Vision Festival 2010: Day 7, June 29, 2010
Charles Gayle, William Parker, Muhammad Ali, Lafayette Gilchrist, Gerald Cleaver, Vladimir Tarasov
Abrons Arts Center
New York City
29 June 2010
For the last evening of the Fifteenth Vision Festival at the Abrons Arts Center, the theme was of celebration for the late Rashied Ali. Ali, who died in August 2009, will always be best known as the drummer John Coltrane turned to when he was searching for new directions after the dissolution of his classic quartet. But he was active for more than four decades following Trane's death. Not only a band leader, he also ran his own imprint, Survival Records, and managed his own creative outlet, Ali's Alley, during the New York loft era. Revisited tonight was the trio By Any Means with Charles Gayle and William Parker of which the drummer was an important part, as well as drum tribute to Ali by five percussionists.
Station # 9969
Throughout the Festival, dance events by the troupe choreographed by Jason Jordan had been scattered across the formal and informal performance spaces of the Abrons complex. Finally they made it to the main hall to allow everyone chance to see what they were missing. Assembled to accompany the movement was Jason Kao Hwang on violin, Connie Crothers on piano and Gerald Cleaver behind the trapset. As a spectacle the dance enthralled: orange yellow dancers spotlit against a blue background. In a seemingly predetermined arrangement the ten dancers flowed across the stage in slow motion, as a body and in pairs. It was an extremely impressive piecesome of most captivating dance I have witnessed at the Vision Festivals over the past few years, reminiscent in its early ensemble sections of Ballet Rambert. All the musicians labored in relative shade to the rear, indicative of where the attention should be focused. Although the music slightly became slightly subservient to the dance, it would have happily stood on its own merits.
By Any Means
As part of the tribute to drummer Rashied Ali, the collective he named, By Any Means, with saxophonist Charles Gayle and bassist William Parker was the most eagerly awaited act of the final evening at the Abrons Arts Center. Their 1991 concert in Berlin, before they were monikered, documented as Touchin' On Trane (FMP, 1993) is renowned as one of the few free jazz albums to receive five stars in the Penguin Guide To Jazz. There was no need to search far for a replacement. Rashied's younger brother Muhammad was also a drummer of note, having helmed the Center of the World Quartet with tenor saxophonist Frank Wright and bassist Alan Silva, although he has gigged less frequently of late, and it was he who filled the drum chair. They blasted through 40-minutes of full on fire music, easily matching previous shows I have heard from the group.
Any concerns that the drummer would struggle to fill his brother's shoes proved groundless. He created an all encompassing rhythmic foundation, demonstrating great awareness of light and shade, and propelled the band with combustive energy, evidenced best partway through the first piece. Parker's bass was a study in repeating riffs, gradually getting quieter and quieter, until Ali yelled out "Anybody ever heard of the freedom train?," then launched a crashing fusillade of percussion, which energized the trio. Gayle returned on tenor saxophone, starting off with a sustained train whistle, then building into the extreme upper partials, shaking his horn up and down and moving from side to side. Ali maintained his roiling drum barrage, punctuated with continued hollers.
Gayle also excelled on the second improvisation, a free ballad opening with sanctified tenor, arco bass and Ali on mallets. Straying into the falsetto register, the saxophonist belayed an incendiary stream of yelps and split tones, matched by the bassist's high wavering bowing. Gayle touched on abstracted melodic material, the harmonies perhaps referencing some unnamed standard. Parker's arco solo received quiet backing from Ali, until he crashed his cymbals with such unpredictable ferocity it seemed to make Parker jump and certainly startled the audience.
At the end they made to leave the stage, but such were the entreaties from the assembled throng that they returned for a brief encore, with Gayle seated at the piano, essaying a fractured stride, until he finished on a repeated understatedly lyrical phrase which furnished a fitting conclusion. A standing ovation was guaranteed, but nevertheless merited.