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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Vision Festival #24 2019 - Day 6

By Martin Schray

The last day of the festival began with a quartet called TISM, an acronym that stands for the first names of Tom Rainey (drums), Ingrid Laubrock (sax), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano) and Mark Feldman (violin). The band filled a gap because for the first time the festival referred to a European approach to improvised music (Courvoisier comes from Switzerland, Laubrock from Germany), which met musicians associated with the New York downtown scene. The main focus was on extended techniques. Rainey used all sorts of additional elements to create sounds, Courvoisier played the interior of the piano and prepared parts of the instrument, creating abstract rhythmic blocks that then clashed with Feldman’s and Laubrock's curved lines. A tight field of tension was established that way. The most interesting figure in this arrangement was Courvoisier, as the music she generated (harp-like notes, strident piano clusters, xylophone sounds) enormously expanded the spectrum and at the same time drove the improvisation forward.

This abstract approach was continued and deepened with Jason Kao Hwang's Human Rites Trio. Hwang (violin) was joined by Andrew Drury (drums) and Ken Filiano (bass). The tension of the trio's music was shaped by the contrast of weird new classical music and blues runs. Especially Filiano was responsible for it and reminded of the music of Willie Dixon ("Spoonful"), with Drury's drums swinging loosely to it and Hwang playing folk song melodies. This was reminiscent of the Kronos Quartet’s version of “Purple Haze“. But most of the time sound generation was in the foreground, e.g. when Drury blew into the opening of a small bell and moved it on the drumkit.

Then, however, the focus of the music shifted again, back to Afro-American jazz history, visual art, dance, and poetry. Dance of the Comedians, a project by the German artist Jorgo Schäfer with Vincent Chancey (french horn), Joe Fonda (bass) and Jeremy Carlstedt (drums), was introduced with a Nietzsche text recited by Schäfer on which the name of the band went back to. Before the show it was announced that Schäfer would create a work of art, whereby most probably expected a painting. But the whole thing was rather the unveiling of a work of art in which Schäfer gradually presented nine paintings with similar themes, showing black skeletons. In addition, Chancey's french horn initiated a new timbre for the festival, which was also possible because he used his right hand as a kind of muffler with which he could make the horn sound like a cornet. Joe Fonda and Jeremy Carlstedt provided a solid rhythmic foundation for this.

Dance of the Comedians
If Chancey's trio was already a step in the direction of jazz history, Amina Claudine Myers (piano, vocals) went even further in this direction. Myers played classical gospel songs, among others an extended version of “Go Down Moses“. She often improvised syllables in the six pieces presented, but she always remained song-orientated. Only the fifth piece was more freely improvised and more ambitious. In the last song Myers thanked the great ones and by that also the festival for the love, the families and the blessings. The music was accompanied by a choreography of the 72-year-old African-American dancer Dianne McIntyre, who has won numerous honors for her work including an Emmy nomination, three Bessie Awards and a Helen Hayes Award. She was joined by Brooklyn locals Careitha Davis and Matia Johnson for her performance.

With the penultimate act, the festival program tried to get back to the modern age again and increasingly relied on poetry and vocals on it. The large formation Heroes Are Gang Leaders under the direction of Thomas Ellis Sayers consisted of James Brandon Lewis (tenor saxophone), Melanie Dyer (viola), Luke Stewart (bass), Jenna Camille (keyboards), vocals), Randall Horton (poetry), Devin Brahja Waldman (alto sax, synth), Jaimie Branch (trumpet), Bonita Penn (poetry), Nettie Chickering (vocals), Brandon Moses (guitar) and Warren “Trae“ Crudup (drums). With Brandon Lewis, Branch and Stewart three members of the Unruly Quintet, which rocked the house the day before, were on stage but this project could not reach the intensity of that quintet. Ultimately, the music was reminiscent of an ambitious jazz musical with occasional free outbursts that reflected anger and rage.

D.D. Jackson Bluiett Tribute Band
As on two other festival days, the day - and thus the festival - ended with a tribute concert, this time for Hamiett Bluiett, the great saxophonist and clarinetist who died in October 2018. D.D. Jackson, the pianist responsible for the project, announced in the program notes that the concert would be a “collective attempt to reflect on Bluiett's deep impact“, in which Bluiett's pieces as well as some of his favorites by other composers would be used as starting points for the band’s own improvisations. At first glimpse the compositions seemed rather conventional, a classical head-solo-structure was mainly used. However, this soon proved to be a deceptive manoeuvre enabling Darius Jones (alto saxophone) and James Carter (baritone and soprano saxophone) to show their extraordinary musical abilities. This was also supported by an exquisite rhythm section around William Parker on bass and Ronnie Burrage on drums, in which the legendary percussionist Juma Sultan proved to be the icing on the cake. When in the opening track "Thelonious Monk" the rhythm section simply stopped playing, Carter and Jones literally chopped up the head. Jackson played percussive chords and clusters that further fueled the already driving rhythm. Altogether a really worthy conclusion of a very good festival.

To sum up, the 24th Vision Festival was musically denser than the festival the year before and there were fewer mediocre shows in the end. The highlights this year were certainly the performances of God Particle, Kris Davis's Trio January Painters, and James Brandon Lewis Unruly Quintet. However, there is still room for improvement for the anniversary festival next year. The really annoying photographers should be clearly put in their place, as the loud clicking noises of the cameras are particularly annoying. Moreover, a stronger integration of European musicians would also be desirable, because the community idea is a worldwide one.


Anonymous said...

Hi Martin - a great way to spend your holidays! Thank you for all the excellent work you did. To use Paul's words: Ich beneide dich auch!

Nick Ostrum said...

Truly excellent reporting. It's been too many years since I have caught even a night of the Vision Fest. Reading these nightly reviews brings back good memories, even if it also reminds me of what I am missing. Anyway, well done!

Anonymous said...

Hi Martin...appreciate your reporting and reviews. I personally don't agree on everything you wrote but that's why we have apples and oranges. My only comment and not on your reporting is the Vision Festival itself. A lot of the same people appear every year, under the guise of a different named group, but essentially the same artists. The vision festivals was more diverse in the earlier years and some of the groups that appeared should have never appeared...just not good enough.

Keith said...

Excellent job, Martin! Maybe next year I'll join you in reporting if I'm able to return! My personal favorite performances were Davis/Parker/Watts, Lopez/Cleaver, and Laubrock/Courvoisier/Feldman/Rainey. It was my first Vision, and it's very clear it's primarily a celebration of capital j Jazz as an American artform, with an emphasis on performers that established the foundation. It did an excellent job of incorporating diverse artforms (poetry, dance, visual arts, etc.) with the music, but I do agree that more diversity in the actual music would have been more exciting. More international, women, and young improvisers; integrating more non-traditional or folk improvised forms with the more traditional jazz forms; etc. All in all a wonderful experience though.

Martin Schray said...

Thanks for all the comments.
Anonymous, I agree with a lot you say. Compared to last year several names turned up again, that's true. I guess it's very difficult to organize a six-day-festival with musicians that are mainly not from the Ney York scene, due to financial reasons. Still, the community idea was so often stressed, that they should at least try to get more diversification to the program.
I want to point out as well that it was nice to meet you, Keith, and your wife. It was inspiring to exchange views on the music. I'd like to mention some other names as well - Olli, Matthias, Stephen Joerg from AUM etc. I found the audience more diversified than last year, by the way. What was also striking was the fact that there were days with a rather poor audience accaptance. Maybe due to the fact the Stone's program was also quite attractive (Myra Melford's residency).

slovenlyeric said...

Thank you, Martin, for your excellent reporting. I've been to most of the past Vision festivals, and essentially certain people play every year, and they form the backbone of the Arts for Arts Collective. This year I took a few nights off from Vision to see some of the other amazing performances going on concurrently. I went to 2 performances at The Stone by Myra Melford, who you noted. Her quintet with Mary Halvorson, Ingrid Laubrock, Tomeka Reid, and Suzy Ibarra was spectacular and attracted a fully sold-out crowd, and her set with Cuong Vuo, Rudy Royston, and Stomu Takeishi (on the following eve) was also pure joy. Vision Week is always a highlight of the year in New York, and I met many old friends from out of town who were in the city for the festival.

Anonymous said...

If the community is world why are you ONLY asking for Europeans ...South America has a lot of musicians worth of listenng ,and some of them even live in New York like pioneer free improviser Guillermo Gregorio who began in the early 60´s .......