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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Vision Festival #24 2019 - Day 4

By  Martin Schray

After now being in New York for six days, I have to say that the city has never felt this stressful to me. As I’ve mentioned before I'm staying in the Bronx with friends of mine during the festival and last year it was quite comfortable to take a 2 Express Train up north from Brooklyn which lasted 60 minutes. This year there are no express trains running that late, all of them are local and incredibly slow. Additionally, the trains are horribly crowded, often late, and people push themselves to the side to get a seat. Fortunately thanks to Vision, there’s a lot of music to reflect on and distract me from what’s going on around the festival.

Ava Mendoza, Matt Nelson, Adam Lane and Hamid Drake sound checking 
Day 4 started with guitarist Ava Mendoza’s quartet consisting of Matt Nelson (sax), Adam Lane (bass), and Hamid Drake (drums). Mendoza, Nelson, and Lane are originally from Oakland/California and have all relocated to New York and she thought it might be interesting to bring them together in a freely improvised context with the iconic Hamid Drake. When a rather rock-orientated guitarist crashes into a saxophone trio, it always evokes memories of Last Exit to me, the seminal band with Peter Brötzmann, Bill Laswell, Sonny Sharrock, and Ronald Shannon Jackson. Mendoza and her band started the set with static chords and tremolos. At the beginning the whole thing was like a huge, solid mass, which shifted slightly in different harmonic directions. The second part was more fragmentary and fissured, the music was more jazz oriented, especially when Mendoza took off her guitar effects. Later, the band played with the tempo, pulling back and pushing forward, not at all dissimilar to my subway experience. Finally, the musicians let the improvisation slip away completely, every steady rhythm got lost before Drake brought everything together again with a funky groove. The band is a perfect example of what jazz rock should be (unfortunately, you don't get it like that very often). The end then presented a nice, notated theme that completed the composition appropriately.

Marty Ehrlich’s Trio Exaltation
The next band was Marty Ehrlich’s Trio Exaltation. Ehrlich, who was on saxophone and bass clarinet for this gig, has been a long time contributor to New York’s improvised music scene, maybe his work is mainly known for his collaboration with the downtown music scene around John Zorn. Ehrlich likes to team up regularly with a consistent circle of musicians. That tendency toward familiarity makes Trio Exaltation all the more significant since he is presented with two players, bassist John Hébert and drummer Nasheet Waits, in an association that dates back to shared sideman roles in one of Andrew Hill’s ensembles. The trio presented five pieces of their album which was released on Clean Feed in 2018. Their music evaporated jazz history from all pores. It was based on notated guidelines and some of the themes were repeated frequently in order to permeate the improvisations. Small harmonic patterns were spun on and refined (by all three musicians). Marty Ehrlich used contrasting registers and overblown elements. At the end the trio bowed to Ornette Coleman (with “June 11, 2015 - In Memoriam: Ornette Coleman“) and Andrew Hill, whose composition „Dusk“ they played. Among all the really ambitious musical projects the audience seemed to be grateful for this almost classical jazz performance and the trio was celebrated with standing ovations.

As if this wasn’t enough, the next set was a real home match: pianist Matthew Shipp’s duo with William Parker (bass). Shipp, of course, remained Shipp with the violently struck chords and the smooth runs, which always looks as if he wants to pull off the keys. After all these years the understanding of the two is almost blind, although the set is freely improvised there were compelling unisono passages. While Parker's bass often rolled, Shipp on the other hand played with frayed and broken chords, sometimes you got the impression that parts of the notes were bitten off. Both played powerful riffs reminiscent of the blues and they rode them for a long time, only to let them fall apart in the following improvisation. In this process they exploited a wide spectrum of emotions: Anger, sadness, joy and much more.

Finally, all good things came in threes when it came to old-school free jazz: what followed, the Rob Brown Quartet with Steve Swell (trombone), Adam Lightcap (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums). The compositions of this band all followed a similar principle: the heads were presented in unison, then extensive solos of the individual musicians followed in turn. Especially the horns impressed with their tightness and sharpness. This became obvious in the second piece with Brown as well as Swell playing notes that almost burst. Once again, the audience seemed to be very receptive for this kind of music.

Kris Davis Trio: January Painters
The evening was closed by a group that was eagerly awaited: Kris Davis’s January Painters - with William Parker on bass and Jeff “Tain“ Watts on drums. Last year, Davis’s performance with Ambrose Akinmusire and Tyshawn Sorey was clearly the highlight of the festival and people were excited if she could present a similarly outstanding concert. In his interview with Alain Kirili the day before William Parker mentioned that if you once step into the free jazz river, you’re taken away by it. This is exactly what happened that night with the trio’s music: you just got carried away. Davis’s arpeggios gushed like a huge mountain stream over the rocky landscape created by bass and drums. Davis's playing was characterised by whirlpools, undercurrents, torrents, vortexes and tiny bays where the water (or improvisation) came to a standstill. Also with this trio, there were harmonic islands around which the music revolved. Moments of irrational intensity were extended in unexpected ways. The break that followed was, however, only very short, as if the current only wanted to regain strength. Then the music twitched, fidgeted, rushed and pulled at the listener again. Above all, it was the little things that were added that made this performance so extraordinary. Watts's cowbells, for example, or Davis' s piano preparations in the last part of the set. This piano trio was the most challenging and exciting one I’ve heard since listening to Cecil Taylor's Feel Trio. I guess Kris Davis delivered the performance of the festival again.