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Vision Festival: Day 1, June 5, 2011

Vision Festival: Day 1, June 5, 2011
John Sharpe By

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Day 1 | Days 2-3 | Day 4 | Days 5-6 | Day 7
Vision Festival
Abrons Arts Center
New York, NY

June 5-11, 2011

Now in its 16th year, the annual Vision Festival in NYC's Lower East Side remains the premier showcase for the city's avant jazz talent. While for residents, chances to witness many of the hometown participants may come along with complacency-inducing regularity, the concentration of performance into a seven day period proves irresistible for those less accustomed to such rich fare. Consequently, visitors from out of state and abroad probably equal, if not outnumber, New Yorkers at the event. Comfortably ensconced in the plush Abrons Arts Center for the third year running, the festival got off to a slow start, with quite a few empty seats for much of the first three nights. But even though the bulk of mouth-watering casting lay in the later stages of the festival, there was more than enough to maintain interest, sometimes originating from unexpected quarters.

A strong opening night included several noteworthy performances which showcased a roll call of some of the most compelling drummers active in the music, with Whit Dickey, Andrew Cyrille, Warren Smith and Tom Rainey all featured prominently.

Blood Trio

Following the invocation Vision Festival fixture, drummer Whit Dickey, initiated proceedings in a unfettered threesome with bassist Michael Bisio and reed master Sabir Mateen under the moniker Blood Trio. Their set was one of incrementally building intensity. But even as the temperature increased, Dickey kept it reined in, marking holding patterns on his cymbals. Mateen started predominantly in the middle registers, making an unceasing flow of ideas seem both new and easy. On bass Bisio, who now partners with the drummer in Matthew Shipp's new trio, resorted to manic flailing, holding his bass horizontally like an oversize guitar, while the reedman belayed a coursing stream of molten notes. There was talent on display wherever one looked.

Sabir Mateen and Whit Dickey

A second piece started with Bisio bowing hard, his legs planted akimbo. As he sawed, the bow hit the body of the bass, adding to the physicality of the display. His wavering creaks and undulations proved a wonderful introduction from which a spidery melody briefly emerged to attract a sanctified tenor saxophone and rumbling drums. Again there was tension as the saxophonist embarked on a stratospheric journey against a still-restrained backdrop of Bisio's reiterated high bowing and Dickey's intricate rhythmic latticework. Slowly increasing in heft after Mateen hit his climax, the drummer continued in a powerfully focused exposition in which he concentrated more on snare and toms, in contrast to the approach in his ensemble work. He broke out from his solo at a cracking tempo picked up by Bisio's throbbing walking rhythm, and provoked the horn man to another outpouring of silk and steel, astonishing in its facility, into which he interpolated a series of quivering yelps and stentorian vibrato bellows.

It wasn't all thunder and lightning. Mateen switched to clarinet to play over a low key, repeated motif from Bisio and subtle cymbal shadings added by Dickey, his piercing clarinet cries presaging the end of his solo and a compelling curtain raiser far from the anticipated blow out. Overall the restraint, particularly from the rhythm pairing with their refusal to go for the easy option, made for a powerful but at the same time oblique cerebral quality.

The Group

In tribute mode, The Group delivered a program associated with former members of the band, now departed, including Sirone, Billy Bang and Marion Brown. But it was a also a celebration, with the joyous tunes and a rambunctious delivery, helped by Bob Stewart's irrepressible tuba and Hamiett Bluiett's cajoling clarinet, evoking a New Orleans second line. Overall they were a fun band, staying largely within the confines of the pieces but featuring some fine soloing. Organizer Ahmed Abdullah dispatched incisive trumpet, while Charles Burnham's wah-wah'd violin and Freddie Jackson's wild piano comping were similarly notable.

DD Jackson and Hamiett Bluiett

Stephen Haynes' Parrhesia

Parrhesia comprised three men with a shared ethos of exploration of sound and texture, hewing closely to the parameters set out on their eponymous recording (Engine, 2010) to navigate through a sequence of uncharted territories. Flanking leader cornetist Stephen Haynes' collection of brass and mutes, Joe Morris sat to the left with his guitar slung around his neck, while to his right Warren Smith prowled around a panoply of percussion instruments and drum set.

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