Sunday, June 4, 2017

Vision Festival 2017 - Day 6: Seeking Optimism

Projected image by Bill Mazza

By Paul Acquaro

"We wish you peace and love," said percussionist Kahil El'Zabar during saxophonist David Murray's set, espousing the power of humanity globally to overcome difficult times. It's an old refrain for sure, cliché perhaps, but in the depths of Judson Memorial Church's great hall, a landmark of social activism and change, a home to the organized labor movement in the 1930s, and supportive of the avant-garde arts throughout the 20th century (and now into the 21st), it felt reassuring. Another apparent terror attack just hit London, the current US administration had just shit on the future again, and yet some simple words at the end of a week of wonderful music seemed to offer a little bit of solace.

A wall of sketches by artist Jorgo Schäfer

The long night of music started at 6:30 p.m with the poetry and music of Postive Knowledge, Oluyemi Thomas (bass clarinet and soprano sax), Ijeoma Thomas (voice), and Andrew Cyrille (drums). While there was most likely some excellent words of poetry, the focus was the sound. Ijeoma's recitation swung dramatically between spoken words and scat, and Oluyemi and Cyrille locked into some enticing grooves. They set the bar high for the final night of the festival, and the rest of the evening was full of heavy hitters.

Matt Maneri, Daniel Levin, and Tony Malaby
Next up was violist Matt Maneri, cellist Daniel Levin, and saxophonist Tony Malaby. Setting up at the foot of the stage, on the floor with the audience, they forwent amplification and drew the crowd in. The trio had a decidedly classical approach, and as Malaby spun off a continuous set of melodies, the strings hooked into each other's rhythms, seamlessly building off the many musical ideas. The acoustic approach paid off, as did sitting front row, and even towards the back of the hall, the sound was quite good. All improvised, every sound was important, whether it was Levin's foot taping or whoosh of his bow slashing the air, or Malaby's colorful runs. The music grew intense at times, at one point Malaby threw in some smokey phrases on the tenor sax and Maneri's playing grew stronger, and with Levin, brought the music to a peak. The first thing I'm doing is going back to this trio's recent release New Artifacts (Clean Feed 2017), as this tough but delicate trio had just raised the bar even higher. 

Matthew Shipp, Michael Bisio, Ivo Perelman, and Whit Dickey
Following the trio, saxophonist Ivo Perelman's quartet with Matthew Shipp (piano), Michael Bisio (bass), and Whit Dickey (drums) took to the big stage. Amplified and charged up, the group of frequent collaborators projected an assured clear and strong sound. Not long into the set, Shipp and Perelman had found a syncopated up-tempo vein and began drawing musical blood. Seemingly endless ideas poured out of Perelman, sometimes sneaking up into the altissimo register, and let no musical sentence go unfinished, seeming to have banished the ellipses from his musical language altogether. Bisio was nicely amplified and his bass lines kept the music in motion, he is also a powerful player. His turn at a solo began with a smattering of carefully picked notes and ended with intense bowing. In contrast to the powerful playing by the rest of the trio, Whit Dickey's playing was subtle, and with great precision and drive. Overall, somewhat reminiscent of the previous night's set with Dave Burrell and Kidd Jordan, Perlman's quartet brought a real intensity to the music. The room exploded with applause at the end of their set.

Kahil El'Zabar, David Murray, and Carmen Rothwell

The penultimate act of the night was the David Murray Trio. With aforementioned percussionist Kahil El'Zabar and bassist Carmen Rothwell, Murray led the group through a slow burner of a tune, with El'Zabar on the amplified Kalimba. Murray took a solo that went from the deceptively simple melody into the stratosphere. Murray, a player who seems equally comfortable playing inside or out, plays with both approaches, connecting with the audience via plucky melodies, and keeping them interesting with his edgy solos. Bassist Rothwell stuck primarily to the low end in her first solo of the evening, but later in the set, was much more adventurous. El'Zabar is a colorful character, and wearing round wire-rimmed sunglasses, he looked incredibly like Sunny Murray's iconic ESP-DISC cover. Part way through the set El'Zabar switched to the Cajon, began singing, and told a story of South Africa and apartheid, and tying it to the divisiveness of today.

Murray is a powerful player, his tone is burly, and is quite inspiring. However, the flip side is that he seemed to loose himself in the music and his set went overtime, pushing later the final set with saxophonist Oliver Lake and William Parker leading a big band. Due to the train schedule, I couldn't stick around for this culminating moment of the festival. I waited hopefully as they set up, but as dancer Miriam Parker descended the stairs from the balcony, bathed in a golden spotlight, and heading towards the large ensemble assembled on stage, I made my way out to into the NYC night.

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


Martin Schray said...

A tremendous piece of work, Paul. Very well done. Thanks a lot for keeping us up-to-date.

Dom Minasi said...

Great coverage Paul. Thanks


Malagodi said...

Do we know who the young woman bass player was for Murray's set? The on-line info seems to be wrong.

Stef said...

Hi Paul, thanks a lot for these great concert reviews. Probably like me, many readers wished they could have been there, and your lively reports made it even worse (too bad we weren't there), but equally better (luckily we have these reviews.

Paul said...

Carmen Rothwell

Paul said...

Thank you. In years past I have attended a night here or there, never the whole festival. It's a whole different experience - I had a chance to speak with the artists, the people running the labels and writing the books, and the folks running the show. I also met some of our readers, which was really nice.

Unknown said...

I did not attend primarily due to the awful sound at Judson Hall plus the growing politicization of the event which detracts greatly from the music. Some of us are not of that same leftist or socialist or however one wants to define it persuasion. Patricia should know better but she continues to mar the proceedings with her opinions which I guess she assumes everyone must agree with. I do realize that the vast majority of those attending do but I have been a pretty strong follower and attendee of Vision Fest and 'downtown' or avant-garde jazz for a couple of decades and I find this creeping politically based fronting to be soul sucking and spiritually empty

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