many great books and CDs picked up along the course of summer vacation version 1.0 so far and surely more to come, but now from the home office in plainsboro, nj comes this first quick report on the vision festival XI.
Wednesday, June 14
Sam Rivers' Rivbea Orchestra -- a 16-piece group that rocked more than they swung, but they rocked hard. played four pieces i think, and with each one my ears grew more accustomed. at first it sounded like rock or modern composition chaos, and in fact i was drawing parallels in my mind to a 20th-century symphonic piece with big masses of indifferentiated sounds. eventually things sorted themselves out more, rivers' compositions frequently turning on big riffs. not much section writing that i could tell, lots of good parts for soloists tho -- the trumpters all with big sounds that could cut through the throng, and three of the reeds players standing out for me: david pate on tenor, chris charles and daniel jordan on alto. note: rivers is 82 years old and as brilliant as ever.
Grachan Moncur III Quartet w/special guests -- this was an absolute treat. three tunes in the set: a medium-slow loping groove of a tune co-authored by moncur and the late great jackie mclean, and then two covers of classic material from the miles davis quintets, "footprints" from miles smiles and (at the audience's urgings for more music) "so what" from kind of blue. the first tune just simmered and smouldered along, with noriko kamo's monk-like comping and soloing on piano interplaying marvelously with moncur and khan jamal's vibes. moncur was the epitome of class and restraint (golf shirt and cap to boot). jamal's fierce swing countered his seemingly stoic demeanor and appearance (shaven head and face), with only some mic trouble on the high end of his vibraphone marring this performance. byard lancaster did not make it unfortunately, but a guitarist whose name i did not catch filled in with remarkably clean and dexterous lines. rhythm section -- calvin hill (b), richard pearson (dr) -- grooved and swung hard but with, again, a kind of classic restraint. this set woulda sat comfortably at blues alley or birdland, or on a blue note record. moncur seemed to have embouchure trouble on the last piece, and the group as a whole seemed to have a hard time knowing how to end the pieces, the flipside of this of course being that they coulda played all night. and none of us woulda minded one bit.
Warren Smith Ensemble -- i've seen smith before, at sangha cafe in takoma park with bill cole i think, and this six piece gave him a chance to air his own compositions. personnel changes here too, all of which i did not catch, but you had andrew lamb (tenor sax), roy campbell (trpt), jaribu shahid (b), one guy playing french horn and another playing a bass trombone (never seen or heard one of these, looks like a regular trombone except the part behind the player's left shoulder doubles back on itself the same way the top of a bari sax does). two pieces in this set, the first being rather restrained free-tempo piece that never really got off the ground for me (seemed to be a lot of talking b/w band members during, stuff they maybe coulda worked out in advance?), but the second piece was quite something: "a gift from william" [parker]. seems smith has been babysitting a balafon at william's request (taking up too much space in his and patricia's place), so he wrote a piece featuring the balafon (african xylophone with wood keys and gourd resonators). smith stated the melody on balafon to open and close, the band (particularly campbell and lamb) building to a great crescendo groove.
Sam Rivers Trio -- again, this man is 82 years old. true, his tenor playing is not quite as fiery as it was say, i dunno, 30 years ago. but he's still spry and wry and full of invention. this is his working trio (also rhythm section of the rivbea orchestra), and a nimble and fleet rhythm section this is. they took opportunities to flex their muscle on other instruments as well -- doug mathews (bass, bass clarinet) and anthony cole (percussion, tenor sax, piano) -- like their leader, i mean, who else in the whole of modern jazz has been such a virtuoso on such different instruments (tenor, soprano, flute and piano) as rivers? tho i kinda wasn't paying full attention during their reed trio (sorry, this is after 4 straight hours of live music), well cole plays a mean piano, like rivers turning in a masterful ballad performance on piano.
Thursday, June 15
Paul Rutherford (tmb), Torsten Muller (bs), Dylan van der Schyff (dr) -- fantastic stuff, a model of european restraint and if i can say so classicism in free improvisation. these guys never raised their voices once but provided 40 minutes of continually inventive interplay.
Coltrane Tribute Band: Roy Campbell (trpt), Louis Belogenis (rds), Andrew Bemkey (pno), Reggie Workman (bs), Rashied Ali (dr) plus Steve Dalachinsky (poet). i have to say, even though poetry is my business, with a lineup like this i want to hear the music instead of the poetry. this set consisted of one long piece: bill seemed to think it was a coltrane cover but i was hard pressed to identify it as any single tune (tho belogenis was quoting plenty of discernable coltrane melodies under dalachinsky's recitation). campbell was incredible, convincing me more and more that he's one of the very premier trumpters of the moment, with incredible virtuosity and capable of a classic warm tone that is hard to beat. belogenis is a tenor to be reckoned with. i know him through his knitting factory duo recording with rashied ali: he takes coltrane as a clear model but does his own thing with it, piles on overtones very much like sanders, wright, ware and the other masters. plus he's extremely generous: he backs off when it's not his turn and then knocks it outta the park. bemkey is very interesting to listen to, esp towards the end when he strummed the strings inside the piano. workman is the master, a wide smile beaming from behind his shades, glissandi and strums and delayed arcos all in an africa/brass kinda groove. and ali of course the other master, tho again generously laying back and never stepping up for a solo.
i had to step out for some dinner and air during Maria Naidu (dance) & Dennis Gonzalez (trumpet), and then Day & Taxi as well (Christoph Gallio on soprano, Christian Weber on bass, and Michael Griener on drums).
but coming back for the last set of the night was quite something: Bill Dixon (trpt), George Lewis (tmb, elec) + Videosonic Projections. lewis of course has been the leading american pioneer of extended trombone technique now for probably 30 years (too bad he couldn't have share the stage with his british counterpart paul rutherford!) and likewise dixon who having formed the ny contemporary five with tchicai and shepp and then played on the cecil taylor blue notes has continued charting his own way into extended trumpet technique but probably getting even less recognition than lewis (which is to say not much). though dimming the stage lights and having no rhythm instruments to keep things moving made this a difficult performance to attend to at the end of the night -- actually had this been the 8pm show and the coltrane tribute band the late show, that woulda totally worked -- nevertheless this was utterly fascinating stuff. not only can these guys coax every bleep, blurp, dooweeet thhhhwip and brwawwwp out of their respective horns, but filter it all through various live electronic processing and you have an amazing palette from which to work. particularly, dixon's half-lip low tones evoke for me the 12-foot steel trumptets of tibetan buddhist monks, while his breathy thwips when caught in a delay loop could easily make the rhythm track for an piece of electronica dance music. there was a video projection as well as some found speech loops interspersed but they never really integrated into the performance for me. and like i said it was all a bit static for 11pm -- fun to think of what bassist and drummer you could add to make this a killer quartet -- but in terms of extended brass technique this stuff was primo. (like it makes no sense to me amplify and process a saxophone for example but makes complete sense to me for a brass instrument.)
tonight: hamid drake's bindu, rob brown quartet, billy bang quintet, henry grimes (who sat right behind us the whole night wednesday) with poetry. and then there's all day saturday and sunday. stay tuned!