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
The Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts on Norfolk Street in Manhattan's Lower East Side hosted the Vision Festival in it's Eleventh incarnation. The Vision Festival is an artist run event which is the world's pre-eminent gathering of free jazz, avant-garde jazz, call it what you will, talent. The roster was a mix of familiar downtown faces and invitees from the further reaches, including a sizeable European contingent. This year's event boasted 33 performances spread over six glorious days. The inherent promise of the cast inspired me to abscond from familial duties to cross the Atlantic for an early summer NYC break for the second year in a row.
In what has become a venerable Vision Festival tradition, the opening night kicked off with an invocation from Art Ensemble of Chicago stalwart Joseph Jarman. A repeated pure ringing tone gave notice that the proceedings were underway, presaging the emergence of Jarman, this year assisted by William Parker, Hamid Drake, David Budbill and Patricia Nicholson, from the depths of the building. They processioned, chanting, up the central aisle of the former synagogue, with Parker blowing double flute, Drake on frame drum, and poet Budbill on shakuhachi, in accompaniment to Jarman's singing.
After an initial circuit of the hall they lined up on stage for a series of otherworldly recitations in praise of the universal spirit. Each took turns to recite over a vocal and instrumental chorus. Budbill captured the ethos in his plea: All we want to do is make music. It's not time for war. Parker switched to doussn' gouni as the gentle rhythms cushioned the flow of words. Nicholson danced and murmured imprecations at the front of the stage. After some twenty minutes, Jarman struck the prayer bowl once more and they embarked on a valedictory circumnavigation. In Budbill's words, now they had purified, transmogrified, dignified and stir-fried the space, it was time for the proceedings to begin.
Raphe Malik Tribute Band
The late Raphe Malik had been invited to perform the first set at Vision XI and had assembled an all-star band for the task. Although bereaved at Malik's passing, the group decided to honour the late trumpeter by performing in a memorial tribute. The original band was to have included Sun Ra alumnus Marshall Allen alongside Sabir Mateen, but Arkestral duties called, freeing up a berth for altoist Jemeel Moondoc. Malik's part was taken by trumpeters extraordinaire Roy Campbell (who also performed on pocket trumpet and flugelhorn) and Lewis Barnes, to complete a dream team front line. The rhythm section of Dave Burrell on piano, Warren Smith on drums and the ubiquitous William Parker on bass was no slouch either.
A furious piano trio blasted out of the starting gate, with Burrell bouncing up and down from his stool, his sweeping runs punctuated by plinking discords. Burrell's stuttering rolling rhythms were briefly interrupted by a unison horn line over free bass and drums. The following sequence of solos, underpinned by a nexus of fine interactive support, set a winning template for the rest of the set. Mateen, acting as musical director, explained that Malik rarely performed his compositions twice, so we were privileged to hear some of these pieces again, having only previously been aired at Vision 8. The first piece, "FMP , was followed by a multi-sectioned composition by Warren Smith entitled "A Toast to Raphe , written right after Malik's death, and then two more Malik pieces - "Problematic and "Café Society in a wonderful hour long set.
The sound was a little unbalanced and some of the ensembles a touch ragged early on, but it had all come together by the bravura rendition of "Café Society . A fast solo bass introduction from Parker resolved into up tempo walking, with a jaunty layered theme, loosely delivered in almost Dixieland style by the horns, atop Monkish dissonances from Burrell. These guys can eat this kind of thing up all night and it inspired some excellent solos. Mateen span out an unfailing sequence of bubbling liquid lines and finely controlled upper register squeals, before leaning back and launching into the stratosphere.
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