Vision Festival 2009: Day 2
With a stage crammed full of gaudy costume, sheaves of scores and musical instruments, the expanded 19 piece Arkestra was a thing of splendor to behold. After a freeform opening take off, they played a long set of solid big band swing, very tight, almost slick in fact, with an infectious mix of Ra classics, Allen originals, standards and space chants which was a great hit with the sell out audience. At the front left of the stage Allen was a whirl of red cape and gold saxophone, belaboring his alto with one hand while gesticulating wildly at the assembled ranks with the other, cueing solos, calling charts and guiding transitions. While some happened in the moment, like the segue from the opening free maelstrom into Ra's swinging "Dreams Come True" with the Arkestra clapping and swaying in time, others appeared prearranged with a series of soloists stacked on each other's heels.
Allen is a unique stylist and was the most adventurous of the soloists, bursting into an overblown squeal with feet planted wide apart and almost squatting in his need to expel energy. But it was a close run thing with some fiery trumpet cameos from Michael Rayand Fred Adams also catching the ear. Guest Billy Bang had a fine feature in duet with Allen's sweet-sour alto on one of the few ballads. Having avoided keyboards for obvious reasons, the Arkestra now has the exciting Farid Barron in the piano chair, contributing wild introductions, excellent comping and bluesy organ. His ragtime piano ushered in a delightful reading of "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," complete with wah wah trumpet and band vocals and Dixieland feel, all taken very straight without a hint of kitsch.
Marshall Allen with Art Jenkins
Percussion and a darkly funky riff introduced a lilting "In-B-Tween," with Danny Ray Thompson forsaking his baritone for flute to join Allen's alto, inspiring altoist Knoel Scott to come forward with some wonderfully acrobatic forward rolls, emptying his pockets of small change as he did so. A series of loosely overlapping solos was curtailed by shrill piercing cries from Allen's EVI signaling the familiar chant of "Interplanetary Music." It was time for some of the classics now as "Fate In A Pleasant Mood" gave way to "We Travel The Spaceways" with band members parading round the stage, throwing in space hops as they collected their instruments and dismounted the stage to a standing ovation.
As attempts were made to convene musicians from both the band and the audience for a group photograph, Allen freaked out on EVI summoning the Arkestra to rejoin for some exuberant reefer music with "Hit That Jive Jack." I've no idea if they ever managed to assemble for the photograph. Still jet-lagged I left at that point, with the Arkestra threatening another 90 minutes at least, and their joyful noise ringing in my ears.
To come the following evening was a fascinating bill promising multimedia performances from drummer William Hookerand poet David Budbill, and a rare NYC appearance from percussion legend Sunny Murray.