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Heather Leigh & Peter Brotzmann

The North Door in Austin, Texas, 05/23/2019

VAX: Devin Gray (dr), Patrick Breiner (s), Liz Kosack (sy)

VAX PREBRONO Festival @ West Germany, Berlin. May 2019
After 20 minutes vamping on the first bar of Girl From Ipanema, VAX hit hard with fiery mix of free jazz, skronk, and doom metal.

Philm - Elias Stemeseder (p, sy), Robert Landfermann (b), Philipp Gropper (sax), Olli Steidle (dr)

5/18/2019; Manufaktur, Schorndorf

PUNKT. VRT. PLASTIK: Kaja Draksler(p), Petter Eldh(b), Christian Lillinger(dr)

XJazz Festival, Berlin, May 2019

OHRENSCHMAUS: Lina Allemano(tp), Dan Peter Sundland (b), Michael Griener(dr)

B-Flat, Berlin. May 2019

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Heart of the Ghost – s/t cassette (Pidgeon, 2018) ****

By Tom Burris

OK so by now the second HOTG album has been released – but two things. I haven't heard the new one yet. And I'll be late for my own damn funeral, so here's what happened the first time around. As you probably already know, HOTG is D.C. Bassist / workaholic / impresario Luke Stewart's trio with Jarrett Gilgore (alto) and Ian McColm (drums). The cassette is already sold out – but you can get a download for a mere five bucks on Bandcamp, which I highly recommend getting. Cassettes suck anyway.

Side A:
Gilgore & McColm kick things off with a bang, soon joined by Stewart. Around the 2:30 mark, it goes quiet w/ Ian on brushes. Gilgore's lines become fairly long and oddly accented, like he's having an intense conversation with himself as Luke and Ian attempt to push things in a new direction. Stewart bows wildly as group intensity rises. A rickety boat begins to sink following the freak-fest. You can almost smell the rust on this manliest of vessels. The members of the trio align themselves to the sole cause of getting the thing to shore. Conversations are tense, but cooperative. As soon as it's docked, Luke lets loose with a riff and all join in, pushing with forward momentum. Gilgore rides on top of the groove, tethered to it, attempting to break free. Ian and Luke cage him.

Side B:
A slower intro this time, leading into a thoughtful solo by Stewart. Gilgore and McColm join in at the perfect time, elongating and elaborating on ideas laid out by Stewart. Gilgore eventually takes the lead and sets a melodic pace for awhile, even as Luke and Ian begin scraping and scratching underneath. As you might expect, Luke & Ian get their way in the end, with the music collapsing in on itself several times over. Poor Jarrett Gilgore. Dude can't get a break. I hope the other guys aren't so jealous of you the second time around!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Gerrit Hatcher – Parables for the Tenor (Astral Spirits, 2018) ****

By Tom Burris

Although Gerrit Hatcher is a relative newcomer, Parables for the Tenor marks his second album for solo saxophone. Kicking off with “Fanfare for the Bankrupt,” Hatcher's dry, smoky tone invokes melody, softness, overtones – and harsh, gravelly speed-runs in the first 30 seconds. And it makes logical sense – such sense that you'll wonder what anyone else could've played as a resolve. Tea kettle, dead mid-register tone, silence, low blurt. Ever wonder what a smackless Kaoru Abe would sound like? More cohesive, less nods, similar energy and idea scope.

“Fanfare” is kind of a primer, almost an overture, for things to come. “The Offer” is basically an extension of the concepts introduced on the first track, alternating blasts with short pauses and culminating with a melancholy melody racing itself into a blur of Pharoah overtones. On “Processional,” a clear theme emerges from the outset which Hatcher bends and stretches, jumping away from and then back into, testing its elasticity, jumping out farther with each consecutive leap. Toward the end of the piece he crawls into the butthole of the thing and flips its body inside-out. For musicality and biology, he earns his A+ here.

Soft Hatcher sure ain't no smooth jazz. On “A Dream from Sleep During Sunrise,” it's a weird Ayler-does-Prez thing that tiptoes through a tentative theme that we're lucky enough to eavesdrop in on. His short phrasing works well here, fluttering around a theme, as it does on the follow-up track, “The Measures,” until flying way out into overtone land – and I mean waaay out, like Arthur Doyle out. The acrobatic act keeps the listener in constant suspense – an essential element in keeping one engaged throughout an album-length solo recording.

“Learn Alternatives to Mercy” is a vehicle with different size wheels at each end of both axles. Three-note phrases rip through the middle section, eventually becoming exotic bird screeches – then toning down to a warm flutter, alternating with the bird shrieks toward the end. As of this writing, Astral Spirits has 14 of these cassettes left on its Bandcamp page. Run!

freejazzblog on air - June 28th on SWR2


freejazzblog on air, the creation of Martin Schray and Julia Neupert is on air again - on SWR2 in southern Germany, broadcasting 11 p.m. CET on Friday the 28th, and online for the following week.

This episodes theme: "Play it loud! Music as social protest." It will include music by Damon Locks, Irreversible Entanglements, Christian Lillinger, Joelle Léandre, Joe McPhee/Hamid Drake, Marc Ribot and Anguish.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Steve Baczkowski/Brandon Lopez/Chris Corsano - Old Smoke (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****

By Nick Metzger

You probably guessed as much from the musicians involved that there is some seriously forceful energy music contained on this release. Steve Baczkowski and Chris Corsano continue the epic tempest they began on 2018’s Mystic Beings (that record itself a successor to 2015’s Stolen Car), only this time instead of Bill Nace’s jagged guitar skree we get the low end rumble of Brandon Lopez. Baczkowski and Corsano’s documented collaborations go back to 2005’s The Dim Bulb which was succeeded by 2017’s The Dull Blade, both in a trio with Paul Flaherty, and they definitely mesh well (all the album names dropped are well worth your time). Corsano is also a member, along with pianist Sam Yulsman, of Brandon Lopez’s The Mess, who released an absolute flamethrower of an album in 2017’s Holy, Holy . To my knowledge this is the first recording of Lopez and Baczkowski together, and one has to hope that it’s the first of many, as the two have a strikingly similar modus operandi.

On "Iron Ore" the trio starts abruptly, the loose rhythmic pattern stirred up by Lopez and Corsano entwining with the coarse vibrato-laden baying of Baczkowski's baritone. As the piece develops the saxophone playing becomes more and more expressive, reaching a churning climax in the last minute or so. The next piece "Blast Furnace" begins with long, deep tones of circular breathing from Baczkowski while Lopez bows out multiphonic strands of sound over Corsano's crisp cymbal shimmer. It all coalesces around the midpoint, the sound growing more and more intense until it explodes into a gruff interplay of timbre and dynamics. "Bend in the Shore" is initiated via a bowed cymbal/sax drone augmented with Lopez's subtle thrum. This gives the track some direction before the trio open up in the latter half and lay down some fantastic interplay. On "Open Hearth" Baczkowski makes the switch to soprano saxophone, his reedy dissonance resembling a snake charmer's pungi and he really gets after it with some mighty air blasts. Corsano and Lopez play with a similarly high energy, and once the trio gets going it's a real earth scorcher. Similarly, "Slag Heap" starts quietly with rapid percussive reed popping and the thick gravity of Lopez's playing before igniting into a firestorm of rhythmic juxtaposition and high octane saxophone squelch. Corsano initiates "Steel Wind" with rapturous thunderclaps of percussion, culminating in a riotous melee before the trio launches into an eruption of aggressive exchanges. Lopez gives an extended solo, tempering the upsurge only momentarily before the triad detonates again. The last piece "Smoke Creek" caps of a very intense listening experience with another rousing fracas, this time a relatively short burst of energy just for good measure to remove any remaining oxygen from the room.

This is a really good album from three like-minded individuals, yielding another example of how ferocious a trio of acoustic instruments can sound. If you’re a fan of any of these guys I would recommend this album heartily as it is unrestrained, forceful and high velocity free jazz. There are a couple small pockets of breathing room but not much, so listening is akin to crawling along the floor in a blazing structure fire, fantastic stuff.

Baczkowski/Lopez/Corsano + Sam Yulsman (or The Mess + Baczkowski) @ Issue Project Room, 5/18/18:

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Recent Releases from Ayler Records

By Nick Ostrum

There have been signs for some time now that Ayler Records was winding down its activities. With the three albums reviewed here, it seems the label will be ending its 20-year run. Originally a Swedish imprint specializing in live American and Scandinavian releases in the classic, clunky free jazz tradition (early releases were also graced with the mesmerizing abstract expressionist artwork of Åke Bjurhamn), it relocated to France and the very capable hands of Stéphane Berland in 2009, who reinvigorated the label with a newfound, largely (but hardly exclusively) Franco-centric eclecticism. Over the course of its existence, Ayler Records produced my first Peter Brötzmann album, my second Albert Ayler and Joelle Leandre, my first Arthur Doyle, Henry Grimes, Axel Dörner, Assif Tsahar, Charles Gayle, Arthur Rhames, Jimmy Lyons, Martin Küchen, and so many others. Maybe I came to this music relatively late, but Ayler Records was nevertheless my entrepôt. And, I imagine I am not the only listener with such fond, formative associations with the label.

Ok, enough with the flowery eulogy. It is high time to delve into the label’s final three releases.

Bernado/Rinaudo/Mayot - Ikui Doki (Ayler, 2019) ****



As testament to Berland’s propensity to explore of the lesser known crevices of the avant-garde world, Ayler has brought us the curious Ikui Doki. Composed of twelve chamber pieces, this album is exploratory, yet deeply rooted in the more melodic strands of contemporary classical music. Songs are generally short; most fall well below the five-minute mark. They are also surprisingly varied. This album has lively ditties such as “Jingle #1” and “Jingle #2,” ethereal meditations such as “Pemayangste” and “Chant Pastoral,” hauntingly mellifluous pieces such as “Tiger” (a fittingly whimsical and mysterious version of William Blake’s “Tyger”) and “Cats and Dogs” and compositions dedicated to Claude Debussy and Steve Reich.

Sophie Bernado (bassoon and vocals), Rafaelle Rinaudo (harp and effects), and Hughes Mayot (reeds) play masterfully on these twelve disparate yet somehow coherent tracks. Many are based on repeating rhythmic melodies. The heavy use of the bassoon overlaying an unconventional background frequently evokes simultaneously Stravinsky and Reichian phasing. Although a few pieces display their energy up front, most subdue that energy under the soft compositional structures, frequently accompanied by distant bucolic woodwind and harp melodies and, on two tracks (“Tiger” and the deeply intimate British folk cum tempered prog-rock “Secretly in Silence”), supple vocals and poetry. This album is a departure for Ayler Records, and a particularly welcome one at that.

Scott Fields Ensemble – Barclay (Ayler, 2019) ****



On Barclay, the third in a series of Scott Fields releases inspired by Samuel Becket, guitarist and composer Fields is joined by Matthias Schubert (tenor saxophone), Scott Roller (cello), and Dominik Mahnig (percussion). The result is a fine and playful take on contemporary free jazz. In ways, it evokes the abstract and fragmented marches of Anthony Braxton and his prodigy. In other ways, it is more melodic, less densely layered, and more rooted in a jazz vernacular, and, in that sense, fits right in with some of the label’s recent ensemble releases from Marc Ducret and Joelle Leandre.

Fields and co. do not shy from rests and silence. Rather, they effectively integrate frequent stops and starts, unpredictable wends and wafts into their compositions. Barclay’s three tracks are composed of brief phrases, woven together into calico tapestries of sharp, syncopated bursts of energy and harmony. Rather than flowing smoothly, the first track, “Krapp’s Last Take,” sounds as if the musicians are carving their song out of a craggy medium rather than constructing it from the inside out. Track two, “…but the clouds…” develops more organically around a series of guitar and saxophone melodies, but nevertheless remains stilted and jarring. The closer, “Catastrophe,” similarly grows around a series of truncated melodic runs overlaid with ambient clicks, whistles, and percussive fluttering, though to a slightly smoother effect. This is complex and exciting music. It is, as the third title indicates, a catastrophe, but in the word’s older sense of sudden, unexpected twists and turns. A fitting homage to Beckett and a fine addition to the Ayler catalogue.

Killing Spree – Boko Boko Tour (Ayler, 2019) ***



Consisting of Sylvain Daniel (electric bass and effects), Gregoire Galichet (drums), and Matthieu Metzger (alto saxophone and electronics), Killing Spree released just one self-titled album (also on Ayler). Thre years later, they embarked on a tour through Japan. The results of this tour are captured on Boko Boko. All except one track on this album was recorded in studio on their debut. And, although this album otherwise follows similar patterns and trajectories as the studio release (this shines little “new light on the band’s compositions and improvisations” as the tag on the website claims), the rawness of the liver performance and recording does make some difference.

Killing Spree has been described as “avant-jazz-metal,” a label that points to their affinities for electric bass, intermittent growled vocals, and hard, dynamic sounds. For Killing Spree, this agglomeration of styles melds well. The metal elements are evident, but not contrived. One can say the same for the free jazz. Metzger can be a beast on the sax, but he also knows how rein himself in and forge looping melodies and atmospheric breakdowns out of his waves of controlled aggression. Daniel meanwhile lays heavy, chug-a-lug vamps and Geezer Butler-worthy strides. That is, when is not filling the role of the absent rhythm guitar or adding dense kindling to the frequent outbursts of collective improv conflagration. For his part, Galichet lends his sludgy blast-beat ballistics to help mire the group’s free jazz proclivities in a metal aesthetic. (It took me a few lessons to latch onto Galichet. The closer I listened, however, the more impressed I was with his drumming and, really, this entire trio.) This album is a wild ride, even if it is so similar to the trio’s other output. Play it loud.

These albums are available in CD and digital format and can be found on the label’s website, http://www.ayler.com/.

It is sad to see Ayler Records go. That said, this diverse round of releases bids a fitting adieu for one of the most reliably exciting free jazz labels of the last two decades.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble - Be Known - Ancient Future Music (Spirit Muse, 2019) ****

By Stef

The first album by The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble was released in 1981, with Kahil El'Zabar on percussion on vocals, and Ed Wilkerson and 'Light' Henry Huff on saxes. The trio had already performed at festivals and concerts many years before that.

Most of their initial albums were live performances (Bologna, Helsinki, Stockholm, ...). Henry Huff was replaced by Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre on sax, who was in turn succeeded by Joseph Bowie on trombone in the eighties. A new iteration of the trio came with the arrival of Khabeer Ernest Dawkins on saxes and Corey Wilkes on trumpet, with the occasional presence of Fareed Haque on guitar.

On this album we have Kahil El’Zabar on vocals, thumb piano, drums and percussion, Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Alex Harding on baritone sax, and Ian Maksin on cello.

Despite the many changes in line-up over the years, the ensemble's music has not changed at all. Even if some of the tracks have different names, many of the tunes can be recognised. Some of the Ethnic Hertigage Ensemble 'hits' are of course also performed, such as the funky "Freedom Jazz Dance", originally composed by Eddie Harris, and in the meantime a kind of signature tune for this band.

Other tunes include the beautiful Freddie Hubbard composition, "Little Sunflower", and some old and new compositions such as "Black Is Back", "Wish I Knew", "Ntozake". Whatever theme they touch, and in whatever decade they performed the music, is almost irrelevant. Their sound is still so grooving, bopping and dancing that it is among the most infectious music you can find. El'Zabar has the incredible strength to draw any audience inside his music and make them part of it, which explains why many of his albums are live performances. Not many jazz bands are as welcoming as this one.

As the band's title tells us, this music is deeply rooted in the African heritage of the musicians, with clear references to the blues, but also to - especially - South African music and jazz. It is their deliberate intention to raise consciousness and to bring us to a higher spiritual level, one that is more universal than the boundaries we draw to define and protect ourselves. And they succeed. It's really hard not to like this music, and even the fact that there has been hardly any change of sound and approach over the last fourty years is not necessarily a negative, because you can recognise El'Zabar's music right away. He is a wonderful percussionist, and the collaboration with Wilkes and Harding is absolutely seamless, as well as with Maksin whose plucked bass lines on the cello add to the boppish feel.

In short, this music is festive, joyful, celebrating music and life, even if it can be very sad too at moments. On the last track, "Ooof", Wilkes delivers possibly one of the most bluesy trumpet pieces I've heard since the Trumpet Kings performance at Montreux in 1975.

If there is a downside to be mentioned, it is that some tracks are cut short, reducing the full power of the improvisations, and taking away the reaction of the audience at the end. I know, El'Zabar can go on for hours, but that's part of the fun. There is no reason to stop, and it's only by listening to maddening rhythms for a very long time that you can really appreciate the full power of this trance-inducing music. Switch on the repeat button.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.


 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Flamingo - Loud (Relative Pitch, 2018) ****



Flamingo is a trio from Berlin, made up of bass player Adam Pultz Melbye, percussionist Christian Windfeld, and contra-bass clarinetist Chris Heenan, with a little help from the sound engineer Roy Carroll adding a touch of electronics. They eschew any song format for a one hour and 12-minute long improvisation that rises from the silence and take the listener on journey laced with texture and tension.

The album begins slowly, with the woodsy drone of the contra-bass clarinet and a rumble of drums. The sounds of the bow striking the strings of the bass, somewhat chaotically but with a rhythmic intent, compliments the percussive clatter, adding some seasoning to the quickly brewing stew. The frothing tones of the clarinet begins to bubble over as the trio slowly raises the temperature. But, like it is said, a watched pot never boils, and just as you think it's about to, they back off. Then, it becomes clear this group cooks with restraint, and are not going for anything obvious. 

Now that the metaphorical pot has been pulled from the imaginary flame, we can hear the elements cooling down. Minute eight and the clarinet drone winnows, blending in with the micro-tones emanating from the bass and the static tickling the edges of their sound. Minute thirteen and there is silence, then a splash of percussion. Something is drawing out a long drone, maybe the clarinet, maybe the bass, it is unclear, and that too might be the point. The trio is working with ingredients of music, using sounds and textures and playing them off of each other in pursuit of an emerging recipe. 

Music like this can be frustrating but satisfying, unconventional but comforting, and the trio shows it is deeply versatile at these contrasts. Moments of silence follow different technical combinations, as they build a shared vocabulary made from chance, which returns in new forms throughout the recording - like with the deep vibrations from the contra-bass clarinet (the instrument was made for this!) at 40 minutes that contrasts with the taught percussion, only to morph into forlorn cries over a gentle percussive pattern, then to what sounds like the tones from a musical saw. The shifts in sound and flavors come to a clattering close after 72 minutes of this intense collaboration, leaving the listener with a satisfying dish after all.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Albatre - The Fall Of The Damned (Sshpuma, 2018)

By Stef

Doom jazz may not be a very common subgenre of jazz, but Albatre exemplifies it well. The trio of Hugo Costa on alto sax & effects, Gonçalo Almeida on bass, keyboards & electronics, and Philipp Ernsting on drums & electronics manages to create - despite the limited line-up - a massive sound, with pumping heavy chords, changing slow rhythms and repetitive unison vamps. But despite the straightforward and almost predictable weight of the music, it changes the whole time, almost unexpectedly, taking the listener often by surprise, but without altering the intrinsic mood of despair, torment and agony. In a really interesting, rock-influenced way, they add complexities to a relatively simple basic structure, and it works well. A good example is "Dance Of A Dead Paradise", on which the tempo and the rhythm shift constantly, while keeping the maddening pace of the piece intact.

The whole album keeps the same unique violent sound, and I can only recommend that you put the volume high and prepare yourself for another great descent into the maelstrom, an unguided trip to a dark inferno. No prisoners taken, that's for sure, but you'll enjoy the ride ... or not.


Listen and download from Bandcamp.




Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Vision Festival #24 2019 - Day 6


By Martin Schray

The last day of the festival began with a quartet called TISM, an acronym that stands for the first names of Tom Rainey (drums), Ingrid Laubrock (sax), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano) and Mark Feldman (violin). The band filled a gap because for the first time the festival referred to a European approach to improvised music (Courvoisier comes from Switzerland, Laubrock from Germany), which met musicians associated with the New York downtown scene. The main focus was on extended techniques. Rainey used all sorts of additional elements to create sounds, Courvoisier played the interior of the piano and prepared parts of the instrument, creating abstract rhythmic blocks that then clashed with Feldman’s and Laubrock's curved lines. A tight field of tension was established that way. The most interesting figure in this arrangement was Courvoisier, as the music she generated (harp-like notes, strident piano clusters, xylophone sounds) enormously expanded the spectrum and at the same time drove the improvisation forward.

TISM
This abstract approach was continued and deepened with Jason Kao Hwang's Human Rites Trio. Hwang (violin) was joined by Andrew Drury (drums) and Ken Filiano (bass). The tension of the trio's music was shaped by the contrast of weird new classical music and blues runs. Especially Filiano was responsible for it and reminded of the music of Willie Dixon ("Spoonful"), with Drury's drums swinging loosely to it and Hwang playing folk song melodies. This was reminiscent of the Kronos Quartet’s version of “Purple Haze“. But most of the time sound generation was in the foreground, e.g. when Drury blew into the opening of a small bell and moved it on the drumkit.

Then, however, the focus of the music shifted again, back to Afro-American jazz history, visual art, dance, and poetry. Dance of the Comedians, a project by the German artist Jorgo Schäfer with Vincent Chancey (french horn), Joe Fonda (bass) and Jeremy Carlstedt (drums), was introduced with a Nietzsche text recited by Schäfer on which the name of the band went back to. Before the show it was announced that Schäfer would create a work of art, whereby most probably expected a painting. But the whole thing was rather the unveiling of a work of art in which Schäfer gradually presented nine paintings with similar themes, showing black skeletons. In addition, Chancey's french horn initiated a new timbre for the festival, which was also possible because he used his right hand as a kind of muffler with which he could make the horn sound like a cornet. Joe Fonda and Jeremy Carlstedt provided a solid rhythmic foundation for this.

Dance of the Comedians
If Chancey's trio was already a step in the direction of jazz history, Amina Claudine Myers (piano, vocals) went even further in this direction. Myers played classical gospel songs, among others an extended version of “Go Down Moses“. She often improvised syllables in the six pieces presented, but she always remained song-orientated. Only the fifth piece was more freely improvised and more ambitious. In the last song Myers thanked the great ones and by that also the festival for the love, the families and the blessings. The music was accompanied by a choreography of the 72-year-old African-American dancer Dianne McIntyre, who has won numerous honors for her work including an Emmy nomination, three Bessie Awards and a Helen Hayes Award. She was joined by Brooklyn locals Careitha Davis and Matia Johnson for her performance.

With the penultimate act, the festival program tried to get back to the modern age again and increasingly relied on poetry and vocals on it. The large formation Heroes Are Gang Leaders under the direction of Thomas Ellis Sayers consisted of James Brandon Lewis (tenor saxophone), Melanie Dyer (viola), Luke Stewart (bass), Jenna Camille (keyboards), vocals), Randall Horton (poetry), Devin Brahja Waldman (alto sax, synth), Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Bonita Penn (poetry), Nettie Chickering (vocals), Brandon Moses (guitar) and Warren “Trae“ Crudup (drums). With Brandon Lewis, Branch and Stewart three members of the Unruly Quintet, which rocked the house the day before, were on stage but this project could not reach the intensity of that quintet. Ultimately, the music was reminiscent of an ambitious jazz musical with occasional free outbursts that reflected anger and rage.

D.D. Jackson Bluiett Tribute Band
As on two other festival days, the day - and thus the festival - ended with a tribute concert, this time for Hamiett Bluiett, the great saxophonist and clarinetist who died in October 2018. D.D. Jackson, the pianist responsible for the project, announced in the program notes that the concert would be a “collective attempt to reflect on Bluiett's deep impact“, in which Bluiett's pieces as well as some of his favorites by other composers would be used as starting points for the band’s own improvisations. At first glimpse the compositions seemed rather conventional, a classical head-solo-structure was mainly used. However, this soon proved to be a deceptive manoeuvre enabling Darius Jones (alto saxophone) and James Carter (baritone and soprano saxophone) to show their extraordinary musical abilities. This was also supported by an exquisite rhythm section around William Parker on bass and Ronnie Burrage on drums, in which the legendary percussionist Juma Sultan proved to be the icing on the cake. When in the opening track "Thelonious Monk" the rhythm section simply stopped playing, Carter and Jones literally chopped up the head. Jackson played percussive chords and clusters that further fueled the already driving rhythm. Altogether a really worthy conclusion of a very good festival.

To sum up, the 24th Vision Festival was musically denser than the festival the year before and there were fewer mediocre shows in the end. The highlights this year were certainly the performances of God Particle, Kris Davis's Trio January Painters, and James Brandon Lewis Unruly Quintet. However, there is still room for improvement for the anniversary festival next year. The really annoying photographers should be clearly put in their place, as the loud clicking noises of the cameras are particularly annoying. Moreover, a stronger integration of European musicians would also be desirable, because the community idea is a worldwide one.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Vision Festival #24 2019 - Day 5


By Martin Schray

On the one hand, the Vision Festival is about celebrating and honoring the greats of this music but it’s also about making sure that this music has a future. The evening was therefore be opened by the Visionary Youth Orchestra, a large formation of young students, that is an integral part of the festival and was led by William Parker this year.

Then Darius Jones’ quintet promised a different kind of Alto Gladness (to use an allusion to the Cecil Taylor tribute of the second evening) of the more future-oriented style. The band consisted of Jones (alto sax), Craig Weinrib (drums), Dezron Douglas (bass), Charlie Looker (guitar) and Michael Vatcher (percussion). Jones’ band turned Oliver Nelson's band title "The Blues and the Abstract Truth" into music by presenting themselves clearly rooted in blues and gospel on the one hand, but abstracting the structures of the genre on the other. Especially Jones' musical spectrum ranged from the old spirituals and Hard Bop to Coltrane. The set was divided into five parts, with Jones holding a melody line for a long time in the first one, over which Vatcher could let his percussion fly freely. The great emotionality and the beautiful mess that dominated the music were foiled by the enormous ease with which everything was played. A special moment followed in the fourth part, when Jones brutally and consistently played only one note for minutes and the rest of the band revolved around the eye of the hurricane. This was a very good intellectual, but soulful set. Jones has never disappointed me musically.

Darius Jones Quintet
As in Darius Jones' quintet, David Virelles Mbókò also had two percussionists, but they were much less expressive than Vatcher and Weinrib. Virelles' quartet consisted of Eric McPherson (drums), Román Díaz (percussion) and Rashaan Carter (bass). The music could best be described as Cuban free jazz. Very free passages competed with rather conventional rhythms and harmonies, which reminded strongly of the music of Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Often a clear, pulsating rhythmic basic structure was kept, which Virelles then broke open again and again. The most interesting part of the set was when the rhythm section gave up its fixed groove and played less confined. Román Díaz left the stage at the end and returned dressed as a shaman - a spiritual moment that also referred back to the first evening with Andrew Cyrille.

While the first two gigs of the evening and the complete program of the previous day were completely without dance interludes, it was time to reintegrate this aspect into the festival. The next program item focused on Patricia Nicholson (dance), supported by Cooper-Moore (piano, different instruments), Val Jeanty (percussion, electronics) and Bill Mazza (video art). Cooper-Moore's introduced the set and, as often, used ragtime and stride piano motifs, combining them with Cecil Taylor-like clusters. Then,     Nicholson entered the stage and Cooper-Moore switched to the flute and instruments he created. The set then evoked a more and more esoteric and world music-like atmosphere.

James Brandon Lewis Unruly Quintet
After Darius Jones’ concert I talked to a man who was sitting behind me. He said Jones would pursue Steve Coleman's approach to bring Charlie Parker and James Brown together and would raise the music to a new level. In Jones's music this may not have been so obvious, but in James Brandon Lewis' Unruly Quintet this was clearly evident. Lewis (tenor sax) was supported by Luke Stewart (bass), Warren G. Crudup III (drums), Anthony Pirog (guitar), and Jaimie Branch (trumpet). The band did not only combine Parker and Brown, but also Archie Shepp's Fire Music and the soul of Sly Stone with - say - Wilco’s alternative progrock. The result was an expressive, wrathful development of Miles Davis’ “On The Corner“ album. From the beginning there was no rest in this music, the set was one single string of highlights. The guitar, the bass and the drums were the rock in the surf and offered orientation, while the horns danced around each other like wild dervishes. But even when Branch and Brandon Lewis took a break, the intensity was simply carried on by the rhythm section. Brandon Lewis was constantly cheering them on with hollers and yells. Again and again the music was up to the pain threshold, then took a breath just to cross this border. Before the last piece "Haden is Beauty" Brandon Lewis once again emphasized the importance of the community idea and the political dimension of the music of this project. At the Woodstock Festival the band would have been loved and the audience at the Roulette was also enraptured.

Douglas R. Ewart & Bamboo Constellation for Joseph Jarman
The evening was concluded by Douglas R. Ewart & Bamboo Constellation for Joseph Jarman. Jarman passed away this year and consequently Ewart's project was a reminder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the overall concept of this band with performances that combined visual iconography, performance art, and music that was completely original in its concept of sound, silence, texture, and tonal color. Ewart (woodwinds) - like Jarman a member of the AACM - moved with the the whole band - Mankwe Ndosi (vocals), Reggie Nicholson (vibraphone), Mike Reed (drums), Brandon Ross (guitar), Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon), Luke Stewart (bass), Germaul Barnes and Djassi DaCosta Johnson (dance) - in the hall as if we were part of an initiation ritual. Then a different, utopian, sunken, idyllic world was conjured up, which was also illustrated by the extraordinary timbres of the instruments. Also in this project the community idea was upheld. The performance would also have been a great conclusion for the whole festival.