Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND. Main Photo: Michele Rosewoman
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, day two’s report on the Sun Ra Arkestra’s set, or day 3’s report. 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.
Friday night’s closing set belonged to pianist Michele Rosewoman, who returned to Vision, this time with an 11-member version of her New YorUba ensemble in tow and playing both old pieces and a new work receiving its first public performance at Vision.
The set started with “Old Calabar” from the Abakuá tradition, a version of which appears on her New YorUba release. New YorUba melds jazz improvisation with Afro-Cuban rhythms, drawing heavily on sacred music. The inclusion in this year’s Vision broadens the scope of the festival and what one might think of as jazz avant garde.
Appropriately enough, Rosewoman introduced the second piece, “Oru De Oro”, composed with the help of a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant and receiving it’s public premiere, explaining that “although this is not of the free jazz tradition, it grows out of that tradition”. Drums–especially African percussion–were at the center of the piece.
The piece evolved organically around the expansive rhythm section, buoyed by an impressive brass lineup including Stacy Dillard and Roman Filiu on saxes, Chris Wasahburne on trombone, and Alex Norris on trumpet. A sacred sequence of rhythms (called the Oru Igbodu) played on bata drums set the tone for the piece along with Cuban folklorist Roman Diaz’s expressive vocals.

“Reza a Ochun (Prayer for Ochun)” closed the set. Amma McKen returned to the stage to sing lead vocals and her deep, soaring voice formed the centerpiece of the song. In this song, the big band took a turn in an incredibly funky direction, showing that they can swing as hard as anyone. Rosewoman played off McKen’s vocals in an almost call-and-response pattern in a song that seemed to end way too soon.
Vocalist Amma Mcken

Vocalist Amma Mcken

The ensemble showed yet another way of approaching the idea of a big band. Instead of leaning on the sheer power of an expansive brass section, New YorUba drew out the subtlety and complexity of the music, which, at times, sounded pleasantly sparse, concealing the incredible difficulty of the exchange.
While we’re now seeing renewed interest in what’s called Spiritual Jazz (thanks, in part, to the breakout success of saxophonist Kamasi Washington) New YorUba reveals a basic element of spirituality and jazz: one that many musicians would argue is at the core of their work. In this case, it’s a return to the very roots of the musical tradition.
Earlier sets included drummer William Hooker’s ensemble, accompanied by dancer Goussy Celestin; vocalist Fay Victor’s Sound Noise Quartet; poet Bob Holman and bassist Todd Nicholson’s collaboration in memory of late violinist Billy Bang; and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore’s ensemble with percussionist Michael Wimberly.

See the full schedule at Vision’s site for info on Sunday night’s sets 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, tune in to our next Suga’ in My Bowl show with drummer 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.