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The ornate carvings around the hall bear testament to the fact that the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts was once a synagogue. But its walls are now emblazoned with paintings, drawings, and photographs, while metal sculptures by Alain Kirili impassively adorn the stage. Other installations hang from the ceiling. The Vision Festival is not just about the music, even though that was the focus for many in the audience. Poetry also had a presence, which manifested itself in the first set of the evening.
Steve Dalachinsky, Mat Maneri, and Vito Ricci
For the opening performance Steve Dalachinsky was scheduled to appear with Matthew Shipp. However, Dalachinsky explained that Shipp was at the Royal Albert Hall (a bit galling for me), and instead appeared with Mat Maneri, seated, on viola, and Vito Ricci on electric guitar. Dalachinsky commenced reciting poems from sheets, dropping them to the floor when he was finished. At the conclusion of the first poem, scuttling animal sounds tentatively emerged from a conspiracy of bowed guitar and voila.
Dalachinsky recited another poem, "Jazz makes me..., over the improvised backing. As he began to ad lib and repeat phrases, the music became more fragmented. Ricci produced stuttering textures using a slide on his strings, while Maneri played lyrical shards, swelled with a sustain pedal. Dalachinsky continually moved and gesticulated as he recited, with sheets falling like confetti around him, until he ended the set with the stage littered with discarded words.
Charles Gayle Trio
The Charles Gayle trio followed, with Gayle on alto saxophone and piano; long-time associate Hilliard Greene on bass; and the newest member of the trio, Jay Rosen, on drums. A tattoo from Rosen started them off, then Greene laid down an ostinato line and Gayle, lean tall and hatted, just wailed over the top. Rosen shifted gears into a funk explosion, causing Greene to swing his bass back and forth as he played. I had heard that Gayle's playing has become a bit mellower of late, and indeed, he sometimes reminded me of Ornette Coleman, albeit with a more extreme edge. However he still spiralled into the stratosphere enough to suggest that reports of mellowing are premature. His style makes full use of split tones, multiphonics, and false fingering to produce squalling lines.
Rosen was a forceful but sensitive accompanist who exploited the full dynamic range of his kit. Even when he soloed using brushes, it didn't mean he would be quiet for long. Greene constantly rocked back and forth as he played, sometimes strumming his bass when it was almost horizontal, like an oversize guitar at a hoedown. Greene also showed his sensitive sidebending notes as he slid down the fingerboard and juddering his bow across the strings. Gayle deployed delicate piano shards as Greene bowed a chamber bass solo of aching melodicism, until it was ultimately soured by a crashing piano storm.
Gayle's finest moment of the evening emerged from the group interplay, laying down long, slow lines in a dirge of bent notes with broad vibrato over a roiling rhythmic pulse from Rosen. Greene underpinned with dark arco lines, while Gayle was simply majestic: eyes closed, leaning back as a powerful, aching psalm poured from his horn. Rosen pounded and Greene sawed ever higher, striking a wonderful contrast between the slow-burning Gayle and the frenetic stasis of the rhythm section. Where else could Gayle go? He climaxed on hoarse squeals before ending on a sweet note to ecstatic applause from the audience. Still playing, Gayle walked to the piano and carried on playing his horn with just his left hand, with no audible detriment to his sound, while playing the piano with his right hand. Greene interjected a counterpoint with Rosen hyperactive behind his kit, until all three paused and segued into a bass/drum interlude.
Gayle concluded the set by signalling with his hand for Rosen to set up a steady time. Then, I don't know if it was the power of self suggestion of my previous allusion to Ornette, but Gayle played what sounded to me like a version of "Lonely Woman, but with the parts of the theme spread out and separated by wild extemporisation, before they closed to a standing ovation. A superb outing.
Roy Campbell's Pyramid Trio
Roy Campbell's Pyramid Trio featured the dream team of William Parker on bass and Hamid Drake on drums for the second of five outings during the festival. They started with a multimedia event featuring Patricia Nicholson's "Dancing With Mountains against a backdrop of gorgeous blue and yellow mountainscape watercolours by Lan Ding Liu, in a video by Bob Craddock.