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Live Reviews

Vision Festival: Day 1, June 5, 2011

Vision Festival: Day 1, June 5, 2011
By Published: July 4, 2011
Day 1 | Days 2-3 | Day 4 | Days 5-6 | Day 7
Vision Festival
Abrons Arts Center
New York, NY

June 5-11, 2011

Now in its 16th year, the annual Vision Festival in NYC's Lower East Side remains the premier showcase for the city's avant jazz talent. While for residents, chances to witness many of the hometown participants may come along with complacency-inducing regularity, the concentration of performance into a seven day period proves irresistible for those less accustomed to such rich fare. Consequently, visitors from out of state and abroad probably equal, if not outnumber, New Yorkers at the event. Comfortably ensconced in the plush Abrons Arts Center for the third year running, the festival got off to a slow start, with quite a few empty seats for much of the first three nights. But even though the bulk of mouth-watering casting lay in the later stages of the festival, there was more than enough to maintain interest, sometimes originating from unexpected quarters.

A strong opening night included several noteworthy performances which showcased a roll call of some of the most compelling drummers active in the music, with Whit Dickey
Whit Dickey
Whit Dickey

drums
, Andrew Cyrille
Andrew Cyrille
Andrew Cyrille
b.1939
drums
, Warren I Smith
Warren I Smith
Warren I Smith
b.1934
percussion
and Tom Rainey
Tom Rainey
Tom Rainey
b.1957
drums
all featured prominently.

Blood Trio

Following the invocation Vision Festival fixture, drummer Whit Dickey, initiated proceedings in a unfettered threesome with bassist Michael Bisio
Michael Bisio
Michael Bisio

bass, acoustic
and reed master Sabir Mateen
Sabir Mateen
Sabir Mateen
b.1951
multi-instrumentalist
under the moniker Blood Trio. Their set was one of incrementally building intensity. But even as the temperature increased, Dickey kept it reined in, marking holding patterns on his cymbals. Mateen started predominantly in the middle registers, making an unceasing flow of ideas seem both new and easy. On bass Bisio, who now partners with the drummer in Matthew Shipp
Matthew Shipp
Matthew Shipp
b.1960
piano
's new trio, resorted to manic flailing, holding his bass horizontally like an oversize guitar, while the reedman belayed a coursing stream of molten notes. There was talent on display wherever one looked.

Sabir Mateen and Whit Dickey

A second piece started with Bisio bowing hard, his legs planted akimbo. As he sawed, the bow hit the body of the bass, adding to the physicality of the display. His wavering creaks and undulations proved a wonderful introduction from which a spidery melody briefly emerged to attract a sanctified tenor saxophone and rumbling drums. Again there was tension as the saxophonist embarked on a stratospheric journey against a still-restrained backdrop of Bisio's reiterated high bowing and Dickey's intricate rhythmic latticework. Slowly increasing in heft after Mateen hit his climax, the drummer continued in a powerfully focused exposition in which he concentrated more on snare and toms, in contrast to the approach in his ensemble work. He broke out from his solo at a cracking tempo picked up by Bisio's throbbing walking rhythm, and provoked the horn man to another outpouring of silk and steel, astonishing in its facility, into which he interpolated a series of quivering yelps and stentorian vibrato bellows.

It wasn't all thunder and lightning. Mateen switched to clarinet to play over a low key, repeated motif from Bisio and subtle cymbal shadings added by Dickey, his piercing clarinet cries presaging the end of his solo and a compelling curtain raiser far from the anticipated blow out. Overall the restraint, particularly from the rhythm pairing with their refusal to go for the easy option, made for a powerful but at the same time oblique cerebral quality.

The Group

In tribute mode, The Group delivered a program associated with former members of the band, now departed, including Sirone
Sirone
Sirone
1940 - 2009
bass, acoustic
, Billy Bang
Billy Bang
Billy Bang
1947 - 2011
violin
and Marion Brown
Marion Brown
Marion Brown
1931 - 2010
sax, alto
. But it was a also a celebration, with the joyous tunes and a rambunctious delivery, helped by Bob Stewart
Bob Stewart
Bob Stewart
b.1945
tuba
's irrepressible tuba and Hamiett Bluiett's cajoling clarinet, evoking a New Orleans second line. Overall they were a fun band, staying largely within the confines of the pieces but featuring some fine soloing. Organizer Ahmed Abdullah
Ahmed Abdullah
Ahmed Abdullah
b.1947
trumpet
dispatched incisive trumpet, while Charles Burnham's wah-wah'd violin and Freddie Jackson's wild piano comping were similarly notable.

DD Jackson and Hamiett Bluiett

Stephen Haynes' Parrhesia

Parrhesia comprised three men with a shared ethos of exploration of sound and texture, hewing closely to the parameters set out on their eponymous recording (Engine, 2010) to navigate through a sequence of uncharted territories. Flanking leader cornetist Stephen Haynes
Stephen Haynes
Stephen Haynes
b.1955
trumpet
' collection of brass and mutes, Joe Morris
Joe Morris
Joe Morris
b.1955
guitar
sat to the left with his guitar slung around his neck, while to his right Warren Smith prowled around a panoply of percussion instruments and drum set.

Haynes' utterances were measured and carefully paced, recalling his mentor, the late Bill Dixon
Bill Dixon
Bill Dixon
1925 - 2010
trumpet
, in his close attention to the placement of sound. Courtesy of an array of mutes, Haynes peppered the canvas with fanfares, blasts and growls. Smith colored the ensembles not only with gongs and marimbas, but also by striking the metal frames on which the noise-makers were strung, drawing no distinction between them in his quest for the most appropriate response. Morris deployed a wide range of tactics, of which conventional chording was by no means the most frequent, extracting scrapings and metallic, scrabbling stutters from his fretboard. At one point with his guitar flat on his lap, he tapped it percussively with two pencils, recalling gamelan sonorities. Together they evinced a sense of calm, unhurried in their captivating lower case group interaction.

John Tchicai's Ascension Unending

Billed to make capital out of John Tchicai
John Tchicai
John Tchicai
1936 - 2012
saxophone
's appearance on one of John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
's most celebrated sessions, Ascension Unending was actually the Danish saxophonist's Five Points band responsible for One Long Minute (Nubop, 2010) with the addition of violinist Rosie Hertlein. Their sound was nothing like Trane's loosely proscribed free blow, instead showcasing both the carefully charted structures and improvising skills of a cast of regular collaborators. Prominent among these was guitarist Garrison Fewell
Garrison Fewell
Garrison Fewell
b.1953
guitar
whose "Spectronomous" opened the set, its theme bookending a controlled collective improv section.

It really was a group music, with voices that erupted from the melee rather than individual showcases. Drummer Ches Smith's "One Long Minute" flowered out into a pointillist passage full of unusual techniques, with Fewell tapping his fretboard and Hertlein taking a minimalist approach to her violin. Saxophonist Alex Weiss
Alex Weiss
Alex Weiss

multi-instrumentalist
arranged Marion Brown's "Capricorn Rising," with the lilting melody giving way to Hertlein's wordless vocals over a nagging vamp, before an atonal feature for his alto. Tchicai adopted a fatherly role, overseeing and directing, and only asserting himself instrumentally towards the end of the set with one blowtorched tenor saxophone incantation over a knotty rhythm, which had the house roaring affirmation.

Tony Malaby's Tamarindo

An air of expectation awaited saxophonist Tony Malaby
Tony Malaby
Tony Malaby

sax, tenor
's group Tamarindo, and it didn't disappoint with their one hour set closing out the first evening. Malaby has gradually become more of a name on the scene, his many sideman dates now outnumbered by his leadership vehicles, tonight's trio prominent among them. Vision Festival force majeure William Parker
William Parker
William Parker
b.1952
bass, acoustic
held down the bass chair but with Nasheet Waits
Nasheet Waits
Nasheet Waits
b.1971
drums
unavailable, regular confrere Tom Rainey
Tom Rainey
Tom Rainey
b.1957
drums
manned the trap set.



While on disc, Tamarindo utilizes preconceived heads as launch pads for the leaders' muscular outpourings, if there were written structures here they were treated so sketchily as to be imperceptible. After an organic start, where the reedman swayed from side to side, essaying harsh tenor saxophone blurts atop Parker's urgent propulsion and Rainey's busy percussion, the dynamic ebbed and flowed, but always with the leader involved. It almost seemed as if he co-opted any available distortion as material for extemporization. Harsh ugly sounds were as liable to predominate as melody, with duck calls, multiphonic shrieks and squeaky reed noises coloring his already unpredictable trajectory.

Rainey worked timbral variation adeptly into his percussive crosscurrents, beating his hands, using his elbows to dampen and modulate the timbre of his snare, and wielding a variety of implements to strike the drums with different attack and weight. In tandem with Parker's insistent bass, his interventions time and again reinvigorated Malaby, who appeared inexhaustible, refusing all cues to wind down in an unbroken set of consistently high quality interplay.

Photo Credit

All Photos: John Sharpe


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