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Vision Festival 2010 - Opening Night

John Sharpe By

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Prologue | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7
Opening Invocation, The Blues Escaped, Stomp It, Rob Brown New Quartet, Broken Flowers, In Order To Survive
Vision Festival
Abrons Arts Center

23 June 2010

After three days of activity across various downtown venues, the Vision Festival returned to the well-appointed Abrons Arts Center for the core part of the proceedings. Everything a small festival might need was on hand. Main theater with comfortable seating and air conditioning? Check. Smaller performance area which increases the options for artistic presentations? Check. Separate hall where the commercial activities of selling CDs, books, T-shirts, food and drink can go on without disturbing those listening to the music? Check. Variety of smaller spaces and thoroughfares available for exhibition of photos and paintings? Check. In addition the acoustics were detailed and the sound system such that listeners were able to hear well throughout the auditorium. Without doubt the Abrons Center has provided the best accommodation of any for the Vision Festival in recent years.

Billed as a Vison for Vision Benefit, the opening night boasted a stellar lineup showcasing some of the musicians most strongly associated with the Vision Festival over the years, each presenting a new (or in the case of William Parker's In Order To Survive, almost new) project. They didn't disappoint and the performances made this a curtain raiser to savor.

Opening Invocation

In what has now become a firm Vision Festival tradition, the first night proper opened with a brief Invocation—a sort of secular blessing of the house—in which music and chanting come together to lay the spiritual foundation for the Festival. As if eager to get underway, there was no introduction and the musicians seated in a line across the stage drifted into an easygoing groove, as if they were on the back porch. Cooper-Moore's home made banjo and Hamid Drake's frame drum were at the heart, embroidered by Roy Campbell's trumpet, Kidd Jordan and Rob Brown's saxophones and Jason Kao Hwang's violin. As William Parker downed his wood flute to bang gongs at the rear stage, partner and main organizer Patricia Nicholson intoned above the rootsy mélange: "The angels are flying. Here they are. Here you are." After a series of whinnying cries from Brown, Jordan and Hwang, the ritual finished with a quick unceremonious "OK" and we could unfasten our seatbelts. Recognizing that newcomers might be somewhat mystified, MC Lewis Barnes explained the Invocation for the uninitiated before the next show.

The Blues Escaped

A first time gathering, The Blues Escaped, featuring five holdovers from the opening Invocation, had the honor of initiating the event. Jason Kao Hwang began by picking out a plaintive melody on his violin while everyone else stood immobile. William Parker laid down a slowly mutating bass riff, fuelled by Hamid Drake behind the traps. The front line initiated an amiable exchange of free form phrases—a three way conversation—before Kidd Jordan took a fleeting turn in the spotlight. That established the template for the set: collective improvisation over Parker and Drakes patented non-repeating groove. There were momentary passages which resembled loose arrangements, but more likely sprang from the shared memory of R&B riffs and classic tunes. Living on their wits, at one point Jordan and Hwang even extemporized a paraphrase of Charlie Parker's "Now's The Time" behind a Campbell trumpet solo.

While no-one really soloed as such, Campbell seemed more often to make his way to the front as the set progressed, his slurred legato cutting through the cumulative sonic mass. Pushing the bell of his flugelhorn over the mic, he evoked an underwater burbling, while later on trumpet he leant right back and blasts the heavens. Hwang alternated fluid bowing with rhythmic inventions, tapping his bow off the strings or plucking pizzicato riffs. Jordan used his distinctive falsetto more sparingly than usual, content to excavate the middle and lower register of his tenor, while orchestrating impromptu riffs.

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