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music Witness® @ Mercuric Visions II : THE SCROLL
New York City, 8 February 2001

Venue: Thursday night, February 8th, the 2nd annual mid-Winter evening of 'AvantJazz' in the Mercury Lounge, well-known for its dense schedule of music in the 'Rock' zone.

Location: Downtown on New York's Houston Street & Avenue A.  A few blocks east of the former location of the original Knitting Factory; a few blocks south of Context, home base to the Improvisors Collective in the mid-90's where musicians on the stand tonight would regularly mount innovative presentations to often sparse but dedicated audiences; around the corner from Norfolk Street with the old Orensanz synagogue which housed the 2nd & 3rd Vision Festivals and the bubbling club Tonic.

Organization: By Arts for Art, Vision Festival producer and the mother of open improvising possibilities for music in combination with dance, poetry and visual arts on a continuing basis despite the obstacles. Instead of a series of formal sets, the musicians and dancers improvised a series of groupings in a brief meeting just before the performances kicked off. This resulted in eleven continuous sonic-sprints of about twenty minutes each until midnight with very little setup time between each episode.

Rob Brown, Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter, Gerald Cleaver, Karen Borca, Whit Dickey, Leroy Jenkins, Peter Kowald, Matthew Shipp and William Parker were the Musicians for the evening this year.

The Dancers :  Patricia Nicholson and Treva Offutt.

The square Space was charged by three Visual Artists: Yuko Otomo and Marilyn Sontag's extensions on the side walls, Jo Wood-Brown's free-painted mylar banners hanging from the ceiling and their collaged collaboration stretched across the stage wall behind the performers.

Starting with the musician's warm-up and continuing through the evening, this music Witness® attempted to throw down a continuous graphic image of the improvisations presented. A series of eleven panels conceived as connected together to form a continuous vertical scroll resulted. This Scroll can be viewed as a seismograph or EKG of the passages of the performers and the flow of transmitted creative energy. The handmade color original measures 24 feet long. Given the vertical scrolling powers of a computer screen, it may be appropriate to check out this Scroll format online for the first time: what do you see in it?

Warmup: As each of the musicians began to set up a sonic flow on their instruments in different corners of the room, a gently tantalizing atmosphere of interactive awareness vitalizes the space. Shipp's warming touches on piano are surprisingly featherlight as Jenkins fingerplucks his violin into tune with the old upright in echoes of a Delta front porch. Daniel Carter in the back corner setting up his saxophones emits connecting lyric singing calls. Borca up on stage aligns a microphone vertically above the column of her black bassoon and begins to sputter and smolder through its double-reed. Campbell's brass horns move gregariously about the central space, replying in conversation to each sequence from the other instruments. The multiple eyelids of Mercuric Vision are fluttering  open.

Audience: Filled, standing, packed, eager. In a tight zone around my drawing board, listeners have come from Russia, Germany, Japan, Afghanistan. The Detroit delegation has flown in for the event and the underground train brought a tall poet from the Bronx and a short one from SoHo. As the opening Trio of Carter, Brown and Campbell blew an introduction to the sonic Vision, MusicMargaret Davis who does so much to get the word up on jazznewyork.org and out by word of mouth is right there up front in bliss, receiving its blown blessings.

1) Trio BLESSINGS  (Carter, Brown,Campbell)

2) On FOOT (Shipp, Campbell, Offutt, Dickey, Jenkins)

3) Faced FATE (Shipp, Kowald, Nicholson)

4) Backed-to-Back  (Borca, Kowald, Cleaver, Parker)

5) Ratcheting (Kowald, Carter, Cleaver, Jenkins)

6) The TORCH (Brown, Cleaver, Parker)

7) Mixing it UP (Shipp, Brown, Dickey, Offutt)

8) BABY Dancin' (Offutt, Cleaver, Nicholson)

9) KAMIKAZE (Borca, Kowald, Cleaver, Campbell)

10) STRINNGS (Shipp, Kowald, Parker, Jenkins)

Dance : Open space onstage was supertight, but the two dancers were leaping through the music exuding powerful and developed individual auras. Expressive movements were weaving spatial vectors dynamically connecting the entrenched stances of each musician/instrument figure. Patricia Nicholson soloed as a courageous woman out of classic Greek drama—exposed to the screaming sounds of Fate, responding to its bumps and drops with intense emotion, demonstrating her depth of feeling in the unique face of each moment.

Treva Offutt, long-limbed and supple, embodies an astonishing quality of active response to the expressive power of the whole sound while simultaneously responding and mixing it up into the movements of each individual musician. Leaning into Roy Campbell's power stance as his breathing leaned into the air moving through his trumpet, fingering the piano and kneading Shipp's characteristic neck & shoulder slant while moving to his skittering sounds, flailing dervish-like with an extra pair of Whit Dickey's brushes on his cymbals, she was also bending low to scrub this scroll in time with the movements of its two-hand scrawl.

Together, these dancers demonstrate a thrill of total listening to inspired live music as it pours through each unique human body. The dancers' motions dynamize a static stage, speaking out into the space silently amplifying the rhythms of the music.  They are bringing home to the naked core of each person present a vivid awareness of the unique natural movement articulation inherent in each individual human animal.

Soundscape : Those strings singing so high are astoundingly joined up by Campbell's pocket trumpet in the stratosphere. Parker's bass harmonics ignite like stars or independent galactic bursts of color in the air. Jenkins is ratcheting the whole audience up into roaring applause with powers honed over fifty years on the edges of music's possibilities. Carter's three horns bow, arch and pray to the approach of the goddess of melody.

Borca's blown bassoon sets up deep sacrumnal spine vibrations backed-to-back against cascading glissandos down Kowald's powerfully fingered bass. Cleaver's prime percussion empowers each player with emphatic sensitivity to their sound, complemented by the whirling shimmer of Dickey's dry cymbals ringing. The upright torch of Brown's burning alto cry is rooted deep into center stage. Campbell's kamikaze brass roars urgently out through the night with top priority mail confident of its guaranteed delivery. Daring delivery to listeners in the room and beyond is the genuine gesture these searching interactivists have mastered live for 2001, a pivot year in which we all could use some real good news.

Mercuric  Jam

Moving On : After a final jam, as the still-vibrating space empties and instruments are being packed up, it becomes clear that Kowald and Cleaver will be down here tomorrow at Tonic with Assif Tsahar. Parker, Shipp and Cleaver meet again Saturday on the flight to California for a tour. Roy Campbell, of course, blows through this City incessantly: the Pink Pony on Ludlow tomorrow, the Brecht Forum on 27th Street Saturday, the Lenox Lounge off 125th Monday night.

At Roy's request, The Scroll is spread out fresh under a downlight in the middle of the Mercuric floor. He reads out a poem just passed to him by Al Mais, who had written it just last Sunday after the Other Dimensions in Music plus Joe McPhee played two ferocious sets to a standing room crowd overfilling the Knitting Factory Old Office and stacked up on the stairs:

"The Witness"

"With dancing hands he paints the bands
Moving rhythmically to music so grand

Exquisite colors continuous animation
Incredible artistic blends of pictorial improvisations

The music soars with resounding delight
As the Witness paints the musicians in flight

Bassist, drummer, trumpeter, tenor
Brilliant portraits amidst the colors

As the performance ends with standing ovations
The Witness' true work of art
Will forever be of true inspiration."

"The Witness" poem—© Al Mais 2001

The words of the tall poet softly and assuredly are carriers of the joy we all share together. That joy is what we have to give. The word is out !

The SCROLL—© Jeff Schlanger 2001, music Witness® ( for Esther)