Vision Festival XI, Angel Orensanz Foundation For The Arts, NYC - Day Six, 18 June 2006

John Sharpe By

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The Vision Festival is an artist-organized and run event which depends on a small but dedicated staff augmented by volunteers and well-wishers. It differs from other jazz festivals in its inclusivity, representing a wide artistic community and customarily featuring dance and art alongside the musical performances. During the festival's 2006 production, paintings, photographs and drawings festooned the hall, even in the highest extremities where they could barely be seen without magnification. The festival has a great vibe, bringing together aficionados from all over North America, and, like me, from the UK and further afield, in a friendly weeklong celebration of avant-garde jazz. Where else can you mingle with your heroes, possibly even buy your evening meal from the great William Parker?

Miya Masaoka/Sylvie Courvoisier/Peggy Lee

The opening set of the final evening of the Vision Festival was a trio of Miya Masaoka on koto and electronics, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Peggy Lee on cello. Not only is Masaoka a proficient soloist as an instrumentalist, but she has also written scores for ensembles, chamber orchestras and mixed choirs. However, this evening the trio's work was created extemporaneously and collectively in the moment as a single free flowing piece, under Masaoka's nominal leadership.

An incremental start to the improvised set found Courvoisier delving inside the piano to pluck and rub the wires, while Lee dragged her bow across the cello strings and Masaoka plucked on the koto, pitting upper register squeakings against dissipating piano rumbles. All three traded in a language of assorted scrapings, rubbings, tappings and distorted notes. Duos or solos emerged organically from the improv as individual contributions came to a natural conclusion. Particularly effective moments included a happy confluence of repeated piano runs and sharply plucked koto, and a crescendo of stabbed piano chords, darkly bowed cello and pitter pattering koto.

Masaoka extracted a wide range of textures from her koto—at one stage fusing purposeful picking with simultaneous tapping on the underside, and at another using a metal bar to elicit resonant crescendos—but sought to extend the range still further by using a laser interface towards the end of the set. So when her hands interrupted a stream of laser beams, in an aural version of tai chi, the physical movement triggered the sound of sampled koto. With some additional manipulation, hand movements unleashed a blizzard of plucked notes into the improvisational ether.

The three women ended some fifty minutes after they started, wreathed in smiles as they took in the audience's appreciation.

Kidd Jordan Quartet

One of the fastest changeovers of the whole Festival at less than fifteen minutes caught me by surprise, so I missed the opening seconds of the Kidd Jordan Quartet, featuring besides the leader on tenor sax long time associates Joel Futterman on piano, Alvin Fielder on drums and William Parker on bass. Needless to say, they were going full tilt by the time I returned to my seat. Futterman was swiping at the keys, promlugating waves of sound. Parker was sound propulsion personified and Fielder was driving hard. Over it all Jordan evinced righteous upper register whinnies, interspersed with meaty runs and honked punctuation.

They delivered an intense roller coaster ride scaling peak after peak before regrouping to build again over the course of the three quarters of an hour set. At one point Jordan quietened the backing of his ensemble to create a sparser open sound, with Parker on arco, plumbing the depths, as Jordan worked repeated falsetto phrases. As Parker increased the intensity, Jordan lengthened his lines, channelling late period Trane with heavy vibrato, over swooping arco slurs which echoed his plaintive cries. Jordan boasts an instantly recognisable tone and a habit of almost obsessively registering his high register squeals, which makes him distinctive in any company. Parker was particularly partial to the arco sound this evening, exploring it at every opportunity. Futterman, although giving sterling support, didn't hog the spotlight, even provoking Jordan to call on him to play more at one stage. Nonetheless, he contributed an exuberant tempest of middle register patterns, with his left hand snatching notes from both ends of the keyboard, widely separated sounds culminating in chopping clusters. Fielder mixed up the pulse while driving the band forwards, overseeing the coalescence of bass-drum bombs, hi-hat patterns and rolls on toms and snares into a relentless polyrhythmic shuffle.

Towards the end, Jordan hit on a blues riff, prompting Fielder into a steady 4/4, before Jordan once again slipped into more abstract territory with his high wavering lines, jumping between registers, to both magisterial and tender effect. Another peak of intensity ensued, after which a ruminative conclusion followed by a drumroll signalled the end of an excellent high energy set.


Patricia Nicholson's PaNic are a fixture of the Vision Festival, with a changing roster of musical accompanists. Tonight's support came from partner William Parker, in his ethnic guise on wood flute, guimbri and doussn' gouni; Hamid Drake on tablas and frame drum; and Joseph Jarman on flutes, all corralled stage right. Nicholson mixed recitation, dance and wordless chanting over shifting world music textures as the players switched between instruments. With Parker and Drake playing in tandem, it was no surprise that strongly seductive grooves prevailed—Parker could swing with just an elastic band. Jarman's flute melded pastoral lines onto the continually evolving dancing rhythms. Nicholson at times followed the lead of the music, and at other times the music appeared guided by her movement. Live pictures of the audience or performers were projected on hanging screens above the stage from a video camera operated by Jo Wood-Brown. The single thirty-five minute piece won an enthusiastic response from the audience, and the music would easily have stood on its own merits, even without the marriage with the dance.

Whit Dickey Trio

Whit Dickey is still best known for his tenure in the drum chair of the David S. Ware Quartet, though he has been doing his best to change that familiar role with a string of excellent releases on the Clean Feed label. For this year's offering he rang the changes, presenting the inaugural meeting of his trio, with Matt Moran on vibes and Daniel Levin on cello, in a continuously improvised set in place of his more deliberative, structured compositions.

Forty minutes of intense interplay was book-ended by a measured opening featuring Dickey alone on drums and a closing solo on his brushes. In between, energy and tension were built, and then dissipated without resolution. A brooding atmosphere held sway in the first part of the set, with Dickey maintaining stasis through repetitious percussive textures. Moran bowed his vibes, drawing out unearthly ringing tones while Levin, with eyes closed and fleeting expressions betraying the tussle between imagination and concentration, slashed and droned, contributing to the unsettling aura.

An ominous tattoo signalled a more propulsive stance from Dickey. Accelerated sawing from Levin culminated in a blast of anthemic cello. Moran initially balked at a conventional response, but then succumbed with a repeated rhythmic motif with four mallets, before the momentum subsided once more, and Dickey marshalled his chops for his closing statement.

David S. Ware Quartet

The headline act of this last evening of the Eleventh Vision Festival was billed as the Final US Performance of the David S. Ware Quartet. Once again their was a concentration of young faces towards the stage and a palpable air of anticipation blanketing the hall. This band took the free jazz scene by storm back in the 1990s, winning near universal plaudits with a string of acclaimed releases. However, there have been longer gaps between releases in recent years, and even Ware's most recent "Live in the World set was made up of live recordings spread over four years—1999 and 2003. The appearances have been fewer of late as well, to the extent that Ware's agent was alleged to have dubbed this appearance as "A US Performance Finally."

There was a hiatus before they started while the sound crew attempted to get the onstage monitors to function to the band's satisfaction. The musicians still didn't look totally happy even when Ware unleashed his muscular tone for some unhurried preaching over a stately beat. Though he looked more frail than when I last saw him, his deep powerful sound was unaffected, moving from resonant honks to vocalised yelps and culminating in a melange of majestic overblown cries.

Ware's stamina was also intact, proving itself over the course of an hour-long set comprising six pieces and an encore. The second piece could almost be taken as a metaphor for the stage the group has reached in their evolution. Ware opened alone with outpouring on tenor. When he stopped, the rhythm section (if the collective talents of Matthew Shipp, William Parker and Guillermo Brown can be contained in that title) started, and so it continued with alternating soliloquies between Ware and collective excursions from the rest of the band. They did eventually combine with a brief outburst of free tenor over a bass and drum furor, but it was hard not to take away the message that Ware was looking beyond this group. While most of the pieces evidenced Ware's questing nature and refusal to rest on his laurels, by giving the impression of being created in the moment or at best loosely arranged, two old warhorses were executed at the end of the set: an incisive rendition of "Mikuro's Theme and a moving anthemic piece whose name still escapes me.

These pieces coaxed outstanding solos from Ware, who used the familiar superstructures to construct volcanic statements until he was speaking in tongues, closing the hymn-like finale with a wistful whimpering.

Parker, Brown and Shipp provided peerless support, but this was truly Ware's show. He indicated who should solo when, with a Brown drum solo closing one piece with typical bombast, while a wonderous Parker arco solo opened another with a buzzing, almost vocalised, wavering line, accompanied by Shipp in lyric mode. There was less time in the spotlight for Shipp, and when the third piece opened with quickfire freeform oratory, it seemed he was intent on forcibly compressing an entire evening's notes into the highly charged introduction.

The inevitable standing ovation brought with it an unprecedented encore: a short stop-start primal scream of a piece which drew to a squealing finale, providing a fantastic end to Vision XI.

After six days that had amply lived up to the promise which had lured me back, it was time to say goodbye to new friends and think about what Vision XII might offer. The rumour was that next year the Festival might be in a new location, not far from Lincoln Center. Time will tell, but watch the Vision Festival website for details.

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