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Vision Festival 2010: Day 5, June 27, 2010

John Sharpe By

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A special presentation was made to violinist and composer Billy Bang at the outset of his set, with assembled friends and colleagues gifting him the sculpture which pictured on the cover of his Sweet Space (Anima, 1979) album. There was a poignancy to the award, not because it was not well deserved, but as the violinist has been battling lung cancer and appeared much frailer than at last year's Vision Festival. His performance was dedicated to Sirone—the bassist best known as one third of the Revolutionary Ensemble, along with Leroy Jenkins and Jerome Cooper—and Bang related the tale of how he was sometimes nicknamed Sir One. Perhaps as part of the tribute, the violinist employed an additional bassist Dave Grodin in his lineup alongside Hilliard Greene. Both were involved from the off, deploying a deep buzzing arco drone, augmented by cymbal washes and spare piano from Andrew Bemkey. Bang layered his heartfelt violin lines over the top with a somber chorus from trombone and bass clarinet.

As often the case, the leader chose to orchestrate in the moment, cueing up features for first Grodin, then the clarinetist Henry Warner, a little known player from the loft era who cropped up on albums by William Parker, and Bang and worked with Sun Ra, Wilbur Ware and Frank Lowe but has been largely under the critical radar since. Seated with a walking stick, the 70-year old Warner looked frail and suffered from being undermiked so that he sounded somewhat breathless and it took his overblown squawks to penetrate through the ensemble.

A second piece—"Dark Silhouette"—again began with the two bassmen, pizzicato this time, supplemented by tapping on the body of the basses before catching a descending riff. Trombonist Dick Griffin built a fine outing off the vamp, showing the full range of dynamics at his service from low growls to the highest thin squeals. There was clearly something inspirational about the tune as Bemkey's long unfurling piano spot was also exemplary. Bang himself closed the piece out with a keening frantic statement, more anguished and dissonant than his usual joyous fare. Though not achieving his former irrepressible energy levels, Bang gave it his all and the band closed to great cheers. Get well soon Billy.

David S Ware Trio

With an astonishing acapella tenor blast to start, saxophonist David S. Ware made a forceful declaration that he was back and in top form following his kidney transplant. It was a sustained shout out, extended by circular breathing, which carried on from where the triumphant final track of his solo Saturnian (AUM Fidelity, 2010) left off.

After establishing his credentials, Ware brought in the seasoned combo of William Parker on bass and Warren Smith on drums for quicksilver support in a completely improvised set. Ware sat centre stage with Parker and Smith flanking him to the rear, defining what this show was about in graphic form. Though seated throughout, the reedman's musical powers were undiminished: he was technically assured and pushing the boundaries with undoubted stamina in an amazing outpouring. Good news then that a new recording from the trio will be released later in Fall 2010.

Smith and Parker encompass so much free jazz experience that it could be taken as read that they imparted open yet propulsive backing, alert to Ware's trajectory, yet continually offering further options for travel. Smith in particular bestowed a spacious quality through his accompaniment which allowed the music to breathe, whether starting a bounce with mallets or marking time on his hi-hat, which suited the hornman down to the ground in providing reference points against which he could pitch his emotionally charged rapture.

Parker effected trenchant commentary, allied to timbral variation in his featured spots, as when he applied his patented karate chop hand movements on the strings of the bass, producing ringing harmonics. He also exerted control over the tempo, increased velocity of his stream of thick resonant notes prompting the saxophonist to move from yelps to gobbling runs with honks in the interstices. Ware's lines were majestic and sleek, making passing reference to some compositional material, before yet more dog whistle extreme tightrope walking. Against a backdrop where so many of the elders of the music are dying or ill, Ware and his continued comeback makes for significant and welcome news. This set was one of the Festival's stand out occasions, and for all the right reasons.

Peace Out Trio


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