Published since 2004
John first fell under the spell of free jazz in the 1970s when he wistfully regarded the loft jazz scene from across the Atlantic
Yvonne Meier's Scores / David Budbill / William Hooker's Bliss TrioA Silent Film/Live Music Project / Jason Jordan and Friends / Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble / Sunny Murray Philly Quartet
14th Annual Vision Festival
Abrons Arts Center
New York City
June 11, 2009
Day three was one of surprises with some intriguing and largely successful collaborations among jazz, dance, film and poetry, all underscoring that the much-touted concept of the Vision Festival as a multi- disciplinary event stood proud without need for hype.
It didn't seem promising to begin with. Downtown dance veteran Yvonne Meier's new project Scores stemmed from the idea of suggesting short improvisational inputs to which musicians and dancers inter- react. So Meier sat at the side of the stage with a mic giving the performers instructions: these were the so- called "scores." On stage was a trio of young musicians (Michael Jaeger, tenor saxophone; Dave Gisler, guitar; and Christian Jaeger-Brown, drums and percussion) with up to three dancers (Arturo Vidich and Christopher Williams from New York and Gabi Glinz from Switzerland), all with longstanding working relationships with the choreographer.
Swiss native Meier would give instructions like "merciless music," but allow the musicians and dancers a lot of leeway to explore what this might mean. The results sometimes seemed overly theatrical and, with the artifice intentionally shown, recalled a rehearsal rather than performance. But once accustomed to the situation, it was fascinating to see how the performers responded to instructions, like "Start a melancholic solo Arturo to the melancholic music of the saxophone. You might want to be a dog that is lame." The dancers were very athletic and very "hands on" with each other, Glinz at one point simulating (I hope) the pulling out of one man's chest hair and then forcing him to eat it.
Free of stylistic instruction, the young musicians proved very adept with free improv vocabularythe instruction "Only the music plays" generating a passage of breathy saxophone played without a mouthpiece, hands pattering on percussion and then thighs and floor, and small scratchy guitar shards, which grew incrementally until one of the dancers returned. Unconventional textures abounded as when Gisler brought forth muffled and truncated textures courtesy of a Metrocard threaded between his strings.
There was humor too. Meier's instruction for two wolves to come on stage transmuted the two male dancers into animals warily circling each other on all fours until the further instruction "Be threatening. Go scare the audience" led to some disobedience with one wolf advancing on Meier and savaging her leg, much to the amusement of the audience and Meier herself, until she barked "Back off!"
"Show some movement you haven't shown tonight" elicited some Brunoesque camping at first before one dancer fell off the stage in a controlled way at the instruction "Find a meaningful end." Very amusing and very well done.
and Hamid Drake in a master class of rhythmic alchemy.
Several performance spaces were available in the Abrons Arts Center, allowing programming of short mixed-media events while changeovers were happening on the main stage. Timing hiccups meant that it wasn't always wise to linger as it was very easy to miss the start of the next set. However it would have been criminal to miss poet David Budbill's "The Fire of Compassion / Meaning of Jazz in Words and Music" in the Downstairs Theater, accompanied by William Parker
Budbill's piece was an assemblage of quotes about jazz stretching from Ellington to Hamid Drake, delivered in a low-key conversational style with bass and a pared- down drum-kit accompaniment. Many of the quotes were thought-provoking: "Improvisation dates back to the time of Beethoven, but it was the American Negro who introduced four people improvising together, not Paul Whiteman." It was utterly beguiling to be able to observe Parker (pictured right) and Drake up close and personal. Drake was a rhythm section in himself on just snare, hi hat and one cymbal, but he also contributed some lovely interplay on frame drum with Parker on shakuhachi. Parker was almost dancing as he embraced his bass so irrepressible were the grooves.
Budbill finished with a quote from saxophonist Byard Lancaster, which ended "Like a love supreme," whereupon Parker hit the Coltrane riff and ignited the room in wonderful syncopation, with first Drake then the whole audience joining in chanting "A Love Supreme." It was one of those moments that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and the highpoint of the evening.
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