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Monday, May 28, 2018

Vision Festival #23 2018 - Day 4

Melanie Dyer announcing the program of the day 4
By Martin Schray

On the fourth day of a festival, a certain fatigue creeps in. The turnout was lighter compared to the days before, some of the visitors moved in slow motion through the rather narrow lobby, the talks seemed to be less enthusiastic. When Melanie Dyer, one of the board members of Arts for Art, the organization responsible for the festival, announced the Visionary Youth Orchestra, the venue was rather poorly attended.

Visionary Youth Orchestra feat. Dave Burrell and Karen Borca
The Orchestra, which was directed by Jeff Lederer and Jessica Jones, has existed for quite some time and supports young jazz musicians, in general a main focus of the festival. The young musicians, all of them teenagers, learn the music of the old masters, and in their set they played compositions like “Sweet Sunset“ by John Carter and Bobby Bradford, Roscoe Mitchell’s “Jo Jar“ and Albert Ayler’s “Music is the Healing Force of the Universe“, a programatic title for the festival. They were augmented by Dave Burrell and Karen Borca, who conducted a Cecil Taylor composition for large ensemble, and the students did quite well dealing with symbolic notation and the use of the vocal parts, which were used to structure the composition. Especially the horns did a very good job.

Michael Vatcher (dr), Jaimie Branch (tp), Luke Stewart (b), Fay Victor (voice)
After a short break Mutations for Justice hit the stage, a band featuring Fay Victor (voice), Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Luke Stewart (bass) and Michael Vatcher (drums, percussion). The band was said to present a series of composition mantras out of the need to articulate political ideas in a minimal repetitive framework. The words and the music were written by Victor, who plans to write pieces for this band throughout the time of the Trump administration as “a document to memory of living in this time“. Their approach was close to the one of Irreversible Entanglements, which fits to the idea that music can serve as political protest. After a ritualistic, conjuring beginning Vatcher and Stewart started a hard funk riff with Branch playing flickering melodies and Victor using repetitive lyrics (“Let them try to get all brown people“) reminiscent of early spoken-word pioneers like The Last Poets. There was an intense aggression in the music, call-and-response patterns referred to blues songs, gospels and spirituals, even the feeling of songs like John Coltrane’s “Alabama“ hovered through the room. Then however, Victor became more concrete and commented on the current political situation with lines like “We’re living in a Trump administration / We got to survive / We got to stay alive“, which was a bit obvious. Somehow, the music became less punchy as well. When Victor decided to use more general lyrics, her message was more significant.

Royal Hartigan (dr), Mixashawn (ts), Rick Rozie (b)
Afro-Algonquin 2018, the next band, was completely new to me, although it was a project Mixashawn (sax, guitar, flute, vocals) already started back in the 1970s. Then it was intended “to celebrate the fusion of Afro American and indigenous music of the Americas but has been expanded to embrace full the Atlantic World“, as he says in the liner notes for the festival. Also, the name of the band refers to Native American tribes that speak the Algonquian (Native American) languages. The music was very spiritual, Mixashawn’s sax style is rooted in the music of Ayler, Trane, and Pharoah Sanders, his vocals reminded me of Native American shamans. Especially when he threw in hard funk riffs and Hendrix samples (“Foxy Lady“), the set was intense and tight. But like Mutations for Justice, the band couldn’t quite remain that level. When Mixashawn changed to guitar and flutes, the set became a bit more inconsistent.

Jason Kao Hwang (v), Patricia Spears Jones (poetry)
Continuing the day’s focus on spoken word, poet Patricia Spears Jones and violinist Jason Kao Hwang were scheduled for an interlude with their Time and Vision project. Jones’s poetry is influenced by the Nuyorican poetry scene as well as international modernism and the Négritude movement. What’s more, there was also an echo of the Beat Generation and the works of Walt Whitman. Her words were meaningful and gripping, she found a poetical way to comment on the social situation of these days by countering precise everyday-life miniatures with images of flowers in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, for example. Hwang accompanied her with empathic music, sometimes angular, sometimes beautiful.

Kris Davis (p), Tyshawn Sorey (dr), Ambrose Akinmusire (tp)
The expectations on Ambrose Akinmusire’s trio with Kris Davis on piano and Tyshawn Sorey on drums were high. Recording for the Blue Note label Akinmusire is one of the new jazz stars, however people were curious how he would master a freely improvised set. The music started very tenderly, as if they had to wrench every note from their instruments - until the improvisation literally exploded. From then on there was a brutal intensity to it, created by Davis’s arpeggios, her hard chords and Sorey’s drum rolls, which he used to interrupt with single harsh blows on the toms. Akinmusire decided to contrast this texture with almost painful lines, it was a magical moment when these repetitive staccatos clashed into each other. There was a constant up and down, the contrasting atmospheres and dynamics of the music were incredibly spectacular, passages that were strained to breaking point flowed into quiet, peaceful ones. But these parts were deprived of any kitschy beauty, they were mournful, bluesy, agonizing. These elements were shifted like tectonic plates, each of the musicians was able to initiate them. The final part of the set seemed to be exhausted, Davis playing minor chords, an immense melancholy dispersed through Roulette. It was definitely the best set of the festival so far, the music was full of drama - a drama that was created by subtlety and urgency. The performance was living proof that music can be more expressive than words. The audience thanked the band with ongoing standing ovations.

AfroHORN Fellow
The day was to be closed by AfroHORN Fellow, a project conceived by drummer Francisco Mora-Catlett, who played with Sun Ra’s Arkestra in the 1970s. The band consisted of the man himself, Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet), Alex Harding (baritone sax), Bob Stewart (tuba), Sam Newsome (soprano sax), Aruan Ortiz piano), Rashaan Carter (bass) and three additional Cuban percussionists. The name of the band goes back to Henry Dumas’ short story “Will the Circle Be Unbroken“, the central metaphor being that of the Afro Horn, an instrument so potent that it simultaneously unites and empowers. As an introduction Mora-Catlett told the story of Dumas, who was shot to death at the age of 33 by a police officer in the subway station of 125th Street in Harlem. The officer claimed that Dumas had been threatening another man with a knife. The circumstances of the shooting have remained unclear as no witnesses testifiedand no records could be found as the Transit Police Department's records of the shooting were destroyed when the agency merged into the New York City Police Department in 1995. Mora-Catlett said that the music of this band was dedicated to the children in order to protect them from such a destiny. The actual set started with powerful Caribbean drumming and a traditional head which resulted in a version of “When the Saints Go Marching In“. All in all the band was like a Caribbean version of the Arkestra, with a similar stress on percussive elements, but without the Arkestra’s unique eccentricity. Admittedly, after a spectacular gig like the one by Akinmusire/Davis/Sorey it would’ve been hard for every band.

All Vision Festival 23 Reviews: