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As the inaugural group for the 1999 Vision Festival, following closely on the heels of Joseph Jarman’s vocal invocation, Alan Silva’s Sound Visions Orchestra seemed the ideal vehicle to usher in the ten celebratory days of community-empowering creative music. Employing many of many of the festival’s performers and signaling the triumphant culmination of Silva’s ambitious plans for large-scale improvisatory interplay the group promised monumental music. Sadly a succession of sobering setbacks beset the band once they took the stage. First, the stage space was too constricting and made set-up difficult requiring the performers to quickly rearrange themselves to rectify the close quarters. Next the electrical socket connected to Silva’s keyboard console shorted out forcing him to make hurried attempts to reestablish juice to his dormant instrument. All of this in front of a large audience anxious to hear the sounds of the impressive array of improvisers assembled before them. Silva was furious and rightfully so; witnessing him struggle to wrest things back on track was a harrowing spectacle. He eventually shored up the problems as best as possible and the group negotiated his piece, but intermittent power outages persisted and the results were a far cry from the auspicious debut he had obviously been hoping for.
Regrouping roughly a week later with an even larger cadre Silva produced the massive performance documented on this disc. Judging from the quality of the densely packed music his earlier headaches were a distant memory. “Part I” begins with a poetry exposition by Dalachinsky buttressed by lithe, but volatile orchestral commentary. A roiling torrent of brass and reed voices soon ensues broken by clarion ensemble explosions. The sheer magnitude of the instrumental arsenal at Silva’s disposal makes for some unbelievably dense collective dissonance and the undulating unified sound fills the audio space in gargantuan gusts. The piece eventually breaks into solo sections (conveniently notated in the sleeve notes) and Parran, Borca and Lamb among others speak their peace before the wailing wall of rising and falling group exclamations.
Largely buried in the vociferous deluge until the opening of “Part II,” Silva’s synthesizer (sounding much like a string section) provides flamboyant support to the twining, squealing saxophones of Jordan and Brown. The calming hums of Borca’s bassoon follow. Call and response between voice and horns eventually gives way to recitation from Dalachinsky and an unctuous tuba duet by Daley and Lowe. Silva’s synth sets the stage on “Part III” against lushly romantic orchestrations, but the solo honors are conferred to Sir Kidd Jordan. Jordan’s horn positively sings above the sea of instruments before dissolving back into the ensemble for the series of silence-punctuated interludes that take the piece out. With the Visions Orchestra Silva has accomplished a rare feat in creative improvised music, a sustainable large-piece ensemble that makes full and impressive use of both its girth and diversity. Its debut may have been marred by bad luck and frustrating circumstance, but the results of reconvening recapture any lost ground and demonstrate the inestimable worth of its conductor’s original vision.