NYC, 23 May-8 June 2002
For two and 1/2 grandiose weeks in early summer, the Seventh Annual
Vision Festival was host to some of the most significant creative
work being performed today. Under the superb guidance of William Parker
and Patricia Nicholson Parker, the seventh annual festival was logged
into the record books by celebrating in fine style the musical, dance,
visual, and poetic art forms. Performed by an outstandingly talented
multinational cast, the festival paid tribute to professional artistry
that is worlds apart from the commercial fare being foisted on the
public by more enterprising fests. Visual artist Jeff Schlanger captured
on paper the essence of over 50 concerts through his uniquely keen
perception of the music, and many of his works are depicted in this
article, along with narratives and photographs from the nights I was
able to attend. Jeff said, "The spread of expression was amazing
over the entire period. The last weekend with an expanded stage, dancers
with great musicians, video, film, and scenic artists was an extraordinary
and fresh creative zone." Vision 2002 was truly a feast for the
eyes and ears, and the vibrations of its dynamic impact remain implanted
in the minds and on the souls of those who witnessed it.
SHADOW & LIGHT
TANI TABBAL | JOE MCPHEE | MIKE BISIO | JOE GIARDULLO
The Billy Bang Project is an intriguing amalgam of strings and reeds.
This trio, with stellar baritone, bass clarinet, and flute player
Hamiet Bluiett, and komungo player Jin Hi Kim, emitted mesmerizing
music. Much of the program reflected on Bang's musical interpretation
of his experiences during the Vietnam War, which gave the set a gripping
tonality. Bluiett was delicate on flute yet powerful on the big, floor-standing
deep horns. Kim was wizardly on her Korean 6-string, fretted, board
zither. She and Bang danced in and out of improvised raindrops while
exuding emotional cohesiveness. The all-too-short set keenly showed
the mastery of Bang's improvising talent and conceptual creativity.
JOE MORRIS QUARTET
The Joe Morris Quartet played with sparkle and concentrated energy.
Morris has a uniquely clear and direct sound that gives him an improvising
advantage. He is able to spin off round after round of free verse
containing intricately developed phrases without ever resorting to
distortion or special effects. Alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs was an
excellent foil for Morris. He perpetuated lengthy solos of his own
in congress with the directional beams from Morris. Bassist Timo
Shanko and drummer Luther Gray established a substantial motive backdrop
on this freewheeling set. The music was absorbing in a sobering way,
often taking flight with spiraling reams of upper-register notes
leaving their residue in the air while the thunderous rhythms echoed
beneath. They played with solidarity and an authoritative attitude,
and their closing number
"Witness" was a definite winner.
Jemeel Moondoc's first working group of several decades ago (he called
it a practice band, meaning they did not work often) was Muntu. The
quartet was reunited for this 2002 Vision Festival. Although it is
a fiery band, the embers do not glow as white heat; instead, they
exude a contained state of energy that stops just short of total chaos.
While Rashid Bakr exploded grenades all around, Moondoc and Roy Campbell
blew with passion and controlled energy. William Parker, a mainstay
at this festival, continued to anchor the music with his relentless
pulsation. Moondoc took extended improvised journeys while Campbell
maintained reference to the loosely cut themes, and then they switched
roles. Muntu's music is based on the song form as opposed to spontaneous
composition, but it does not keep its members from roaming the spaceways.
Their playing of an Albert Ayler composition was particularly telling.
KAREN BORCA QUARTET
Karen Borca was at the top of her game on this night. She blew with
fierce intensity and was able to make the normally docile bassoon
sing with energy. Borca emitted long lines of flowing gracefulness,
filling her solos with substance and diversity. Her quartet was just
as dynamic. Rob Brown has consistently shown his talent for developing
long, logical alto improvisations. He was in the proper spirit and
played zealously in tandem with Borca or singly. The huge thrill of
seeing Reggie Workman in action made the set even more enticing. The
master bassist continues to produce phenomenal phrases of multi-string
intricacy and complexity. He is an ongoing joy and seems to get better
with age. Drummer Newman Taylor-Baker was the right foil for igniting
this group, which played three extended, well-constructed free improvisations.
It was a good night for music.
KALAPARUSHA MAURICE MCINTYRE
Any chance to see the elder statesman Maurice McIntrye in performance
is an event in itself. The AACM emeritus displayed no signs of slowing
down as he directed a youthful group through four of his compositions.
Instead of a bassist, he employed tuba player Jesse Dulman, and drummer
Ravish Momin kept the alternate heartbeat. McIntyre played with mellow
intensity, spewing out lovely melodic lines and highly refined improvised
passages. The reed/brass combination with a percussion backdrop was
very effective. McIntyre was particularly impressive on the Coltrane
dedication piece "Indian Man", and the set flew by in what
seemed a heartbeat.
GRAVES/KIDD JORDAN/WILLIAM PARKER
What do you get when you combine the provocative drumming of Milford
Graves, the powerhouse blowing of Kidd Jordan, and the motivating
pulsation of bassist William Parker? These three ingredients were
all that were necessary to form an eruptive team of freewheeling proportions.
It was a condensed seminar on creative art meeting spontaneous energy
as three giants of improvised music met on a common battlefield. Graves
fueled an overheated furnace with his rampaging attack, Jordan formulated
incendiary missles that launched on command, and Parker worked overtime
to propel the movement off the launching pad. It all resulted in an
exciting session of overwhelming proportions that was draining for
both the artists and the audience. Moments in music such as these
are rare, but this trio made the connectivity their private domain.
ROY CAMPBELL JR. "BUHAINA THE GREAT"
In honor of the groundbreaking drummer Art Blakey, Roy Campbell wrote
the five-part suite "Buhaina the Great". It was performed
by a tentet that put electricity and fire into the vibrant composition.
The lengthy upbeat romper was augmented by four interpretive modern
dancers, including Patricia Nicholson, Maria Mitchell, and Aleta
Hayes, who demonstrated American, Oriental, and African themes within
their limber steps. Campbell's music showed the power and muscle
typical of the Blakey style. Everyone had a share of the spotlight,
including Alex Harding and Andrew Lamb, who both exploded on their
solos. Pianist Andrew Bemkey punctuated the highly rhythmic music
with precise distinctiveness, while the pacesetting trio on percussion—Reggie
Nicholson, Takik Abdullah and Michael Wimberly—kept the tempo
at a fever pitch. The music had the essence of Blakey as seen through
the inspirational mind of Campbell, whose flame-throwing trumpet
was an earth-scorcher. It was a dynamic and well-coordinated presentation
of two art forms.
JOELLE LEANDRE/HAMID DRAKE
Joelle Leandre and Hamid Drake played an exhilarating bass/drum duet.
These two astute conversationalists intertwined intensely intimate
yet provocative communiqués that bridged the gap between cultures
as diverse as Middle Eastern and Indigenous American. Drake opened
the parlay on the huge frame drum as he tapped out a complex cadence
while invoking a higher spirit with his mesmerizing chanting. Leandre
followed with exquisite strumming and plucking to establish layers
of dark tonality. She also beckoned her own spirit world with her
unique form of vocalese. It all meshed on this late-night closing
act of intense beauty.
| HAMID DRAKE
ELLEN CHRISTI QUARTET
and vocalese artist Ellen Christi cooked. She scatted, shouted, sprayed,
and splattered her alien language through dual mikes to set the tone
for her power band. Guitarist Ralph Strum kept the rhythm hot and
heavy, Hamid Drake pounded out volumes of beat, and William Parker
raced the neck of his bass to keep the set in constant motion.
MATTHEW SHIPP STRING TRIO
Shipp has many projects going at any one time, and the full schedule
only seems to enhance his artistry. His String Trio, with Mat Maneri
on viola and William Parker on bass, played music filled with deep
emotion and density. There was a somber atmosphere cast by these
heavyweights. Shipp has always favored the dark, melancholy side
of the piano, and with Maneri to support that role, the music took
on weighty proportions. The rich tones of the viola melded perfectly
into the storm being brewed by Shipp, and Parker fueled the fires
with deft arco playing and string manipulation. This music sweeps
one up into a trance state where witches and dragons play subconscious
games with the psyche. The improvisations were highly complex, and
the interplay by the three fully entangled. Whether engaged in developing
intricate solos or responding collectively to the abounding vibrations,
the String Trio excelled. They cast a huge shadow.
WHIT DICKEY/JOE MORRIS/ROB BROWN
As a drummer, Whit Dickey can be quite explosive, but when he surrounded
himself with guitarist Joe Morris and alto player Rob Brown, he became
a member of a telepathic threesome spitting out intricately devised
improvisations. Dickey rolled on as a forceful tidal wave while Rob
Brown proved once again why he is recognized as the premier alto player
of this time. Brown's solos are endurance tests, but he makes it all
sound logical and connected. Morris visually appeared to be unemotional
but the music he put forth was full of feeling. It poured out of his
instrument in methodical order and seemingly effortless manner, washing
over everything with clarity and unblurred precision. Brown and Morris
made high-register sparks fly while Dickey snared them in his net
and fanned them into flame.
KIDD JORDAN/FRED ANDERSON/WILLIAM PARKER/HAMID DRAKE
It would be impossible to convey in adequate terms the amount of raw
energy and emotion transmitted by Kidd Jordan, Fred Anderson, William
Parker, and Hamid Drake. For well over an hour, the four dynamos spewed
molten lava in a continuous, unrestrained, take-no-prisoners session.
In an extreme display of creative talent riding on the tail of a cyclone,
these four gave an overly enthusiastic crowd just what they wanted.
Anderson opened with a burning solo that put into perpetual motion
the rocket ship that would still be orbiting out there, if the hour
had not gotten so late. Enter Drake and Parker with pounding waves
of current, and then Jordan with his blistering yet fully coherent
form of communication. Collective improvisation was the vehicle on
which they all soared; yet, their individual talent was the propellant.
Anderson would evoke a series of semi-rhythmic statements that would
inspire Jordan to take it up several notches, while Drake and Parker—totally
drenched from the ordeal—would turn into whirling dervishes
to spin out their message. With the audience in frenzy mode, the typhoon
kept coming, wave after wave, until it culminated in a natural bombastic
ending. The two elder statesmen on horns were not finished, though,
for Jordan and Anderson played an encore duet starting as a slow blues
but again evolving into levitation-inducing vibrations. When reflecting
on significant emotional events, this will rank in the upper register.
KIDD JORDAN | FRED ANDERSON | WILLIAM PARKER | HAMID DRAKE
JAYNE CORTEZ'S FIRESPITTERS
Jayne Cortez is the conscience of the world. She sees the wrongs all
around us, and she tells it like it is without pulling any punches.
Her band also made a strong statement on this Don Cherry tribute evening.
Cherry's son Michael played an opening piano solo to start the honors,
and from then on, Cortez blasted society with stinging words of reality
while the band made definitive exclamation points to her words. Alex
Harding was emotionally emotive on baritone, Bern Nix electrified
the air through his guitar, Cherry's daughter Jan was very expressive
on violin, and Cortez's son Denardo Coleman punched the drum skins
with power to spare to solidify the band's contribution. Cortez's
socially aware phrasing dominated the atmosphere. She is here and
now, and she hits you between the eyes with no holds barred. The impact
Dewey Redman is another legend that keeps on going with solid performances
and exciting music. He surrounded himself with a young rhythm section
and proceeded to blow with authority for this entire set. Redman has
a crowd-pleasing formula of first playing a tune that is out and then
taking the next piece inside. Both his live performances and recordings
seem to have this flexible characteristic. Redman also knows how to
get a crowd into the music with his personable style and encouragement,
including not being shy about parading through the audience or requesting
a vocal feedback to his singing. Pianist Barney McAll from Australia
worked neatly with the master, punctuating the tunes with a positive
style. John Menegon and Matt Wilson were also strong rhythm supporters,
but the show was all Redman. He played extended solos, pushing guttural
vocal tones through his horn as well as notes. Although he reveled
in playing bop and the blues, it was his more aggressive freeform
tunes that carried the day. And he did it so effortlessly.
DON CHERRY MEMORIAL BAND
Berger's tribute to Don Cherry was emotional and filled with love.
He assembled a highly talented band of musicians who had played with
Cherry, making the occasion a very extraordinary event. They presented
an array of Cherry's compositions and tunes associated with him while
a huge portrait of Cherry hung in the background as a constant reminder
of his contributions to music and life. Frank Lowe was at his best
on this night and played with more dedication than I have seen in
him in quite a while. Bobby Bradford (pictured) was marvelous on cornet,
and the vocals of Ingrid Sertso were a fitting reminder of Cherry's
contributions. This was a large contingent anchored by tuba player
Bob Stewart and bassist Mark Helias and ignited by the versatility
of Peter Apfelbaum. Berger alternated between piano and vibes, making
the definitive references to Cherry's work while showing his own exciting
style that has endured for decades. The spirit of Cherry was present
throughout the diverse set that showed many sides of the great trumpeter.
Berger was there with him, and he shared those musical memories on
this special night.
Roy Campbell, William Parker, and Hamid Drake participate actively
in multiple projects either together or individually, but the Pyramid
Trio has its own identity and sound. Campbell becomes the focus, playing
trumpet and flute, Drake expands on his ever-changing percussion tactics,
and Parker is able to dabble with percussion and his thumb-stroked
dosengoni in addition to the bass. The trio offers a wealth of artistic
opportunity for the three. On this set, they played four very diverse
tunes ranging from mystical to upbeat to political to serene. On all
tunes, there was close interaction and astute empathy. The band was
highly rhythmic, particularly when both Drake and Parker set the joint
pace. Campbell also sang the strained lyrics to the upbeat "Malcolm,
Martin, and Mandela", a simple melody that was expanded instrumentally
into a solid piece. Campbell's solos on the free improvisations were
the meat of the set, and the heady support from his companions made
the fires burn brightly.
TSAHAR'S NEW YORK UNDERGROUND SYMPHONY
Everyone expected Assif Tsahar to be blowing his tenor wildly, but
instead, they witnessed his adept ability to direct an orchestra using
the conduction method. Tsahar had every eye of his New York Underground
Symphony orchestra riveted on him, and he picked and chose whom he
wanted to play and how he wanted them to play it by his adroit handling
of the baton. No sheet music was evident. The strings played a critical
role with softened tonality, but there was no shortage of horn players
in this diverse ensemble. The trumpets and trombones exploded on Tsahar's
command, only to recede into quietude as other instruments took over
the lead role. The three pieces moved through emotional mood swings
ranging from pastoral to turbulent, always reaching a crescendo in
a flurry of spontaneous collectivity. Although violins, violas, and
cellos might suggest ethereal music, this was not the case. Tsahar
visited his muse, and he adroitly intertwined two sonic extremes into
a creative force. He told me the next night that some people were
disappointed in this new venture, but I found it both challenging
Freedomland is a relatively new alignment of veteran Downtown New
York musicians featuring the exciting reed and brass playing of Daniel
Carter. The group has a triple bottom end with William Parker on bass,
Dave Sewelson on baritone, and Dave Hofstra on tuba. Providing the
rhythmic power is drummer Dee Pop, who is making his first entry into
improvised music with this group. Previously he had plied his trade
with rock bands. Freedomland is a showcase for Carter's many talents.
He randomly runs through any number of woodwinds and also pulls out
the trumpet from his bag of many instruments. Freedomland is a power
group with a rhythmic foundation, but when it cranks up into high
gear, its freeform arrhythmic energy is dynamite. The baritone/tuba
combination gives the group its unique identity, although Sewelson
also plays tenor in sparring matches with Carter. The band has recently
released its first recording Amusement Park.
DIMENSIONS IN MUSIC
Other Dimensions in Music is probably the hardest working band in
the business. From the first downbeat to the last note, the four musicians
exude total energy to go along with the creative forces. While William
Parker and Rashid Bakr push relentlessly, Roy Campbell makes his trumpet
sing and Daniel Carter explodes on countless reeds. This session found
them in full synchronization, which is what we have come to expect
from this band that has been playing together for several decades.
The tempo is incredibly fast, and the four artists keep pace at these
breakneck speeds. Carter is a marvel to hear. He picks up any one
of his half-dozen horns and spits out fire and brimstone—all
of which has a logical progression and communicable phrasing. The
band appears to be having fun while all this creativity is happening.
They inject woops and hollers to incite more action, and the steamroller
moves on and on. ODIM is a thrilling band that is certain to keep
one's heartbeat pounding.
The Otic Band led by bass player Todd Nicholson is a young group
that has a solid foundation in the music. They played unstructured
original music with considerable spirit and power. Nicholson is a
staunch leader who sets a resonant, often-booming pace, and the three-man
front line of Nate Wooley, Mikel Priester, and Brent Bagwell
built the music to intense levels. Priester in particular was impressive
on alto. He showed fine form and great chops. We should be hearing
more of him as he continues to develop. All three horn men were excellent
soloists, and the push from Nicholson and Pride was non-stop. The
future of the music is in good hands with young talent such as this.
WILLIAM PARKER'S LITTLE HUEY CREATIVE MUSIC ORCHESTRA
Parker's Little Huey Orchestra is an ongoing project of love for
the creative art form. With each ensuing reunion of this band, he
is able to instill freshness and originality into the music. Little
Huey is a highly talented assemblage of musicians, and Parker's compositions
are stimulating for them. They offer each of the artists a major
role in the construction of the intricate pieces, which typically
are set-length offerings. On this night, Parker worked in quiet dynamics
and serene tonality before the more obvious explosiveness took hold
to generate another landmark session. Although the band performs
together sporadically (this was their first 2002 encounter), they
play with the precision of a regularly working band. The soloists
were all excellent, with Sabir Mateen and Dick Griffin being notable
standouts in the super lineup of stars. Parker does not need to conduct
this disciplined group; he remains in the back pushing on the bass
and allowing the creativity to come forth unencumbered by direction.
It is a formula that works to perfection.
SONGS FOR A SUFFERING WORLD
Poet David Budbill has teamed with William Parker on several occasions
for public performances and recordings. On this date, the bass player
added color, texture, and vocal/percussion accompaniment to the direct,
straightforward recitations by Budbill. Budbill's poetry touched
on the human experience with emphasis on 9/11. He took a macro viewpoint
of life, and his verse related regularly to nature and the environment.
His perspective honored the Asian aesthetic and ancient wisdom. Budbill
approaches life in a pragmatic manner but always seems to find the
good in people and situations. Parker chanted, used percussion instruments,
and worked his bass in consort with the telling words flowing so
eloquently from Budbill, who also played chimes through striking
glass bowls of varying size. The two art forms merged neatly through
PAUL DUNMALL/PAUL ROGERS/GERRY HEMINGWAY
saxophonists have a stark, serious quality to their playing, and
Paul Dunmall exemplifies the style. He blew with religious fervor
on a set with percussionist extraordinaire Gerry Hemingway and stellar
bassist Paul Rogers. The program contained one set-long free improvisation
that saw the trio listening intently to each other and communicating
flawlessly. Dunmall was often demon-like on tenor, blowing with sterile,
emotionless zeal. Rogers played an interesting acoustic bass, which
was a six-string custom-made instrument of smaller size and not as
much resonance as the full-sized model. Still, he was masterful in
eking out lengthy improvised solos. Watching Hemingway is always
a treat. He dived deeply into the music, using multiple percussive
tactics to motivate the group. His rubbing of the skins produced
an unusual tonal quality on the several quiet moments of the performance.
The raw emotion that characterized the majority of the set was highly
refined and penetrating. This trio was unquestionably accordant on
ROB BROWN QUARTET
Brown appeared with several bands during the festival, but he also
fronted his own quartet. The instrumental mix of reeds and viola worked
very well. While Brown continued to soar on high on alto and flute,
the intense string playing of Mat Maneri complemented the sound. The
young rhythm section of Chris Lightcap and Andrew Barker fanned the
flames with considerable push while both Brown and Maneri took off
on flights of fancy. Brown is noted for taking long, well-developed
solos, and he cut loose on this session with extended dissertations
augmented by terse interjections from Maneri's high-pitched viola.
The music was very spirited, taking the audience on long rides of
improvised beauty. The ideas continued to roll off Brown's tongue,
and Maneri was in great form as well. This band played daring music
with plenty of drive.
Douglas Ewart has been experimenting with unique instrumental forms
for decades, and this latest group called Inventions brought out the
ultra-exotic nature of his musical thought process. He captured the
sound and spirit of Oceania and Southeast Asia and repackaged it with
delicately constructed free improvisations played on unusual looking
and sounding hollow reeds. On this special night, Ewart enlisted Joseph
Jarman and Wadada Leo Smith, with whom he said he had wanted to perform
for some time. With three horns, exquisite koto player Miya Masaoka,
and the shaded rhythms of William Parker and Hamid Drake, Inventions
wound its way through dense rain forests, painting a collage of multiple
colors. Smith was on fire, spitting out heavy rounds of freedom in
between the quieter passages, and Jarman moved from subtleties to
overt pronouncements as the lengthy main piece unfolded. Masaoka was
sheer delight to watch as she turned the ancient instrument into an
improvising tool. The set was a highly satisfying encounter.