Vision Festival: Day 7 Finale, New York, NY, June 11, 2011
William Parker's Billy Bang Tribute: Mystery of the Mekong
Tributes can have the tendency to be maudlin or inconsequential but, under the direction of William Parker, the amassed might of a 20-piece string section dedicated to violinist Billy Bang hit both emotional and musical highs. Bang had been scheduled to appear at this year's festival before his untimely demise in April 2011, but his band was here tonight, along with a selection of horns supplementing the strings.
Right from the majestically soulful opening sweep of an extended rendition of Bang's "Mystery of the Mekong," it was clear the spirit was in the house. Kyoko Kitamura delivered heartfelt lyrics penned by Parker, while he orchestrated a backing riff to accompany her. There flowed a sequence of cameos from the assembled throng as Parker skillfully concocted arrangements on the spot. Bill Cole's piercing double reed was pitched first against a phalanx of pizzicato violins, then in duets with the strings of Henry Grimes and Mazz Swift. James Spaulding's alto saxophone burned as everyone free associated until reaching a wonderful crescendo of dissonance, at which point Parker created space for a floating duet between Andrew Bemkey's piano and Roy Campbell's flute, before a return to the soaring theme.
William Parker's Tribute To Billy Bang
Next followed a spirited version of the late violinist's "Saigon Funk," spotlighting the incisive trumpet of Ahmed Abdullah and the tender violin of Jason Kao Hwang, before breaking into a wild orgiastic blowout, fittingly named "Ascension for Billy Bang." Parker blew hard on a double reed instrument, at first alone, then in the company of Cole, before returning to the front of the stage to establish an incantatory riff which had the entire audience standing and screaming, concluding with Parker strutting his stuff against a juddering slab of funk for a rousing and highly charged farewell.
Festival wrap up
It was clear from Patricia Nicholson's announcements during the course of the festival that without significant financial support over the coming year the future of the Vision Festival is in serious doubt. To lose such a renowned shop window for hometown talent would be a crying shame. Nowhere else can fans partake of such a concentration of avant jazz in such a friendly atmosphere, and this year's event was well up to the standard of previous editions. Outstanding shows included the whole of the Peter Brotzmann celebration, Dawn of Midi, Matthew Shipp/Evan Parker, Paradoxical Frog, Planetary Unknown, Connie Crothers, the All Star Mystery Collective and William Parker's Billy Bang Tribute. However, a series of shows in the downstairs theater filled the gap left by the cessation of the customary Saturday afternoon showcase for emerging artists, and demonstrated that the future of the music is in good hands.
Day 1 | Days 2-3 | Day 4 | Days 5-6 | Day 7
All photos: John Sharpe