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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.

Go-Zee-Lah

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

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