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Vision Festival 2018

John Sharpe By

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Multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter stepped into the void left when a poet pulled out of the planned schedule to deliver a short but poignant and heartfelt tribute to his late wife, painter Marilyn Sontag. Carter moving between trumpet, soprano and alto saxophones mingled quiet meditation and keening cry, while pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker fashioned a restless occasionally percussive backdrop, though often seeming to take their lead from Carter in a piercingly sensitive performance.

At the opposite pole Norwegian reedman Frode Gjerstad's quartet featuring trombonist Steve Swell took no prisoners. Starting at fever pitch and returning there at every opportunity they collectively traversed uncharted waters in a thorny sharp-elbowed version of free jazz. The shared lineage of drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten in The Thing resulted in an especially solid and responsive foundation upon which Gjerstad and Swell indulged in conversational repartee which inevitably became heated. The four distinct but finely tuned personalities proved masters at mixing such mercurial extemporization with more reflective interweaving in which a repeated note motif from one player could quickly solidify across the ensemble before they moved on to the next idea.

Particular recognition should be given to "Inward Motion" the piece commissioned from pianist Matthew Shipp by the New York State Council on the Arts. For the performance Shipp had gathered a diverse group of improvisers, who he conducted from the front of the stage, occasionally moving behind the piano for particular sections. In some ways the piece resembled one of Shipp's early dates such as Strata (Hatology, 1997) or Magnetism (Bleu Regard, 1999), in that it was divided into separate cells which each spotlighted different subsets of the whole ensemble, while few sequences promoted the complete group. Without overt thematic material, it was left to Shipp to direct the dialogue, opening with Newman Taylor Baker rustling on drums and Michael Bisio's plucked spurts. Mat Walerian on clarinet and Jason Kao Hwang on violin seemed to emulate sirens in loose unison, before stilling to allow Nate Wooley to hold forth. He adds a striking voice to whatever projects he's in. His little vocal exclamations between his ululating whistles, locomotive chuffing and powerful squalls furnished a human dimension to his boundless imagination.

When the section for the whole group came it resembled a swirling vortex. While most of the sequences tended towards the abstract, there were two exceptions. Firstly during the group tutti in which Bisio and Baker slipped into a jazzy swing, augmented by a loose polyphony between the horns and violin, when as if to undercut the consonant aura, Shipp went to the piano and belayed tolling tremolos and pummeling clusters. Conversely the second was an interlude for solo piano in which Shipp waxed songlike and romantic. In some ways it was a hard listen coming right at the end of a Friday night, and might have benefited from being programmed earlier during the evening when ears were fresh.

Outro

To conclude this year's Vision Festival was a dramatic confirmation of the health of avant jazz, in that a number of younger voices were triumphantly heard, supplementing the familiar old guard, who are becoming thinner on the ground with each passing year. Even better was that it all took place in an intimate venue with excellent sound and a terrific audience. Here's looking forward to more of the same next year.
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