DSC_0195Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND. Main Photo: Dave Burrell and Hamid Drake
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, and Day 4’s report focusing on Michele Rosewoman’s New YorUba. 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.
The pyrotechnics began early Saturday evening, as saxophonist Hamiett Bluiett drew the early evening set, leading a quartet with pianist DD Jackson, drummer Hamid Drake, and Bob Stewart on tuba. Poet David Mills read some of his work in a following set, including one epic-length poem, “Blues People” dedicated to the late Amiri Baraka.

The tone of the evening took a turn when trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith took to the stage, matched with a quartet of viola players including Jason Kao Hwang and an artist named Hardedge on electronics..
The set displayed one of Vision’s core principles: being open to highly experimental work that pushes the boundaries and occasionally demands a lot from the audience. Such was the case with this combination. Aside from the unusual (for jazz, at least) mix of instruments, the music itself was complex and demanded a lot of attention to appreciate the subtlety, such as Smith’s matching the notes of the violas in one part of the composition. The overall mood, however, was one of serenity and contemplation. Smith ended the set verbally imploring the audience to find beauty in everyday life; an appropriate coda to the performed piece titled “Pacifica”, itself inspired by the Pacific Ocean and, in Smith’s words, “the depth at which light penetrates water.”
The final set of the night was a duo between pianist Dave Burrell and the indefatigable drummer Hamid Drake, returning re-energized after his electrifying performance in the night’s opening set with Hamiet Bluiett.
The two performed a suite titled “Paradox of Freedom”. It started and ended with the title piece, with compositions titled “Cheap Shot” and “Long Time Coming” in the middle.
Burrell alternated between sharp, angular notes and more melodic playing, using several different repeated phrases as an entry point for improvisation and exploration. Drake was the perfect partner, responding to Burrell’s thoughts, filling in with spots of color where appropriate, and using his ability to react quickly to changing textures to the maximum effect.
Jazz duos can be difficult for listeners, and likely players as well, since the task of moving the narrative forward rests on fewer players. Conversely, duos make it easier to concentrate on the contributions of each to the whole. Interaction becomes key and intimacy between players is warmly rewarded. The latter advantages were on display and the two sounded like a much larger combo, with Burrell using the percussive nature of the piano to complement Drake in places.
It seems trite to observe that Drake is a master drummer, but he is. He responded seamlessly to Burrell and displayed an astonishing range of textures on the drum set. He was allowed to cut loose for a brief moment near the end of their set, however, and rewarded the audience with a thunderous solo. While drum solos are often a formality (and at worst are something to be endured) Drake is the type of drummer who can indeed make the most of a solo, organically advancing ideas and building complex narratives that feel fresh and compelling. This is what, I would imagine, all musicians aspire to. The crowd that nearly filled Judson’s main auditorium was rewarded for their attention.

This wraps up our daily Vision coverage, but we’ll check back in with a full review including the final night’s closing performances. Be sure to tune in to our next Suga’ in My Bowl show with drummer Andrew Cyrille this Sunday at 11 PM EST on WBAI and streaming worldwide online.
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.