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The ornate carvings around the hall bear testament to the fact that the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts was once a synagogue. But its walls are now emblazoned with paintings, drawings, and photographs, while metal sculptures by Alain Kirili impassively adorn the stage. Other installations hang from the ceiling. The Vision Festival is not just about the music, even though that was the focus for many in the audience. Poetry also had a presence, which manifested itself in the first set of the evening.
Steve Dalachinsky, Mat Maneri, and Vito Ricci
For the opening performance Steve Dalachinsky was scheduled to appear with Matthew Shipp. However, Dalachinsky explained that Shipp was at the Royal Albert Hall (a bit galling for me), and instead appeared with Mat Maneri, seated, on viola, and Vito Ricci on electric guitar. Dalachinsky commenced reciting poems from sheets, dropping them to the floor when he was finished. At the conclusion of the first poem, scuttling animal sounds tentatively emerged from a conspiracy of bowed guitar and voila.
Dalachinsky recited another poem, "Jazz makes me..., over the improvised backing. As he began to ad lib and repeat phrases, the music became more fragmented. Ricci produced stuttering textures using a slide on his strings, while Maneri played lyrical shards, swelled with a sustain pedal. Dalachinsky continually moved and gesticulated as he recited, with sheets falling like confetti around him, until he ended the set with the stage littered with discarded words.
Charles Gayle Trio
The Charles Gayle trio followed, with Gayle on alto saxophone and piano; long-time associate Hilliard Greene on bass; and the newest member of the trio, Jay Rosen, on drums. A tattoo from Rosen started them off, then Greene laid down an ostinato line and Gayle, lean tall and hatted, just wailed over the top. Rosen shifted gears into a funk explosion, causing Greene to swing his bass back and forth as he played. I had heard that Gayle's playing has become a bit mellower of late, and indeed, he sometimes reminded me of Ornette Coleman, albeit with a more extreme edge. However he still spiralled into the stratosphere enough to suggest that reports of mellowing are premature. His style makes full use of split tones, multiphonics, and false fingering to produce squalling lines.
Rosen was a forceful but sensitive accompanist who exploited the full dynamic range of his kit. Even when he soloed using brushes, it didn't mean he would be quiet for long. Greene constantly rocked back and forth as he played, sometimes strumming his bass when it was almost horizontal, like an oversize guitar at a hoedown. Greene also showed his sensitive sidebending notes as he slid down the fingerboard and juddering his bow across the strings. Gayle deployed delicate piano shards as Greene bowed a chamber bass solo of aching melodicism, until it was ultimately soured by a crashing piano storm.
Gayle's finest moment of the evening emerged from the group interplay, laying down long, slow lines in a dirge of bent notes with broad vibrato over a roiling rhythmic pulse from Rosen. Greene underpinned with dark arco lines, while Gayle was simply majestic: eyes closed, leaning back as a powerful, aching psalm poured from his horn. Rosen pounded and Greene sawed ever higher, striking a wonderful contrast between the slow-burning Gayle and the frenetic stasis of the rhythm section. Where else could Gayle go? He climaxed on hoarse squeals before ending on a sweet note to ecstatic applause from the audience. Still playing, Gayle walked to the piano and carried on playing his horn with just his left hand, with no audible detriment to his sound, while playing the piano with his right hand. Greene interjected a counterpoint with Rosen hyperactive behind his kit, until all three paused and segued into a bass/drum interlude.
Gayle concluded the set by signalling with his hand for Rosen to set up a steady time. Then, I don't know if it was the power of self suggestion of my previous allusion to Ornette, but Gayle played what sounded to me like a version of "Lonely Woman, but with the parts of the theme spread out and separated by wild extemporisation, before they closed to a standing ovation. A superb outing.
Roy Campbell's Pyramid Trio
Roy Campbell's Pyramid Trio featured the dream team of William Parker on bass and Hamid Drake on drums for the second of five outings during the festival. They started with a multimedia event featuring Patricia Nicholson's "Dancing With Mountains against a backdrop of gorgeous blue and yellow mountainscape watercolours by Lan Ding Liu, in a video by Bob Craddock.
Nicholson, clad all in white, slowly circled at the front of the stage as Campbell uncoiled long tones on flugelhorn from his spot next to the screen. Parker plucked resonant, deliberate lines as Drake set up a buoyant dancing rhythm. Campbell's move to flute unleashed skittering boppish lines to accompany the jerky, yet sinuous movement of Nicholson. Parker and Drake were on fire this evening: the piece virtually became a concerto for telepathic rhythm duo, so outstanding was their interaction.
They moved through a dizzying array of rhythmic patterns, shifting in tandem from one to another nearly imperceptibly. Campbell was almost overwhelmed by the concentrated intensity of their rhythmic ebb and flow. The piece closed with Campbell shooting out rapid fire notes matched by Drake's in-the-pocket pulse, while Nicholson stood next to him mouthing and gesticulating like someone interpreting music into sign language.
After Nicholson left the stage, Campbell introduced a new composition "Bozo's Big Top, which, as he made clear, referred to one particular Bozo living in a White House. A fanfare launched the piece, atop a tumbling rhythm, morphing into a flowing improvisation over driving bass and drums. Campbell's long, supple lines finished with whinnying high-register flurries before he snatched the horn away from his lips as if the notes were too hot. Campbell fragmented his exhortations with stop-start pauses, mirrored by Drake, before ending on low growls. Great solo.
Parker carried on in a whirlwind of plucked noteslike rain hitting a window pane. As Parker played, Campbell punctuated his solo with a squeaker, playing it in Drake's ear to make him laugh. The restlessly creative Parker shifted through varying patterns, touching on a riff, only to discard it in favour of another equally mesmerising deviation, before Drake's drums picked up and locked into a repeated motif. Campbell blew on a double flute and suddenly they were into "Amadou Diallo from the trio's wonderful Ethnic Stew and Brew recording.
Campbell shifted to flugelhorn and explored variations on the theme before unveiling lyrics to the tune: "Why did the NYPD have to murder me? A further flugelhorn sortie included simulations of police sirens woven into the smeared and slurred lines, before giving way to a polyrhythmic extravaganza from Drake. He loosened, then contracted the pulse before hitting the riff for a theme restatement and then the final coup de grace: a flurry of 26 notes in unison, echoing the 26 bullets which killed the unfortunate, unarmed Diallo. Yet another well-deserved standing ovation.
Oliver Lake Trio
The Oliver Lake Trio filled the 10 pm slot, reuniting Lake's working band from the late 1970s with Michael Gregory Jackson on electric guitar and Pheeroan Aklaff on drums (behind a more extensive kit than he used last night). Lake may be best known as one quarter of the World Saxophone Quartet, but he is also a poet, painter, and performance artist as well as musician who has composed and performed in a multitude of settings ranging from string trios to big bands.
There was a touch of ritual about the opening, where Lake struck a prayer bowl in front of the mic. Jackson responded with chiming chords and Aklaff gently struck his gongs. Jackson span out single note lines over sparse percussion while Lake chirruped on wood flute, leading to an oriental sounding theme. The rhythm coalesced, with ominous guitar chords leading into Native American cadences, and Lake switched to curved soprano sax to spew out searing, acid-tinged runs, stepping from foot to foot as he yapped, dipped, and dived.
The set comprised a single freewheeling piece encompassing free, blues, and funk, touching briefly on themes before spinning off into group improvisations. No matter how far out he went, Lake's sound always had a blues edge. He deployed the full arsenal of avant effectsmultiphonics, squealing upper register trips, fingerpad popping, and gruff honksin service of his muse.
At times Jackson closely observed Lake, following his lead, but at others he scrabbled along his own path, alternating single-note runs with bright chords, using a stick as a slide and even playing wah-wah funk. Wherever they went, Aklaff's rolling polyrhythms were equal to the task.
An episode towards the end illustrated their approach: Aklaff rumbled threateningly while laying down a funk backbeat, as Lake led into one of his favoured themes: the stop-time riff of "Hasan, from his 1976 classic Holding Together. Alto and guitar united for the theme before Lake broke away with helter-skelter diverging lines. Jackson echoed the upper register whistle and then underpinned Lake's variations with jazzy chords over Aklaff's continued backbeat. They dissolved into a quiet, almost lyrical passage before restating the "Hasan theme and leading into another molten outpouring, working up into a crescendo to finish with a bang. Fantasticanother standing ovation.
Mat Maneri Quartet
After three standout sets in a row, it was going to be difficult for the band that followed. Next up was the Mat Maneri Quartet with Dave Burrell on piano, Drew Gress on bass, and Maneri's drummer of choice, Randy Petersen. What might seem an incongruous pairing of the microtonal violinist and the free jazz veteran Burrell made perfect sense this night. The two had combined at a gig a few months previously to good effect, finding a darkly lyrical shared chemistry.
Maneri's long swelling legato lines signalled a serene opening, framed by sparse piano chords and purposeful bass notes over spluttering drums. Reading from scores, the group launched into what became its trademark intense interplay. This first piece featured a fine solo from Petersen, centred on his snare but with increasing forays elsewhere, until he exploded in a frenzy of angles with elbows and knees pointed in unlikely directions as he smote his kit. At which point Maneri introduced long tones in contrast to the drums and the manic strumming of Gress and Burrell's crashing clusters, before they navigated to a delicate conclusion.
They played four numbers in what seemed a reserved and brooding set, given the exuberance of the preceding acts. The austere chamber feel was enhanced whenever Gress' arco bass blended with Maneri's abstract violin for a darker spirit to reassert itself. Petersen could be relied upon to pump it up, though, inspiring Maneri to cut loose with bursts of frantic sawing. Burrell's "Downfall provided the main contrast to the generally airy and cerebral proceedings, kicking off with a prancing cadence, picking up in a bass riff with drums playing time. Maneri added notes on top which gradually lengthened, evolving into legato lines, still emphasising the accents in the prancing rhythm. Burrell soloed, increasingly fragmenting and deconstructing the theme until the riff reasserted itself once more and led to a speedy written line over imploding drums. The piece ended with a cooking version of the opening riff. An intense and fluent set.
Wayne Horvitz's "Some Order Long Understood
The final act of the evening was Wayne Horvitz's "Some Order Long Understood, featuring a new lineup of cohorts past and present: alto saxophonist Briggan Krauss, bassist William Parker, and drummer Billy Martin. Horvitz made a name for himself in the '80s as part of the downtown NYC experimental/improv scene and may be best known for his association with John Zorn. His compositions, again necessitating scores for the band (essential given their almost Braxtonian complexity in parts), acted as jumping off points for dense group interplay, exploring textures and distorted tones.
Krauss in particular favoured unconventional tones: strangulated alto surges, lowing like a tortured cow, stuffing fabric in the horn as a mute, playing with a buzzing keening edge, or placing the bell of the horn against his leg to muffle the sound. Parker's role differed from his earlier excursion with the Pyramid Trio: here it was less about rhythmic propulsion and more about exploring the sound world. Martin supplied what momentum was needed, hitting anything and everything in the vicinity of his kit. Horvitz was fond of music box sonorities, inserting delicate tinkling patterns into the improvisations alongside muscular clusters.
They closed with Horvitz setting up an electronic keyboard voice like a broken harpsichord to play theme and variations over shaken percussion and whinnying saxophone. Parker latched onto an arco pattern played close to the bridge, which led to a closing theme statement by alto and piano with bowed bass over free percussion. A pause and then the theme repeated to conclude the set.
What a superb evening, chock full of high quality music with no weak points. I wondered whether the next evening could possibly live up to this...