just now up after a late night at the visionfestival XI last night and quite a fest it's been with still one last night and the david s ware quartet to go.
Friday, June 16
i started in with Bindu -- Hamid Drake (dr), Sabir Mateen (rds), Daniel Carter (rds, trpt), Greg Ward (alto sax), Ernest Dawkins (tnr sax) -- who as i recall did two numbers, maybe three but the first two stood out in my minds anyway and i did not take notes. the first was a medium-tempo blast with drake behind the kit and for the second number he sat behind tabla drums and cooled things down a bit. ward was the youngest of the bunch and he reminded me of jimmy lyons not quite in tone but in the way he continually worked the middle register of the horn without going out for the pyrotechnics of the upper registers. dawkins was very impressive, played with a lot of fire, definitely need to check out more of his work. carter is someone whose work is starting to come more into my attention (for example his lead role in william parker's painter's spring recording) but for some reason his playing in stood out the least for me in this set, i mean i do remember him playing a decisive role in the performance for what is essentially a reed quartet with percussion. mateen though stood out loud and clear: i've heard him perform a couple of times, once with raphe malik at UMD i think and then at previous visionfests over the years, and always thought him very competant if not altogether distinctive. but this week he has really cut through with serious showstopping pyrotechnic on tenor and alto. bindu has a CD out on the french rogue art label and i don't know how permanent a group this is (drake is afterall one of the busiest guys on the scene) but definitely worth checking out for the unique and accomplished lineup.
Rob Brown Quartet -- Rob Brown (alto sax), Craig Taborn (pno), William Parker (bs), Gerald Cleaver (dr). brown is one of my fave altos on the scene and he's been busy in the studios, especially for the portuguese clean feed label, on which i've fallen behind and so was eager to hear what he's been up to. this is a formidable group, so much so that brown may have actually upstaged himself in putting it together. his compositions were to my ears some of the best of the festival: a medium groove 5/4 piece, a medium-fast out-of-tempo rising disjointed melody, and a slower darker broding kind of piece with just enough brightness coming through the cracks. while the whole band certainly rose to the occasion, taborn really impressed. i've seen him before, in a trio with susie ibarra and jennifer choi at the sackler gallery at the very least, but here he really excelled -- great speed and power, cross-handed work, inside the piano stumming and plucking, and just a touch of electronics to color the proceedings.
Billy Bang Quintet: Billy Bang (vln), James Zollar (trpt), Andrew Bemkey (pno), Todd Nicholson (bs), Newman Taylor Baker (dr) -- i've seen billy bang on a number of occasions and he's always a joy to watch, but this set was also outstanding. it never struck me as expicitly before (thought perhaps it has subconsciously and i never noticed it) how much bang's recent melodies have an oriental inflection, coming as they do out of his vietnam experience. but quite literally these pizzicato melodies sound very much like they could be coming off a japanese koto-type string instrument. thus no matter how much they may go to and exceeed the outer reaches of the changes, bang's performances always have a strong grounding in melody and derive much of their appeal from this. zollar is a great discovery for me, possessed as he is of a remarkably big brassy tone, and bemkey's lyricism reminded me very much of mccoy tyner's in places.
Saturday Evening, June 17
Slammin' The Infinite: Steve Swell (tmb), Sabir Mateen (rds), Matthew Heyner (bs), Klaus Kugel (dr), John Blum (pno) -- this is a band with which i had limited prior familiarty, mateen being the only player i knew and who again immediately rose to the occasion and cut through with some blistering playing. i found swell's playing very competant but did not stand out very much for me, clearly a lot of energy going into the playing all the same. blum and heyner made an interesting team: both younger guys both posessed of serious chops, the former nearly flailing away as he attacked the keys and the latter going at the fretboard with both hands like some heavy metal band (the long black hair adding to this image i suppose). blum i thought was perhaps the most inexperienced in terms of his comping cutting too much into the soloist from time to time, as if he's still learning how to show off his chops but and still give enough room and deference to the soloist. most impressive of all in this group perhaps tho was kugel (far right), clearly a very european drummer poised perhaps midway between the speed and color of lovens and the power of nilssen-love. i noticed most of all the lightness and quickness of his cymbal work and incredible hand speed. total economy of motion as well, every bit of energy being directed into the music.
Roscoe Mitchell Quartet: Roscoe Mitchell (rds), Corey Wilkes (trpt), Harrison Bankhead (bs), Vincent Davis (dr) -- you know, there's simply no one else who even approaches the area mitchell continues to explore. as if to say, sit back new yawkers and lemme show y'all how we do it in chiCAHHHgo! and it's not just the incredibly broad tonal range he possesses on soprano and alto or his ability to "deconstruct" melody, to take a line and splinter it into any number of directions. and of course the circular breathing technique he has mastered allows him to do this (splinter and graft) simultaneously for as long as he seemingly wishes. add to all this his fellow players: bankhead, again like billy bang the other night able at once to evoke a roots-music sound that makes his instrument sound like something from another african or asian culture and then also at the same time show a remarkable western virtuosity; davis, so powerful a drummer that his kit literally would not stay on the floor, so frequently did he have to stop playing one drum in order to bring it back closer to him; and wilkes, now let's just say a couple of things here. the generosity, first of all, of mitchell putting a young player and student up there on stage as an equal. and secondly, wilkes has the chops to step into that equal footing and, dare i say, upstage the master? i mean, i was thinking the other day about extended brass technique (relative to lewis and dixon) and thinking, since no one's done it to my knowledge before, it must not be possible to circular breathe on a brass instrument. no sooner do i think this than wilkes goes and does it. and what else does he do? he pulls a kirk. that's right, he plays two trumptets (or rather, a trumpet and flugelhorn) simultaneously. trust me, wilkes is going places.
i had to cut out on the next two acts -- a joe morris (gtr) & barre phillips (b) duo, which i woulda been much more receptive to earlier in the evening and before the energy music of the previous two acts; and a jason kao wwang (vln) quartet in part just to decompress and not run the risk of saturation/overload. i wanted my full faculties for By Any Means: Charles Gayle (tnr sax), William Parker (bs), Rashied Ali (dr). earlier in the evening kevin and i say gayle and i spoke to him for a minute, asked if he was going to play tenor or piano or a little bit of both or wait till he got on stage to decide, and he said "no, no tenor!" apparently he switched to alto two years or so, i asked him why and he said something like the tenor had gotten "too hot" and he needed to put it down and try something else for a change. indeed, with gayle's reputation as the most ferocious tenor on the block -- one that belies his very sweet and personable demeanor -- i could not imagine what he was going to do on alto unless it would literally melt or crumble away in his hands. well, this trio turned in perhaps the most moving performance of the festival. a lot of the biting and barking fire that gayle used to put into the tenor is still there on the alto, but i think the fact that it's a smaller horn has forced him to find or rediscover, believe it or not, a lyricism. the second of three pieces, a ballad, was so profoundly filled with the cries of human spirit, the kind that only coleman evokes on "lonely woman" and dolphy evokes on "god bless the child." that and also just to watch the two other masters, parker and ali, was worth the price of the whole weekend.
tonight still awaits...