Festival, the band was to be accompanied for the second half of the show by the young people of the New Life church choir directed by Angela Moses.
Kicking off with "Freddy's Dead," the funky beat and riffing horns behind the singing of Conquest and interjections of Baraka quickly established that this was one of Parker's more accessible outfits. In fact a regular groove underpinned almost the whole set, with the only outside elements being the horn fills and solos percolating up out of the mix. Baraka was over amplified compared to Conquest, though the balance was readjusted as the set progressed through "A Little Sugar" and "It's Alright."
Inspired by Foster's serpentine soprano saxophone solo on the former, Conquest dismounted the stage for a session of her trademark dancing down front to wild applause. As a link to the latter piece, Parker indicated for Burrell to take centerstage, plink-plonking initially, but then crashing wildly, by way of some off- kilter stride before finishing with more flailing runs.
For the second part of the set, Parker invited the 20-piece New Life Choir to join them, down in front of the stage, immediately in front of where I was sitting, for a funky "People Get Ready." Their spirit was irresistible. During the wailing horn breaks, they swayed back and forth clapping enthusiastically, before belting out the next chorus. Parker and Drake segued into "Love Is All We Need" and then a deeply affecting "This Is My Country" with the young men and women in the choir giving it their impassioned all. Inspiring, uplifting, and impossible not to be moved. It still brings a smile to my face as I write these words. Naturally they received a standing ovation, and indeed the set was yet another high point in what had been an excellent festival.
Festival Wrap Up
As the audience said their goodbyes to friends new and old at the close of the 13th Annual Vision Festival, the vibe amongst the regulars was that this had been one of the best festivals in recent years, with some incredible highs like the Kidd Jordan celebration, Bluiett's set, Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quintet and Paul Dunmall's trio, and just a few lows, one of them being the unseasonable heat. Having a venue with two performance spaces allowed more dance, visual art and spoken word, although it meant that the audience for them was more select.
In spite of a slightly more diverse roster, the Vision Festival continues to provide a much needed showcase in New York City for free jazz, or avant-garde jazz, call it what you will, and continues to emphasize that this is an African-American art form. Here's hoping that organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker succeeds in her aim of finding a permanent home for Vision music and other arts, and here's to many more Vision Festivals in the future.
Frank Rubolino (Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure, William Parker)