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Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra
William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra opened the final evening of the tenth Vision Festival in resounding fashion. An active unit now for over 11 years, many of the Orchestra's core members remain unchanged over that time. That experience counts for a lot: combine the world class improvisational skills of the band drawn from the cream of NYC free jazz talent, with the familiarity with Parker's working methods and you have some amazing potential, realised more often than not. The Orchestra is organized into stations which can be self conducting. Each player also has the freedom to create their own part if they feel it would be better than the written part at that moment. The overall result can be something like one of Charles Mingus small groups writ large, with garrulous ensemble playing opening out into collective improvisation.
The extended 20 piece Orchestra was already assembled when Parker took the stage, resplendent in a gleaming orange suit with a yellow tie, which drew marvelling shouts from the band. Parker led off with a forceful walking bass line, and right from the first notes it was clear this was going to be a classic performance. Andrew Barker's drums picked up the beat, joined by an augmented percussion section including Parker's son Isaiah and three friends, along with Dave Hofstra's tuba and Shiau Shu Yu's cello. The alto saxophones came in with a riff over the top, then another riff from the trombones, another from the tenor saxophones, another from the trumpets and we had lift off, propelled upwards by the glorious noise.
Special guest "Juice , tenor saxophonist Alan Glover, took an extended solo, at first with the support of the trombones, but then over a loose cacophony from the other sections too. Glover played with Parker back in the early 1970s when he ran a loft called the Firehouse. He preached over the orchestral anarchy in fluent post-Ayler style with more than a hint of Sonny Rollins, eschewing upper register screams for the middle ground. The horns dropped out to leave Leena Conquest singing "Rocket ship to the moon , giving a strong hint to the pieces title and dedicatee - "Gilmore's Hat , for the Sun Ra Arkestra mainstay, tenor saxophonist John Gilmore - Glover returned to duet in counterpoint to Conquest, before continuing his exposition.
Further solos bubbled up from the orchestral melting pot, with Alex Lodico on trombone, and Matt Lavelle and Roy Campbell on trumpets, holding forth over frothing instrumental eruptions and commentary. The opening figures emerged once more part way through, then quietened to allow Conquest to reprise the lyrics over the funky rhythm. A riotous swing developed with the different sections of the orchestra arranging their own riffs - the trombones of Lodico, Steve Swell, and Masahiko Kono swaying from side to side as they riffed - before Parker used his hand to signal a decrescendo, finishing the piece to ecstatic applause.
The second piece was titled "Land Song and began with a slow soulful bass figure with percussion punctuations. Conquest sang Parker's lyrics over just the bass, with lissome fills by Charles Waters on clarinet, before the sour tones of the other saxophones joined the simmering stew in a slow burning blues. A long flutter on a single note signalled a serpentine Darryl Foster solo on soprano saxophone, with the drums kicking in below as he testified. Lewis Barnes scabrous trumpet was next up, with Lodico actively organising the trombone section interjections in support.
At one point Parker began singing "This democracy is killing me as a backing refrain, and was joined by the rest of the orchestra in a vocal chorus, while Conquest expounded the lyrics of the tune, before the rhythmic motif was taken up by the saxophone section.
A dense rhythmic passage from the percussion section acted as a launch pad for Sabir Mateen on tenor, who rocketed into the stratosphere with altissimo wails, before being joined by Rob Brown's alto for a high energy duet. Parker then waved the other saxophones to join in until there was a fiery five horn blowout, behind which he orchestrated slow blocks of sound from the brass sections. The wild excitement inspired the elegant Conquest to dance in front of the stage, before returning to sing over a mournful trumpet theme to close to a well-deserved standing ovation. Superb. I hope the set was recorded and sees the light of day. Music like this demands to be heard as widely as possible.