Vision Festival 2008: Day 1

John Sharpe By

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A great evening with four satisfying sets...promising more to come from the rest of the week.
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6

Opening Invocation
Taylor Ho Bynum
Dave Douglas
The Nu Band
Mark Dresser & Denman Maroney

13th Annual Vision Festival
Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, New York City
June 10, 2008

With temperatures beating the June record, the first night of the 13th Annual Vision Festival was always going to be hot. Happily, though, it is the music which sticks in the mind and not the soaring heat and humidity. In spite of moving to a new venue this year at the Clemente Soto Velez, just a couple of blocks from the festival's home of recent years at the Angel Orensanz Center, the winning format remains basically the same: four or five acts on the main stage each night, for six nights, with an additional session on the Saturday afternoon showcasing emerging talent.

Though unprepossessing from the outside, with boarded up windows and scaffolding, the Clemente Soto Velez does the business on the inside with two performance spaces, a bar, and a lobby in which to browse merchandise and to just hang. Having two spaces meant that organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker was able to provide a purpose made environment for some of the video, dance, music and spoken word which makes the Vision Festival more than just another jazz festival.

So each night there was a program of events happening in the Milagro theatre, each starting at the conclusion of a set on the main stage. However this meant a fair degree of clock watching was needed not to miss the start of the next act on the main stage after the roughly fifteen minute changeover. But the end result was a clear benefit: both more music and more other arts. And it also meant that those audience members whose focus was solely the music were happy.

As an artist-run event the Vision Festival has a unique place in the international festival calendar, with teams of volunteers helping out the small paid staff. While this inevitably results in some small confusions, it doesn't detract from the friendly down home vibe, with artists and musicians freely mingling with fans from all over the US and beyond.

Opening Invocation

In what has become a firm tradition, the 13th Vision Festival opened with a short invocation delivered by organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker, with musical accompaniment from Hamid Drake on frame drum and William Parker on doussn' gouni, melding a homely spiritualism with world music inspiration. Bobbing and swaying, Nicholson Parker delivered her message over a gentle rhythm invoking the healing power of sound: "may sound lead us to an understanding beyond words." Concluding with "Welcome to the Vision Festival" they left the stage smiling, job done and another year's proceedings underway.

Taylor Ho Bynum Sextet

The honor of opening this year's festival fell to cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, best known for this long association with Anthony Braxton, but increasingly rectifying that through appearances with Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon and an increasing roster of his own aggregations. Featuring the twin guitars of Mary Halvorson and Evan O'Reilly, the sextet's unconventional line up was completed by Jessica Pavone doubling on violin and bass guitar, Matt Bauder on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet and Thomas Fujiwara on drums.

Starting with the downbeat melodicism of "JP and the Boston Suburbs" from their excellent Middle Picture (Firehouse 12, 2007) they quickly moved into the realm of simultaneous themes, shifting instrumental combinations, and loose ensemble interplay, all jostling for attention with incisive solos, in a seamless free flowing 45 minute set. Passages of jazzy syncopation rubbed shoulders with chamber interludes, rocky guitar driven noise, and even a calypso.

Bynum introduced one section with a tremendous exposition incorporating multiphonic burrs, agitated blurts lifting him up onto his toes, and what sounded like the peter piper picked a peck of pickled pepper tongue twister recited by Donald Duck, concluding with a high pitched whistle, before segueing into a delicate chamber ensemble exploration.

Though both guitarists could skronk at the drop of a hat, their divergent approaches presented an intriguing contrast. O'Reilly had a rockier style, featuring swirling feedback and guitar choir effects, while Halvorson's cleaner picking still encompassed angular turns, fusillades of bent notes, and even C&W strums. Bauder favored unconventional sonorities with choked cries and falsetto swoops in his spots, but nevertheless emulated straight-ahead styles with conviction. While on drums, Fujiwara commanded a similar breadth of approach, but pummeled toward a concluding wall of sound, though with the final coup de grace delivered by Halvorson alone.

Cued by Bynum and sometimes Bauder, the group navigated the challenging territory with casual ease, operating to a cool inner logic, in contrast to the sweltering heat in the hall, for a challenging but rewarding opening set.

Dave Douglas' Magic Circle


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