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Vision Festival 2010 - Opening Night

John Sharpe By

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There was nonetheless plenty of scope for the bass drum masterclass that is Parker and Drake. By now so empathetic, they responded almost intuitively to the slightest inflections of attack, changing the groove at whim, safe in the knowledge that the other would follow. Parker's deep full-toned bass and Drakes syncopated stick work wove an effortlessly funky golden thread which the horns could choose to follow or play against as they wished. It was like a discussion between old friends but one which was all the better for being shared with an appreciative audience. Illustrating their responsiveness, one moment that stuck in the mind was when Jordan mirrored Hwang's singing lines, winding each other up into a frenzy of high pitched quavering whistles, before Campbell leapt in on pocket trumpet. It was like looking at the sea: always changing but essentially the same in its coherence and flow.

Stomp It

Made up of Matthew Shipp on piano and Whit Dickey on drums, Stomp It could alternatively be viewed as two thirds of the Matthew Shipp Trio. Without a bassist the communication between the two was more direct, though still oblique by most standards. While Shipp pawed at the piano, Dickey, looking down and to the side head motionless, constructed intricate latticeworks from drum, stick and cymbal. But the output belied the visual image as Dickey was very responsive, becoming noticeably more expansive when Shipp got into hammered patterns, echoing and embellishing at the same time. There was strong rhythmic interplay between the two, not least when Shipp launched a heavy sustain pedal assault on the refrain of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" with the drummer accenting the refrain on cymbals.

Dickey's mastering was most apparent in a solo passage when both velocity and volume increased, with motifs whirling around his kit like intersecting satellites. Otherwise his role seemed to be about underpinning and interaction, achieved industriously but not obtrusively. Shipp demonstrated a particular attraction to the bass register tonight. At times the pianist was almost boxing as he swung rights then lefts at the keyboard and tackled one typically thunderous sequence primarily with the heel of his right hand, while Dickey added emphasis on toms and cymbals.

Together they delivered a short but powerful set that, while programmed almost as an interlude between acts, was easily the equal of those allotted greater time.

Rob Brown New Quartet

Rob Brown has been a near constant at previous Vision Festivals, presenting new projects each time, the only consistent factor being the excellence of his passionate yet controlled expression. This year wasn't to change that, with the main novelty being that in his new quartet Brown had replaced piano which has been a recent trait with the vibes of Matt Moran.

Four mallets in hand, Moran pontificated over Gerald Cleaver's clattering drums and a Chris Lightcap bass riff to start, before joining Brown in a modular head, like something Steve Lacy might have composed. Having demarcated the territory Brown took off on a fine extended solo, with backing loosening up behind him. Moran's vibes allowed plentiful space and his sparse style of comping involved waiting for an appropriate juncture then leaping in with darting clusters. Brown has assembled a very solid rhythm section. Lightcap combined melody and rhythm in his muscular basswork, and excelled at digging into riffs and finding ways of to varying the interest without losing momentum. Cleaver can do it all, often keeping things simple yet able to deconstruct tempo into pulsing polyrhythmic rumble in his supporting play. He seamlessly incorporated modulations of pitch and timbre into his spare rhythms, as when he applied clothes pegs to his cymbals. Together they essayed an intense set of five originals spanning the gamut from sprightly free-bop to slow burning ballad in a 50 minute program, which was recorded for future release.

Brown boasts an instantly recognizable sweetly acerbic sound on alto saxophone, modulated by carefully calibrated distortions, squeals, and split tones, all of which add emotional weight to his note choices. In spite of his burgeoning leadership credentials, he remains most often sighted in the company of bassist William Parker, whose ensembles he has graced for more than 17 years. It was easy to see why as he smoldered over a menacing vamp in the darkly loping second piece.

Moran brought an element of unpredictability to matters, whether taking a bow to his vibes to produce long pure notes, making asymmetric use of repetition in his kaleidoscopic ringing runs, or bobbing as he took fast paced solos like an increasingly desperate carpenter trying to hammer in multiple nails which refused to stay down. Always alert, Moran exploited the time worn, but ever pleasing, trick of co-opting Brown's closing phrases to start his solo in fifth piece.


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