Vision Festival: Day 1, June 5, 2011
John Tchicai's Ascension Unending
Billed to make capital out of John Tchicai's appearance on one of John Coltrane'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 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 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'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 held down the bass chair but with Nasheet Waits unavailable, regular confrere Tom Rainey 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.
All Photos: John Sharpe