Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND. Main Photo: Steve Swell
I’ve been covering the 2016 Vision Festival daily so far as part of Suga’ in My Bowl Radio’s on air coverage. If you missed it, check out the festival preview or the installments on the opening night highlighting bassist/violinist/poet Henry Grimes and yesterday’s report on the Sun Ra Arkestra’s set. Additionally, Suga’ host and executive producer Joyce Jones has been on the scene as well, and it’s largely her photos you see in these posts.
Bill Cole’s Untempered Ensemble was joined by Douglas Dunn’s dancers for the opening set. Percussionist Lisette Santiago started the set with shimmering bells. Cole joined her on his trademark digeridoo and the steady, hypnotizing drone set the stage for Ras Moshe’s saxophone. The ensemble improvised freely throughout their single piece that constituted the set. Moshe revealed after the set that–in typical Vision style–that during rehearsals the plan was to just let things unfold and react to them. The trio has been playing for quite some time now, with semi-regular gigs at the Brooklyn Commons. Here, they were joined by Dunn’s dance troupe, who reacted to the music and interacted with the audience.
New Orleans native poet Tonya foster wrapped up her set with “New Orleans Biography” from her new book A Swarm of Bees in High Court, a stream of consciousness gumbo of cultural references, delivered alphabetically, that seemingly took one into the mind of a new Orleans resident through the last post-Katrina decade. Rejecting elegy or simple categorization, Foster’s piece reflected on the entirety of life Black residents might experience, with joys, sadness, anger, frustration, and mundane thoughts all rolled into one epic experience.
Trombonist Steve Swell’s Quintet came out swinging hard before settling into a softer, more meditative pace for their first composition. Drummer Chad Taylor and pianist Connie Crothers, and bassist Larry Roland all made repeat Vision appearances. Roland started from off one piece and was soon joined by Taylor, which led the way for Rob Brown’s explorations on sax, complemented by Crothers’s angular playing. Swell was content to sit back and let the piece evolve before taking a solo. that was far from Swell’s only mode, however, as he played like a man possessed at times, seemingly pushing the instrument to its limits with a sax-like intensity and speed. It resulted in one of the memorable performances of the festival so far.
In the night’s final set, saxophonist Kidd Jordan was in the center of the storm, though drummer Hamid Drake was, nominally, the leader. Jordan has the wonderful ability to alternate seamlessly between playing “out” and settling back into melody. The ensemble repeatedly fell into the Blues in the wide-ranging, freely improvised set consisting of a single, constantly evolving piece. Drake again showed his mastery on the drums, seemingly effortlessly reacting to the changing tempos and feel as the music evolved.

If you missed last night (or the entire festival so far), the good news is that there’s plenty more action this weekend before the Sunday evening closing. See the full schedule at Vision’s site and tell friends: Vision’s largely a grassroots effort.
We’ll be reporting from Vision throughout the festival and I’ll have a wrap-up when it’s all done. If you haven’t caught it already, you can hear our Vision Fest preview show with Marc Ribot, Geri Allen, Lisa Sokolov, and Andrew Cyrille discussing Grimes’s influence and festival organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker talking festival logistics. And, remember our next Suga’ in My Bowl show with Andrew Cyrille this Sunday at 11 PM EST on WBAI.
Hank Williams is an associate producer for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and webmaster for the Suga’ and Behind the Mic sites. He is also a PhD candidate in English and Africana Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center and teaches at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and The City College of New York.
Joyce Jones is the executive producer and host of Suga’ in My Bowl. She is a graphic designer and her photos have been published in Black Renaissance Noir.