Thursday, June 13, 2019

Vision Festival #24 - 2019 - Day 1



By Martin Schray

Last year I covered NYC's Vision Festival with Paul Acquaro, but since he has moved to Berlin, I’m on my own this year. New York welcomed me in its typical manic way: heavy clouds were hanging over the city, it was raining. On the bus from Newark Airport to the city it was on the news that a helicopter crashed into a building (fortunately, no terror attack). When I changed to the subway at Seventh Avenue the first thing I saw was an unconscious man surrounded by the police, I suppose due to an overdose. Then an obviously stressed out guy snarled at me for pushing him (I was pushed myself) and last but not least I got completely soaked on the way to my friends’ apartment up in the Bronx. Still, I was happy to be here and I was really looking forward to listening to some great live music.

The 24th Vision Festival is taking place at Roulette again, where it relocated to last year. As usual, the first day celebrates an artist’s lifetime of achievement, and this year the focus was on the creative spirit of legendary drummer Andrew Cyrille. Cyrille curated an evening with eight different formations, the first one called Haitian Fascination with Jean Guy-Rene (Haitian drum) and Quincy Troupe (poetry), a group he founded in 2005. It was a reference to his roots as Cyrille was born in Brooklyn, New York to Haitian immigrant parents. “His early exposure to the sounds, rhythms and culture of Haiti and the surrounding confluence of Brooklyn’s diversity greatly influenced his early musical development“ as the liner notes for the festival claim. This is what Cyrille paid tribute to with the first band. Cyrille and Guy-Rene revealed that the basis of jazz lies in the African-Caribbean rhythms, that there is a link between sound, grooves and nature, which was supported by Troupe’s words. Troupe, the co-author of Miles Davis’ autobiography, has been living in Haiti for nine years. He developed a whole outline from early worksongs to blues and free jazz, while at the same time referring to the spirituality and universality of the music. Later on he enumerated the titles of rhythm and blues tracks (“Johnny B. Goode“, “Roll over Beethoven“), blues songs (“Spoonful“, “Got My Mojo Working“) and mentioned the names of Jimi Hendrix, Kanye West and Beyoncé (among others) indicating that popular music would be nothing without these rhythms. The ground was prepared for the rest of the evening’s program.
Andrew Cyrille and Kidd Jordan
The next formation was a duo with Kidd Jordan and the audience enthusiastically welcomed the 84-year-old sax player, whom Cyrille had befriended in New Orleans a long time ago. Jordan's playing evoked the spirit of a lot that defines New Orleans music: the spirit of Mardi Gras songs, blues, traditionals, and freely improvised stuff. Cyrille supported him with polyrhythmic grooves but whenever it started to become a bit comfortable, Jordan broke out violently. Although he seemed to be really frail, he was ready to give everything he had in him, and the audience gave him standing ovations. Jordan was really moved and seemed to wipe away some tears in a very emotional moment. However, there was another one to come.

Then there was trio with Tomeka Reid (cello) and Beatrice Capote (dance). Cyrille claimed that he owed a lot to his work with dancers, claiming that he learned to solo through accompanying dance when he was at school. Especially at the beginning, Reid’s cello provoked a very gloomy atmosphere while Capote’s style was a mixture of ballet, performance, hiphop moves and voodoo rituals. The show seemed to be freely improvised, Capote and Cyrille interacted really nicely.

Andrew Cyrille and Milford Graves 
It took a few minutes before the next set, Cyrille’s duo with Milford Graves, started. Physically, Graves was not in good shape as he could barely walk. Walking on crutches, he depended on the help of people and his drum set had do be carefully prepared so that he could play it effectively. The liner notes of the festival claim that “throughout his career Andrew Cyrille has been committed to investigating the full timbral and melodic qualities of the drums, resulting in a series of solo and collaborative percussion albums, including projects with Rashied Ali, Don Moye, and Kenny Clarke“. However, the most famous one is his duo with Graves. Before they started, Graves told the story how the two met in 1961 and how they played Latin Jazz. The gig revealed the true spirit of jazz rhythms as a joyous revolt from convention custom and sorrow, from everything that would confine the soul of man and preventing it to be free. Graves acted as if he was a combination of a shaman and a master of ceremonies, the music was a real dialogue of drums. At the end of the set Cyrille said how much he appreciates and loves Graves as a person and that he’s proud that he’s been part of his life. Graves wanted to respond but his voice failed, he was in tears. It was incredibly touching, a moment full of heartfelt, honest emotions. Although it was just the first day of the festival, it was a definite, unforgettable highlight.

The second set started with a duo of Cyrille and Stefan Roloff (Visual Arts). At this year’s Vision Festival the drummer wanted to present their collaboration Big Fire live, claiming that it “was a conversation between two international languages that don’t need translation - music and images“, as the Festival notes point out. Cyrille provided a steady groove on the bass drum, while Roloff’s images looked like an earth on fire that slowly morphed into a transparent face, on which joy and pain were reflected. Instant composing met intent painting. A very interesting approach.

Brandon Ross, Andrew Cyrille, Wadada Leo Smith
One of Cyrille’s most recent projects is Lebroba, a trio with Wadada Leo Smith and Bill Frisell. However, Frisell was replaced by Brandon Ross for the show. At he beginning, Ross seemed to imitate Frisell’s textural approach but soon he emancipated himself contributing harsh, tight and jagged sounds. While Cyrille was playing completely free of time, Smith played muffled sounds of the utmost beauty and tenderness, as if Miles was jamming with Bill Dixon. It was a very stirring, yet rough concert. As to the music, it certainly was the highlight of the evening.

One of Andrew Cyrille’s most famous recordings is Nuba, an album with Jeanne Lee (voice) and Jimmy Lyons (sax). Lisa Sokolov, the singer in the next duo of the evening, dedicated the show to Jeanne Lee, who she called a constant inspiration. Her style was a mix of scat vocals, spoken words, opera and Jeanne Lee’s nervous blues. Cyrille supported her with dark lines on the toms using his mallets. 

Andrew Cyrille and Peter Brötzmann 
The evening closed with a nod to Cyrille’s European connection. He introduced Peter Brötzmann (sax, clarinet) and told the story when they met in Paris in 1966. Brötzmann was working with Carla Bley, Mike Mantler, Aldo Romano and Peter Kowald in one of the clubs when Cecil Taylor and his band showed up. Brötzmann said the he would always remember Cyrille’s smile. Brötzmann and Kowald invited the drummer to work with them for FMP later on and the collaboration has lasted until today. Last night it was very interesting to hear Brötzmann with an American drummer, he was really bluesy and rough, never cheesy or comfortable. Brötzmann seemed to enjoy this a lot, there were no-frills to the music. As usual he used some of his typical melodies and riffs and in combination with Cyrille’s style this was very refreshing. All in all, it was the best Brötzmann set I’ve seen in the last two years, a really worthy ending of the first day at the Vision 24.

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