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Vision Festival 2008: Day 3

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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6

Oliver Lake New Quintet Project
James Spaulding Swing Expressions
Bluiett's Bio-Electric
Ensemble of Possibilities

13th Annual Vision Festival
Clemente Soto Velez,
New York City
June 12, 2008

Among the many attributes of the Vision Festival, one of those which makes it unique is the emphasis on all of the arts, not just the stellar avant-garde jazz for which it is most renowned. So to accompany the roster of acts on the main stage at Clemente Soto Velez, a second space in the same complex hosted a schedule of spoken word, dance, visual projections and music in various combinations.

Programmed to coincide with the changeovers on the main stage, it was easy to catch the start of a piece, but also all too easy to miss the start of the next set. Michael Wilderman's photo projections of Kidd Jordan through the years formed a neat counterpoint to the ongoing celebration on the main stage. The first break this evening featured Steve Dalachinsky reading his poems against violinist Tom Chiu's abstracted musings. Later evenings more dance and music, including an austere piece with Yvonne Meier dancing in a gorilla costume to a cool saxophone backing from Saco Yasuma.

Both spaces also featured art installations, the main hall hanging "Rev/Revolution" by Jo Wood Brown, with blown up photos revolving on wires supported from the ceiling, while the Milagro was home to "Lunar" by Kazuko Miyamoto, a moon-like sphere looming over the performance area with ropes curled on the floor.

June 12, 2008's program offered a taste of the more accessible end of the avant-garde jazz spectrum, but was no less appreciated for that. Bluiett's Bio-Electric was one of the high points of the Festival, but each of the other three sets was in some way notable, with veteran James Spaulding making a strong impression which caught most listeners by surprise, all the more pleasurable for being unexpected.

Oliver Lake New Quintet Project

Composer/reedman Oliver Lake has long straddled the inside/outside divide, dating back to his investigation of Eric Dolphy's legacy, though on the face of it his New Quintet Project featuring Peck Allmond on trumpet, Jared Gold on organ, his son Jahi Sundance on turntables , and Jonathan Blake on drums, was going to be more on the inside. But over a 48 minute set of six Lake originals they put their own spin on everything from ballads to funk to foot stomping grooves.

Whenever Lake moved out of tempo, sections of the band would follow, only to return prodigal like to the beat. Blake proved a propulsive drummer, ready to explode whenever anyone became slightly heated. Not much could be heard of Sundance generally, but he contributed some neat touches, like the heartbeat and squeals starting the second piece and the vinyl sourced drums replacing Blake in the closing theme of the boppish opener. Allmond proved a strong foil to Lake's acerbic alto, whether embarking on careering runs or declaiming high pressured fanfares. On organ Gold watched everyone's back, providing the bass lines, surging chords or bubbling leads as required.

At the end of their varied set, in spite of getting the signal to finish, Lake cued one final piece and it proved the highlight. Over lush churchy organ, the saxophonist breathed a bittersweet ballad, while Sundance threaded in a recording of a preacher's voice "Lord, I must confess..." before the band leapt into an infectious theme with a gospel swing. As they restated the unison theme, Lake's alto erupted, spewing a litany of choked cries before picking up the theme once more, as first Allmond, then Gold got their turns to testify. As a recurring motif, Sundance allowed the recording of the preacher's voice to continue, becoming ever more impassioned. All too soon the uplifting feel had to end, provoking huge applause and vocal approval. A great way to close a set.

James Spaulding Swing Expressions

With a back story invoking Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Horace Silver and Lee Morgan, James Spaulding might not seem an obvious candidate for a Vision Festival spot. Notwithstanding stints with Sun Ra in the late 1950s and David Murray in the 1990s, expectations weren't high for Spaulding and his Swing Expressions. How wrong can you be? They were great.


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