Vision Festival 2010: Day 4, June 26, 2010

John Sharpe BY

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Prologue | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7
Areni Agbabian, Lorenzo Sanguedolce, Go-Zee-Lah Reggie Nicholson, Borah Bergman, Ned Rothenberg Mark Helias, Tony Malaby, Charles Gayle
Vision Festival
Abrons Arts Center

New York City

June 26, 2010

Saturday was a long day at the Vision Festival, starting in the afternoon with a series of shows by relative newcomers in the Emerging Artists segment and then, after a brief hiatus, continuing with a full night's program. For those with the appetite, between those times there was also a talk by Amiri Baraka on Corporate Control of the Arts in the downstairs theater, before an audience of festival-goers and musicians. One of the pleasures of a festival is the chance to pick up on new names alongside the established stars, but as always the auditorium was sparsely populated for the afternoon shows, though the real diehards were there, supplemented by friends and supporters.

R & E

First up was R & E, featuring vocalist Areni Agbabian, augmented with subtle electronics abetted by Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano sax plus Quasim Naqvi on drums. Agbabian's experimental, wordless vocals blended well with Malaby's measured distortions, though on occasion she applied the electronics to effect an ethereal choir against which she span further exclamations. Notwithstanding Malaby's inventive counterpoint, Agbabian's voice remained the primary focus, with the clattering free percussion in a supportive role, for a set of shifting atmospheric sound exploration. Agbabian packed an impressive voice for such a slight framed young women, employing power in abundance when needed. The highlight came late in the set as Malaby built to a climax of choked shrieks on tenor, supported by vocal squawks and drum explosions, which threw some of the previous more subdued passages into intense relief.

Lorenzo Sanguedolce Quartet

Brooklyn based tenor saxophonist Lorenzo Sanguedolce enlisted three seasoned practitioners to perform his unfettered, open, not unmelodic brand of improv, often in-tempo even, in a set which simmered hard but never boiled over. His tenor was slinky and sensual with a bright airy tone, colored by restrained multiphonics and dissonances On piano, David Arner contributed some punchy free moments, deploying a fast stabbing action simultaneously at both extremes of the keyboard, while Francois Grillot proved solid on bass, whether sounding ringing harmonics and lush arco, or a throbbing pedal point to anchor rubato stasis. Arner attended the saxophonist closely, variously following, echoing and underpinning his lead. A tender then playful tenor soliloquy from Sanguedolce showed his potential in a set that won some enthusiastic support.


Fronted by the captivating Kyoko Kitamura, Go-Zee-Lah gave one of the Festival's most theatrical performances, though pianist Yayoi Ikawa was generally lost in a mane of hair hanging over her keyboard. Drummer Harris Eisenstadt brandishing his sticks demonstratively, very elegantly kept innovative time. Spirited group interplay meant they covered a lot of ground in their 40-minute set, with pieces ranging from Japanese children's' songs, an alphabet song (made up as no Japanese version exists), and the alienation of being American and Japanese, but not feeling truly either, in which Kitamura sampled speech from her laptop, which she echoed and commented upon.

Kitamura acted as the focal point, introducing the tunes, and moving between torch singing, sprechgesang (an expressionistic technique halfway between singing and speaking) and vocal aerobatics in her accomplished delivery. While Eisenstadt extracted great tonal variation from his kit, for example using his sticks or mallets to modulate the pitch as he struck his drums, it was always integrated within the flow of the music. The diminutive Ikawa breezed from romantic to incandescent, though she had to virtually stand to discharge her pent up energy in an explosion of keys.

Reggie Nicholson Percussion Concept

For the first set of the evening, AACM drummer/composer Reggie Nicholson had a whole posse of people to whom he wished to pay homage: he dedicated his performance to Fred Anderson, Rashied Ali, Steve McCall and Wilber Morris. Befitting the title, the stage looked like the percussion department of a music store, containing instruments sufficient for three percussionists, and reedman Salim Washington, who also doubled on percussion. Even though there was so much firepower on standby, Nicholson adroitly marshaled his resources so that there was always room for everyone to be heard.

All read from charts at some juncture, though Washington, in particular, seemed as if he was responding and reacting to what was going on around him for much of the time, whether drifting on flute, wailing on nasal soprano saxophone, or laying down the gritty John Coltrane-inspired law on tenor. The inclusion of tuned percussion, as well as the wind instruments meant that melody played as important a role as rhythm, with Warren Smith often taking the lead on vibes or marimba. Whether a loose jam feel prevailed or a tighter compositional rein held sway, it was a good set to raise energy levels up for the evening to come.

Borah Bergman solo

The next set, however, proved much calmer than might have been expected. Most people, when they contemplate pianist Borah Bergman, think of his dazzling two-handed independence and the resultant fiercely contrapuntal divergence. But it was a very frail looking Bergman who shuffled to the keyboard. In reflective mood, he turned to the audience and explained what they were about to hear, while apologizing for snuffles from his cold. In reference to how he fostered his two-handed facility, his first piece was essayed with his left hand alone: pretty, partly in-tempo, blues-inflected at times, and briefly atonal. It formed the template for his performance: several minor key, sometimes very beautiful, tunes with a melancholy air, revealing an unexpected lyrical side. Then came a sequence of mellow ballads, a self composed "Poignant Dream," "I Dreamed All My Dreams to Dream," "When Autumn Comes"—you get the idea from the titles! As one of the longer sets of the festival it would have been more satisfying if the pianist had shifted out of first gear, but he nonetheless received a standing ovation, perhaps for his endurance in face of obvious adversity.

Ned Rothenberg's Sync

Even though all three were seated, reedman Ned Rothenberg's Sync injected a change of pace, with Samir Chatterjee on tablas adding a very distinctive flavor, alongside Jerome Harris' acoustic bass guitar. As might be anticipated from a band with three albums to its name, Sync possessed a robust group ethos, based upon an amalgam of jazz and world music so well-assimilated as to form something entirely its own. Dancing figures spewed from the leader's clarinet to initiate further virtuosic give-and-take. Sitting impassively, cross-legged on a small raised dais, Chatterjee's fingers were nonetheless flying, layering a unique combination of melody and rhythm over Harris' flexible, foot-tapping bass lines. In fact Harris' solos were more like a guitar in terms of their nimble dexterity.

Ned Rothenberg

As well as composing all the pieces which were linked in an unbroken 50-minute stream, Rothenberg impressed with casual invention: his clarinet swooping to unanticipated woody depths; and his alto saxophone spinning elongated tales extended by circular breathing to generate split toned squawks in different registers. Chatterjee switched to another differently pitched set of tablas while continuing to drum, to usher in a new section, with the reedman in lockstep, his alto saxophone evoking bagpipes for a Scottish folk feel. To conclude Rothenberg, switching to bass clarinet, purveyed a slab of ethnic stop-start funk, with his percussive popping blending well with the tablas and the upper register of the bass, the synergistic characteristic of a compelling set.

Open Loose

Another long-established, very cohesive band followed in Mark Helias' Mark Helias Open Loose. First formed in 1998, only the saxophone chair has changed since, with Tony Malaby taking over from Ellery Eskelin, beside the leader and drummer Tom Rainey. Over the course of five albums Open Loose has forged a style which blurs the edges of Helias' compositions so that it is satisfyingly difficult to separate the written from the improvised. Case in point was the opener, commencing with breathy tenor and pizzicato bass, which developed as a three-voiced improv, before somehow coalescing into a barely sketched tune ("Moving Parts"). Understated themes came into their own as tools for propelling the band into a heady mix of group improvisation, solos and heads.

Mark Helias

Helias chose his band mates wisely, as all three effortlessly negotiated the transitions from inside to out. Malaby, back from his exertions earlier in the afternoon, spiked his oblique proclamations with muffled cries, boisterous blurts and etiolated squeals, never going over the top just for the sake of it. Even at his most impassioned, as on the third piece, his over-blowing and split tones were carefully controlled, while he later confirmed his modus operandi on soprano sax was just as distorted and bracing as on tenor.

Tall and loose-limbed, Rainey looked straight ahead expressionless as he tackled the switchbacks with insouciant aplomb. He gave his sticks lots of air, keeping the pulse going while continually varying his attack. With such comrades, a strong leader was required. Helias amply demonstrated his mettle, his sinewy a capella introductions proving a highlight. Elastic plucking low on the fret board led to string slapping abandon before segueing into a staggered riff to usher in a funky number boasting another precise, yet heated, Malaby exposition. It closed another very good set.

Charles Gayle Bass Choir Tribute To Sirone

Last act of the evening was Tribute to Sirone, led by saxophonist Charles Gayle. In echo of a set in which Sirone himself took part at the 2004 Vision Festival—itself a tribute to departed bass men Wilber Morris and Peter Kowald—the horn man had assembled another four-strong bass choir. Strange as it may seem, there is a small body of work emerging for such groupings, with the original set released as William Parker Bass Quartet featuring Charles Gayle: Requiem (Splasc(h), 2006) and Joe McPhee also leading a four-bass choir on Angels and Haints (CJR, 2009). However Gayle went one better here, playing not only his customary tenor saxophone, but also taking up a bass himself. Quite a brave thing to do, as he had to come after four of the best bass players around—Ken Filiano, Jane Wang, Larry Roland and Francois Grillot—had their say. Michael T.A. Thompson on drums added some crisp momentum to the thrumming mass.

Gayle conducted the improvised set from stage left, with the four bull fiddles strung in a line across the stage. After an introductory blow he cued features for each player in turn to showcase their chops, before joining himself in a massed phalanx of all five basses. What followed alternated between individual manifestos and collective furor, with Thompson's drums and a litany of overblown shrieks from the leader's tenor woven into the fabric. After a succession of bass solos, Gayle's orchestration resulted, first of all, in three basses bowing and two plucking, then all sawing together, producing a fantastic morass of creaking drones, like an orchestra tuning up and discovering a heavenly chorus. But truth be told—as when, back in the day, rock band Blue Oyster Cult all strapped on electric guitars, the spectacle looked better than it sounded.

Charles Gayle Bass Choir

Wang distinguished herself as the most adventurous in terms of extended techniques: rubbing strings; banging the back of bass body; and then tapping the wood of her bow on the bridge for more percussive textures. Again, Filiano excelled with his fluent blend of harmonic invention and rhythmic contouring, while Grillot had, perhaps, the strongest tone of all, and Roland the most muscular approach. At the end of a series of solos culminating in a fine Filiano arco display, Gayle prudently laid down his bass, rather than trying to follow, and took up his saxophone, instead, for a prayer of sanctified falsetto and lingering hollers of affirmation. A final rubato ensemble, with Thompson on mallets, found the reedman winding down with melancholic gravitas on tenor, evincing a standing ovation from those left at the late hour.

An outstanding bill for Sunday promised another heavy evening in store, presenting clarinetist Perry Robinson, a rare appearance by saxophone colossus David S. Ware with a new trio, and pianist Dave Burrell's Peace Out Trio.

Photo Credit

All Photos: John Sharpe

Prologue | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7

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