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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Vision Festival #23 2018 - Day 2

Code Girl: Amirtha Kidambi (v), Mary Halvorson (g),Michael Formanek (b), Tomas Fujiwara (d), Adam O’Farrell (t)
By Martin Schray

Compared to the celebrations for Dave Burrell on the opening of the festival, the following day seemed to offer a completely different program. Among others guitarist Mary Halvorson was to present her new project Code Girl. The organizers of the festival, obviously a bit wary of the festival's commitment to legacy, wanted to support artists like Halvorson (or Jaimie Branch, who will join the line-up on Saturday) as part of the avant-garde continuum. Todd Nicholson, executive director of the Arts For Art board, says: “Having grown up in the 1980s I always felt like the jazz scene was kind of binary - like it was always 'you're either one or the other,' with respect to straight-ahead or free jazz. I don’t think it's that simple anymore. These artists are finding a way to crack the code, and be truly themselves, and mix all these elements together in a way that we haven't heard before.“ So, even if the program for the second day seems to showcase music of a distinctive kind, there’s still the idea to connect tradition to present tendencies and to display in which way improvised music can function as a comment on the current social situation. On the that day, women’s rights were put to the fore. What’s more, the influence of New Classical Music on Free Jazz seemed to be another topic.

As mentioned above, Code Girl, Mary Halvorson’s band with Adam O’Farrell on trumpet, vocalist Amirtha Kidambi, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Tomas Fujiwara opened the evening. The set contained six songs, starting with “My Mind I Find in Time“ and already here composed material dominated the songs Halvorson wanted to present with this group. The improvised parts wiggled around Kidambi’s vocal parts, which build the basics structure of the compositions. However, the improvised parts turned out to be the most interesting musical moments, when the band was able to leave the strict form behind. Especially a duo improvisation of trumpet and guitar and a solo by Halvorson, in which she meandered between Jimi Hendrix and Sonny Sharrock, stood out. Of course, one might ask if such music was able to carry on the fire music torch of the 1960s and 70s. But maybe it’s simply not this music’s intention and the political aspect of this band is just the fact that two women are the main forces behind this project.

Karen Borca(bs), Jackson Krall(p), Rob Brown(s), Michael Bisio(b), Whit Dickey(d)
After a short break drummer Whit Dickey’s trio hit the stage. The band actually consists of Michael Bisio on bass and Rob Brown on saxophone, for this set they were augmented by Karen Borca on bassoon and Jackson Krall on percussion. 79-year-old Borca is actually the only bassoonist who has made a mark in Free Jazz (to best of my knowledge). She was a member of Canaille, an international group of women composers, and she played and recorded with avant-garde pioneers like Cecil Taylor and Jimmy Lyons. Along with Jackson Krall, another collaborator of the Cecil Taylor connection, they were the link to the golden age of this music. Honestly, I had hardly any expectations as to this group but it turned out to be the highlight of the evening. The overlapping of drums and percussion (Krall used a number of different bells and other stuff) propelled the 40-minute free improvisation, especially the beginning was incredibly intense. In any case everyone in this band wanted to encourage the others, constantly putting new ideas into the brew. Then the collectively improvised part dissolved into solos and duos (outstanding ones by Bisio, Borca and Dickey/Krall). Towards the end the piece was inflated by Borca’s runs, just to collapse into a wonderful meditation dominated by Bisio’s bowed bass, an excellent sax solo by Rob Brown and Dickey using mallets on his cymbals. The audience gave the band a rightfully deserved enthusiastic applause.

Nicole Mitchell(f), Joelle Léandre(b), Patricia Nicholson(d), Melanie Dyer(v)
Then, Women with an Axe to Grind presented the strongest connection to European avant-garde as to instrumentation (the quartet was Joelle Léandre on bass, Nicole Mitchell on flute, Melanie Dyer on viola and Patricia Nicholson on vocals/dance) and instant composing approach. Obviously, this project had a strong focus on women’s rights. Nicholson declaimed that “We 4 are women standing strong in the light of the creative spirit - passing through. We cannot stand silent in a time of assault on humanity. We’ll never accept the lies, the pettiness, the greed, the virulent racism and sexism as normal“. Léandre particularly stood out with her tight playing and wild yelling, which gave the whole performance an angry touch.

Roscoe Mitchell(s), Thomas Buckner(v), Scott Robinson(s)
The evening was closed by SPACE, a trio originally formed in 1979 by Roscoe Mitchell (saxes), Thomas Buckner (baritone vocals) and Gerald Oshita. Mitchell and Buckner had to replace Oshita (who died in 1992) by multi instrumentalist Scott Robinson. The project explores the timbral possibilities of a large scale of brass instruments from sopranino to slide saxophones, even a contra bass saxophone was on the bandstand (which alone was a sight to see). Buckner’s vocal style is similar to the one of Phil Minton, consisting of words bitten of their stems, of syllables thrown into an ocean of sounds. The performance was a conglomeration of dada elements, extreme circular breathing, opera and sound exploration. The best parts were those when Robinson contrasted Mitchell’s soprano with deep sounds from the bass or even contra bass saxophone. All in all it was a very intellectual and abstract approach compared to the evening before, but listening to the marvelous Roscoe Mitchell is always worthwhile.



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