Vision Festival 2010: Day 4, June 26, 2010
Borah Bergman solo
The next set, however, proved much calmer than might have been expected. Most people, when they contemplate pianist Borah Bergman, think of his dazzling two-handed independence and the resultant fiercely contrapuntal divergence. But it was a very frail looking Bergman who shuffled to the keyboard. In reflective mood, he turned to the audience and explained what they were about to hear, while apologizing for snuffles from his cold. In reference to how he fostered his two-handed facility, his first piece was essayed with his left hand alone: pretty, partly in-tempo, blues-inflected at times, and briefly atonal. It formed the template for his performance: several minor key, sometimes very beautiful, tunes with a melancholy air, revealing an unexpected lyrical side. Then came a sequence of mellow ballads, a self composed "Poignant Dream," "I Dreamed All My Dreams to Dream," "When Autumn Comes"you get the idea from the titles! As one of the longer sets of the festival it would have been more satisfying if the pianist had shifted out of first gear, but he nonetheless received a standing ovation, perhaps for his endurance in face of obvious adversity.
Ned Rothenberg's Sync
Even though all three were seated, reedman Ned Rothenberg's Sync injected a change of pace, with Samir Chatterjee on tablas adding a very distinctive flavor, alongside Jerome Harris' acoustic bass guitar. As might be anticipated from a band with three albums to its name, Sync possessed a robust group ethos, based upon an amalgam of jazz and world music so well-assimilated as to form something entirely its own. Dancing figures spewed from the leader's clarinet to initiate further virtuosic give-and-take. Sitting impassively, cross-legged on a small raised dais, Chatterjee's fingers were nonetheless flying, layering a unique combination of melody and rhythm over Harris' flexible, foot-tapping bass lines. In fact Harris' solos were more like a guitar in terms of their nimble dexterity.
As well as composing all the pieces which were linked in an unbroken 50-minute stream, Rothenberg impressed with casual invention: his clarinet swooping to unanticipated woody depths; and his alto saxophone spinning elongated tales extended by circular breathing to generate split toned squawks in different registers. Chatterjee switched to another differently pitched set of tablas while continuing to drum, to usher in a new section, with the reedman in lockstep, his alto saxophone evoking bagpipes for a Scottish folk feel. To conclude Rothenberg, switching to bass clarinet, purveyed a slab of ethnic stop-start funk, with his percussive popping blending well with the tablas and the upper register of the bass, the synergistic characteristic of a compelling set.
Another long-established, very cohesive band followed in Mark Helias' Mark Helias Open Loose. First formed in 1998, only the saxophone chair has changed since, with Tony Malaby taking over from Ellery Eskelin, beside the leader and drummer Tom Rainey. Over the course of five albums Open Loose has forged a style which blurs the edges of Helias' compositions so that it is satisfyingly difficult to separate the written from the improvised. Case in point was the opener, commencing with breathy tenor and pizzicato bass, which developed as a three-voiced improv, before somehow coalescing into a barely sketched tune ("Moving Parts"). Understated themes came into their own as tools for propelling the band into a heady mix of group improvisation, solos and heads.
Helias chose his band mates wisely, as all three effortlessly negotiated the transitions from inside to out. Malaby, back from his exertions earlier in the afternoon, spiked his oblique proclamations with muffled cries, boisterous blurts and etiolated squeals, never going over the top just for the sake of it. Even at his most impassioned, as on the third piece, his over-blowing and split tones were carefully controlled, while he later confirmed his modus operandi on soprano sax was just as distorted and bracing as on tenor.