Vision Festival XI, Angel Orensanz Foundation For The Arts, NYC - Day Six, 18 June 2006

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

The Vision Festival is an artist-organized and run event which depends on a small but dedicated staff augmented by volunteers and well-wishers. It differs from other jazz festivals in its inclusivity, representing a wide artistic community and customarily featuring dance and art alongside the musical performances. During the festival's 2006 production, paintings, photographs and drawings festooned the hall, even in the highest extremities where they could barely be seen without magnification. The festival has a great vibe, bringing together aficionados from all over North America, and, like me, from the UK and further afield, in a friendly weeklong celebration of avant-garde jazz. Where else can you mingle with your heroes, possibly even buy your evening meal from the great William Parker?

Miya Masaoka/Sylvie Courvoisier/Peggy Lee

The opening set of the final evening of the Vision Festival was a trio of Miya Masaoka on koto and electronics, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Peggy Lee on cello. Not only is Masaoka a proficient soloist as an instrumentalist, but she has also written scores for ensembles, chamber orchestras and mixed choirs. However, this evening the trio's work was created extemporaneously and collectively in the moment as a single free flowing piece, under Masaoka's nominal leadership.

An incremental start to the improvised set found Courvoisier delving inside the piano to pluck and rub the wires, while Lee dragged her bow across the cello strings and Masaoka plucked on the koto, pitting upper register squeakings against dissipating piano rumbles. All three traded in a language of assorted scrapings, rubbings, tappings and distorted notes. Duos or solos emerged organically from the improv as individual contributions came to a natural conclusion. Particularly effective moments included a happy confluence of repeated piano runs and sharply plucked koto, and a crescendo of stabbed piano chords, darkly bowed cello and pitter pattering koto.

Masaoka extracted a wide range of textures from her koto—at one stage fusing purposeful picking with simultaneous tapping on the underside, and at another using a metal bar to elicit resonant crescendos—but sought to extend the range still further by using a laser interface towards the end of the set. So when her hands interrupted a stream of laser beams, in an aural version of tai chi, the physical movement triggered the sound of sampled koto. With some additional manipulation, hand movements unleashed a blizzard of plucked notes into the improvisational ether.

The three women ended some fifty minutes after they started, wreathed in smiles as they took in the audience's appreciation.

Kidd Jordan Quartet

One of the fastest changeovers of the whole Festival at less than fifteen minutes caught me by surprise, so I missed the opening seconds of the Kidd Jordan Quartet, featuring besides the leader on tenor sax long time associates Joel Futterman on piano, Alvin Fielder on drums and William Parker on bass. Needless to say, they were going full tilt by the time I returned to my seat. Futterman was swiping at the keys, promlugating waves of sound. Parker was sound propulsion personified and Fielder was driving hard. Over it all Jordan evinced righteous upper register whinnies, interspersed with meaty runs and honked punctuation.

They delivered an intense roller coaster ride scaling peak after peak before regrouping to build again over the course of the three quarters of an hour set. At one point Jordan quietened the backing of his ensemble to create a sparser open sound, with Parker on arco, plumbing the depths, as Jordan worked repeated falsetto phrases. As Parker increased the intensity, Jordan lengthened his lines, channelling late period Trane with heavy vibrato, over swooping arco slurs which echoed his plaintive cries. Jordan boasts an instantly recognisable tone and a habit of almost obsessively registering his high register squeals, which makes him distinctive in any company. Parker was particularly partial to the arco sound this evening, exploring it at every opportunity. Futterman, although giving sterling support, didn't hog the spotlight, even provoking Jordan to call on him to play more at one stage. Nonetheless, he contributed an exuberant tempest of middle register patterns, with his left hand snatching notes from both ends of the keyboard, widely separated sounds culminating in chopping clusters. Fielder mixed up the pulse while driving the band forwards, overseeing the coalescence of bass-drum bombs, hi-hat patterns and rolls on toms and snares into a relentless polyrhythmic shuffle.

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