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Vision Festival 2008: Day 5

John Sharpe By

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Even more phenomenal was a dazzling passage which saw Grimes' abstract violin sawing, instantly echoed and repeated back at him by Dunmall's tenor
Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6

Patricia Nicholson's Celestial Moonbeams Funk
Matthew Shipp Trio
Paul Dunmall, Henry Grimes and Andrew Cyrille
George Lewis and Joelle Leandre
Braida/ Borghini/ Spera/ Maraffa Quartet

13th Annual Vision Festival
Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center
New York City
June 14, 2008

Like previous years Saturday afternoon was given over to emerging talent, starting with a poetry session where Chaedria LaBouvier gave a superb recitation of some of her complex rhythmic open and affecting poetry, with a percussion accompaniment from Ron Amber Delaney of the Last Poets.

Most of the names this afternoon were new to me, with restlessly inventive percussionist Jeff Arnal making a strong impression with his trio of John Dierker on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet and Gordon Beeferman on piano. Together they formed a tight free improvising ensemble who maintained a strong focus through each of their five pieces. Young trumpeter Nabate Isles showed his biting rhythmic attack on a set of his own compositions, with the outstanding Dave Gilmore on electric guitar, the exuberantly scowling and dancing Sam Barsch on keyboards and Jamieo Brown on drums.

An unorthodox ensemble under the name Kioku proved the stand-out of the afternoon with an intriguing blend of oriental sonorities, free jazz and ambient noise. Comprising Wynn Yamami (percussion), Ali Sakkal (alto, percussion) and Christopher Ariza (live electronics), they attracted attention from the off when rattling electronics and percussion gave way to noise reminiscent of a railway station concourse, before Sakkal debuted his passionate raw-toned alto. Yamami's measured taiko drumming was goosed by funkily rhythmic belches from laptop, before Sakkal erupted with another spirited outing of hoarse cries. A change of pace ensued with the slow-burning atmospherics derived from Sakkal's sustained long tones against a backdrop of trickling water and gongs in an excellent set.

Last set of the afternoon presented the Mazz Muse Trio featuring Mazz Swift on violins and electronics, James Peter Lee on lap steel guitar and Vernon Reid on electric guitar and laptop. After a short almost classical violin prelude, Swift brought the electronics into play, sampling herself to set up a looping backdrop against which she and the others improvised. A dreamy ballad sung by Swift was sandwiched between a spacey wall of sound and funky hip hop rhythms in a set perhaps overly heavy on the electronic effects.

Patricia Nicholson's Celestial Moonbeams Funk

For the first set of the evening a space had been cleared in front of the stage to allow the dancers accompanying Patricia Nicholson's band room to strut their stuff. Against a strong funk rhythm laid down by drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Todd Nicholson, the four athletic young dancers criss crossed the space in a free form capoeira display. Hornmen Sabir Mateen and Lewis Barnes shared the half sung half rapped vocal duties with backing vocals from Rob Brown and Jason Kao Hwang, before switching to their instruments for some free jazz wailing, with solos emerging and receding from the voluble flow.

Such was the visual spectacle that the music tended to take second place, even though it was never less than fine and would easily have stood on its own merits. Nicholson Parker danced a second piece alone against a slower ensemble, before the four youngsters, including her daughter Miriam Parker rejoined for a final energetic workout.

Matthew Shipp Trio

Although only relatively recently configured as a trio, pianist Matt Shipp has long-standing relationships with both drummer Whit Dickey and bassist (and freqent guitarist) Joe Morris, which illuminated the dense group interplay. Their 49 minute set comprised a single freewheeling piece which updated tradition by incorporating both Shipp originals, from the trio's splendid Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear, 2007) and playful reference to standards, including "On Green Dolphin Street" and "Someday My Prince Will Come" into the organically evolving flow.

Their modus operandi was exemplified in the passage following Morris' fleet-fingered pizzicato solo, where Shipp introduced a repeated motif immediately picked up by his colleagues, with Dickey's crashing cymbals emphasizing the pianist's accents. Although not varying the structure, Shipp dropped a few depth charges, and devised a study in dynamics. Only to suddenly unleash a ringing "Key Swing" from their album, presaging a passage of hard-driving group telepathy until again the energy dissipated to usher in a tumbling polyrhythmic drum solo.

And so it went on, with Dickey always ready to make a crashing confluence with Shipp's trajectory, while Morris' generally proffered a more oblique commentary. So intent was their concentration that at the end the stage manager had to mount the stage to gain their attention, prompting a pounding response from Shipp and Dickey. Morris unsheathed his bow to croak huskily as they decrescendoed to a silence soon broken by a standing ovation for their absorbing set.

Paul Dunmall, Henry Grimes and Andrew Cyrille

Having shared a few dates in England with lost, but now found, bassist Henry Grimes, British saxophone colossus Paul Dunmall returned the compliment here, with the addition of master drummer Andrew Cyrille for another of the Festival's highlights. Over the years Dunmall has forged and tested his muscular playing, in almost every conceivable situation, such that he dealt authoritatively with whatever he faced.

While Dunmall's tenor saxophone initiated proceedings, Cyrille took his sticks first to his drum kit while standing in front of it, then to the stage, for a showy but musical start. Grimes mazy pizzicato butted against Dunmall's burly tenor. Then when Grimes switched to his bow, the saxophonist paused listening, only to rejoin as the bassist resumed plucking. Dunmall really ripped it up, crafting compelling statements from blurting lower register runs, then overblown shrieks, and even airing his bagpipes at one stage for an outpouring of frothing squeals and drones.

As a trio they were incredibly responsive and the attention to detail, by Dunmall and Cyrille in particular, ensured that their free form outing took on the structured coherence which sets the great apart from the merely good, further illustrated by the drummer's response to Grimes switching from pizzicato to arco, where he straight away played only on his hihat, having the effect of spotlighting Grimes' fluent bowing, then reverted to his whole kit as Grimes went back to picking.

Even more phenomenal was a dazzling passage which saw Grimes' abstract violin sawing, instantly echoed and repeated back at him by Dunmall's tenor, inspiring Grimes to reciprocate, all buoyed up by Cyrille's dancing rhythm. As this exchange ended, Cyrille exploded with a stupendous crash, before reversing the dynamics of the everyday drum solo by gradually becoming quieter and quieter, rubbing his brushes on cymbals and drum heads, then blowing raspberries on the drum heads, before bookending with another concluding crash, which fashioned a wonderful end to a staggering first piece. Unsurprisingly, the excellent set was rewarded with a well-deserved standing ovation.

George Lewis/ Joelle Leandre

George Lewis and Joelle Leandre share a long history of joint appearances and recordings dating back to at least 1983, befitting the match of their combination of bass and vocalization with vocalized trombone. Having both featured in separate duets in recent Vision Festivals, Leandre and Lewis joined here for a set of four freely improvised conversations over the course of 45 minutes, which was recorded for potential future release.

Continually chatting between pieces, their communicativeness carried over naturally in their superb duet. Starting in loose unison, there was a stream of constant interplay thereafter. On bass, Leandre was the complete package, displaying her extensive arco technique to match and test the trombonist.

Lewis made extensive use of mutes to playfully expressive effect, murmuring, muttering and vocalizing multiphonics. At one point he dismantled his trombone and continued to blow, though with the end tubing disconnected. Voice is an integral part of Leandre's armory and she responded to Lewis' breath sounds with gasps and whispers of her own, layered atop her creaking bass work. At the conclusion they were warmly greeted by yet another standing ovation.

Braida/ Borghini/ Spera/ Maraffa Quartet

Rounding off a high class evening was an unexpected pleasure from a collective quartet of Italian musicians, unknown quantities to many, with Alberto Braida on piano, Antonio Borghini on bass (perhaps the best known of the four in the US, for his collaborations with percussionist Hamid Drake among others), Fabrizo Spera on drums and Edoardo Maraffa on reeds. Their 38-minute set broke down into three pieces, all free-form improvisations, created cohesively with ego sublimated to the collective ethic, and conversationally paced. That's not to say that there weren't points at which the spotlight fixed on one or another, but such eddies developed naturally from the improvisational currents.

Seated, Borghini treated his bass like a cello, demonstrating a fluent arco technique, frequently straying into the upper registers, though also adept at staking out a florid middle ground. On tenor and soprano saxophones, and on one occasion both simultaneously, Maraffa traded in split tones and squeals with his squawking, bubbling overblown tenor particularly likely to overflow the confines of group decorum.

Braida could be relatively restrained, when echoing Borghini as waves of sound were passed round the group or layering textures on piano strings, though he and Maraffa nonetheless incited each other to mayhem, culminating in stabbing repeated patterns from the pianist as he endeavored to keep step with the overblown saxophone. Unobtrusively maintaining momentum, Spera played throughout with his face averted to the side, a half smile on his lips and eyes closed, whether extracting unconventional timbres by rubbing his fingers around the rims of his snare or fuelling group tumult with clattering exhortations.

A highly regarded set and yet more confirmation, were it still needed in the 21st century, that quality free jazz emanates from all points of the compass.

The final night of the Vision Festival would deliver an interestingly mixed bag with Lewis Barnes' Hampton Roads carving out a strong set, and an outstanding show from William Parker's Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield to take the Festival out on an inspired high note.

Photo Credit

Frank Rubolino (Joe Morris, Paul Dunmall, Edoardo Maraffa) John Sharpe

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


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