Vision Festival 2010: Day 2, June 24, 2010
For the final set of the evening Abrams returned with fellow Chicagoans Ari Brown and Harrison Bankhead. Their performance broached similarly challenging terrain in its lack of familiar stylistic reference points and made as few concessions as the pianist's solo triumph. Brown's tenor saxophone began in probing spiritual vein, before bassist Bankhead and Abrams joined in spacious counterpoint. There was a conversational quality to the group's discourse, like a three-way call and response. Closest in Abrams discography in terms of feel, though with different collaborators, would be the improvised trio Streaming (Pi, 2006).
Abrams proved himself an egalitarian leader: there was no composed or preconceived material, and changes and transitions seemed equally likely to be initiated by any of the participants. The only time when Abrams did explicitly take the lead was in establishing some of the faster most animated sections from his keyboard. None of the instruments fulfilled their conventional roles in a jazz trio. While there was flow and narrative thrust, it was derived from the artful accumulation of instrumental color rather than swing, harmony or steady meter, with animation coming in fits and starts. Was it jazz? Does it matter? As with much of Abrams oeuvre it was beyond classification.
Brown demonstrated his mastery of the darker saxophonic arts without fanfare; casually tempering what initially sounded straightforward blowing with discordant edges, growling multiphonics and singing through his horn. Bankhead likewise covered the extremes of his axe: whether soaring into the cello range, bouncing the bow off his strings for rhythmic emphasis, or one time bowing the equivalent of a tuba "oompah" line. Abrams himself played more sparsely than during his solo, content to catalyze and pontificate without needing to assume sole responsibility for creating impetus. Listening was at a high level though responses were rarely obvious and often bordered on the oblique. But having grown to expect dislocation, Brown showed that even this shouldn't be taken for granted by echoing Abrams phrasing as a pushing off point for his own further exploration.
Muhal Richard Abrams Trio
Further confluence occurred towards the end of their time as Abrams hinted at an attractive melody, which was reflected by Brown, with Bankhead slipping into tempo. And yet just as it appeared a prearranged ending was imminent, they edged again into more abstract realms before an eventual more understated close. Nonetheless another standing ovation ensued from the captivated audience.
All Photos: John Sharpe