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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Vision Festival 2017 - Day 5: Letting the Music Speak

Michael Zerang, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Gebhard Ullman, and Steve Swell

By Paul Acquaro

I contemplated a midnight coffee to keep me up to write this review as I walked past McDougal and eyed the green faded elegance of Cafe Reggio's awning. It had been a long evening, and well into the night, at Judson Church. I had heard a lot of music, ate a couple of dumplings, and so far, resisted buying more music - I had to pace myself, I've been there every night and there's still one more day.

The evening began as I walked through Washington Square Park - down 5th Ave, under the arch, past the fountain teeming with people taking in the perfect late spring weather, past the Vision Festival band playing freely where the park spills back out onto West 3rd, and into Judson Church. Earlier in the day, there had been a protest in the park, Artistic Director Patricia Nicholson described it as "something to keep out spirits up" in these troubled days. However, this evening proved to be a night that the music took over, and starting with The Chicago Plan, it did so with aplomb.

Taking the mic, trombonist Steve Swell dedicated the set to Bern Nix, who had passed away earlier in the week. The rest of the band - drummer Michael Zerang, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and woodwindist Gebhard Ullman - nodded in silence. Then the drums began. Zerang played an extended intro, and when the group came in, it was high octane well-composed mayhem. Swell busted out the first solo, while Ullman chugged in the background, until his own playing took over, pushing the group even harder. Lonberg-Holm's cello shot out little darts of melody, though his own solo was a little hard to hear. However, soon he began to manipulate his sound via the pedal array at his feet, which took over the stage. Hunched over, he manipulated the sound until the group the segued back into music. The next tune was a composition by Ullman, a gentle and somewhat romantic song, Ullman's melody was buoyed by Lonberg-Holm's and Swell's contrasting harmonies. At one point Ullman switiched to an Eb Bass Clarinet whose reedy deep tone adding extra warmth. It's difficult to categorize this group, their Clean Feed debut, The Chicago Plan, is equally diverse, each song is a complete world of sound unto itself. 

Next up was Joe McPhee's homage to bass Dominc Duval and Ornette Coleman, who both recently passed, but as they set up, Miriam Parker performed a dance piece in collaboration with the artwork on display in the balcony. Though a stage light meant to illuminate the hanging prism made it difficult to see, through the glare of light, Parker's graceful poise and silent movements were captivating.

Joe McPhee's The Dream Book
Then, McPhee led a large group, The Dream Book. On stage with him was saxophonist/trumpeter Daniel Carter, bassists Larry Roland and Dominc Duval, Jr., guitarist Dom Minasi, violinist Rosie Hertlein, and drummer Jay Rosen. He introduced the piece, explaining how he was inspired by Coleman's 1967 orchestral album 'Forms and Sound'. McPhee's song began searchingly with the violin, guitar, and the two bassists, operating independently, but quickly coalesced into a single unit, until with signal from McPhee's red gloved hand, they stopped. McPhee then picked up a white plastic trumpet and let out a strong blast, diving into a tandem melody with Carter as his melodic wingman. The solo passage was handed back to the strings, and soon the pattern became clear - working from stage left to right the soloists passed along ideas like a game of telephone. Minasi's solo began with deliberation, working his way up the neck until exploding feverishly. Working back to a simple and effective melody before handing it off to the Hertlein. The violist took the momentum and turned it into one of the most exciting of solos of the night so far (foreshadowing). Duval then began his own ecstatic solo, with great technical prowess and adventurous ideas. Finally, Roland picked up on Duval's energy and began elongating the notes. The whole band came together into a tremendous crescendo, and as Carter and McPhee were playing off each other, the woman seated next to me tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a corner and whispered in awe, 'that shadow looks like Ornette!' It did. A drum roll began the encore piece, as Bill Mazza's abstract living artwork, projected above the band showed friendly yellow blotches being separated by a blood red line. The music poured exuberantly from the group and by the end of the piece the painting was mostly red lines.

Dave Burrell, William Parker, Kidd Jordan, and William Hooker
After a break, where I had the aforementioned dumplings, checked out the wares, and ran into some familiar faces, I reclaimed my seat for pianist David Burrell. With him was saxophonist Kidd Jordan, bassist William Parker, and drummer William Hooker. The pianist started quickly darting over the keyboard, picking out chords, Hooker picked up the tempo and Parker rumbled into action. However, when the 82-year-old Jordan jumped in, the energy doubled. The group running now at full steam, the tempo and energy never let up. Burell was all over the keyboard, striking clusters of notes, while Jordan's rapid fire notes sprayed through the hall, occasionally over-blowing just enough to color the sound. All improvised, the free jazz veterans latched easily onto each other's ideas, moving seamlessly from intense to spacious (but always powerful). Jordan dropped out and Burrell played glistening glissandos while Parker and Hooker beat the hell out of the rhythm. Jordan returned and the intensity ratcheted up again and remained high to the end. Rather gobsmacked, the audience jumped to their feet as the long outro finally wound down. This set just may have been the defining moment of the festival, and there has been a tremendous amount of material to compare to.

BassDrumBone: Gerry Hemingway, Mark Helias, and Ray Anderson

I thought about leaving at this point. Saturated and satiated, I felt drenched with music. However, BassDrumBone was on hand to wrap up, and the chance to the hear the great Gerry Hemingway on drums, Mark Helias on bass, and Ray Anderson on trombone, was reason enough to stick it out. The group set up on the risers that jutted out into the seating area and kicked off with a crisp tune. Hemingway's drumming is a treat, he has a light touch that can be quite intense, filling the space within the group with ease. Helias is always in motion, while Anderson wastes not a breath. This tight-knit group plays music that cuts straight to the chase - accessible and up-tempo, their strong compositions and stronger soloing was a choice closer to an exciting night of music.

One more night left!

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


Colin Green said...

Hang on in there, Paul. You're doing a great job and I think there should be a special mention for our intrepid reporter tonight!

Dom Minasi said...

Hey Paul ..great meeting you last night and much appreciation for the review.