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Friday, June 2, 2017

Vision Festival 2017 - Day 4: Don't Let Them Take Your Joy Away

Odean Pope Saxophone Choir

By Paul Acquaro

Thursday's show opened with the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir. The Philadelphia-based band leader's 10 piece band blasted open the doors to the evening with a hard hitting horn arrangement that played off big band tropes with visceral soloing that often ventured deep into free territory. Pope's authoritative sound on the tenor complimented his passionate soloing. His first passage was vibrant, but kept with the lines; however the solo he took on the second piece took a bend in the personal direction, and he showed how willing he was to color outside as well. One of the show-stopping moments came during an arrangement of 'Coltrane Time.' After introducing the near Fibonacci sequence of rhythm count, alto saxophonist Julian Pressley turned in an absolutely electrifying solo, lightning bolts exploding like Tesla coils from his horn. 

Shayna Dulberger and Djassi DaCosta Johnson: Warrior of Light
Following Pope's delightful opening, bassist Shayna Dulberger walked out to the middle of the floor, white tape over her mouth, and began playing. Above her images of America's past started to slide by. Union rallies, lynchings, civil rights marches, protests, up to present day Black Live Matters marches. Dancer Djassi DaCosta Johnson began slowly approaching the stage area, also with white tape over her mouth. Shedding an American flag cape, she began a free form dance. She removed the tape and began reciting the words to 'My County tis of Thee', and at some point, made a connection to Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit’ and then to a bull horn where she delivered a litany of protest pheases. The performance captured the anger and confusion in a country, whose country seems to be breaking up with them. It was a good performance and it will be interesting to see if the duo develops it further.

As Patricia Nicholson, the Vision Festival's Artistic Director introduced the next group, but still feeling the last performance, exclaimed "Trump is the one who is doing horrible things, every day. But, you shouldn't let it take your joy away." Her words resonated with the audience and somehow segued perfectly into the incredibly uplifting music that followed.

Farmers By Nature: Craig Taborn, Darius Jones, William Parker, and Gerald Cleaver
Farmers By Nature is the quartet of saxophonist Darius Jones, pianist Craig Taborn, bassist William Parker, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. The music was a master class in momentum. Jones kicked off the music with angular dry lines. Taborn, dropping light accent notes and quick runs between jarring chords, kept up with Jones as his melodic lines began to rapidly unwind. Parker was an unshakeable foundation along with Cleaver's concentrated rhythms. The video projection behind the group dovetailed wonderfully, as images of the nighttime city - splashes of rain and distorted prisms of street lights - moved by at a rapid clip. Jones knows how to tease the audience and he drew the music in, along with the audience, before building the fire over Parker's and Cleaver's rhythmic rumble. Taborn seemed to be the busy, darting around the sides making sure that the structure was still sound and sturdy. After 30 minutes or so, they brought the set to logical end, though short, everything seemed to have been said. The audience burst into applause.

Jesus Papoleto Melendez
Following Farmers By Nature was poet Jesus Papoleto Melendez. His presentation was dramatically framed, as he read his poem off a long scroll. The New York City native gave an electrifying performance, a vigorous and poignant a mix that spilled out like music and Beat poetry at its best - "I've seen the best minds of my generation, incarcerated."

The final act of the night was the Artifacts Trio featuring flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, and drummer Mike Reed. The trio put out an album out two years ago with reinterpretations of the AACM songbook and was a great cap to this evening. The first song began with Reid and Reed setting up a dark, sensuous groove, into which Mitchell delivered a sinuous melody. The earthy hues of the flute against the sound of the cello’s strings, not as heavy as the bass but still acted like a bass, and was a perfect compliment. The many sides of AACM were brought to life astoundingly well by the trio, already the second song was an 180-degree turn from the previously slinky groove. Turning inward, the trio showed that they were season sonic explorers, taking their personal journals and melding them to a satisfying end. 

Artifacts Trio: Nicole Mitchell, Mike Reed, Tomeka Reid
A final thought before passing out for the night - one of the festival's goals is to honor the greats while they're living (this year was Cooper-Moore) was certainly underscored by the sudden passing of Bern Nix last night. At the festival yesterday a collection was being taken up for last year's honoree Henry Grimes as he is able to play less and less due to his health. Supporting the music and the musicians who are out there playing, making recordings, and bringing you joy is important.

Vision Festival continues Friday and Saturday, and I just found out that they’re streaming it on the Arts for Arts YouTube Channel. I’ll let you’ll find that one.

Vision Festival #22, May 28th - June 3, 2017, reviews: 


Colin Green said...

I'd love to hear Farmers By Nature expanded to a quartet. Darius Jones is a great player.

Paul said...

I had totally forgotten that they were a trio!

Martin Schray said...

Sometimes things like that happen, Paul. ;-)
If they continue playing together they could succeed the seminal David S. Ware Quartet. Jones is an excellent saxophone player and Farmers by Nature are one of the best piano trios on the scene.