Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones & Hank Williams

The annual Vision Fest returns his year for its 24th edition and as usual provides a week full of avant garde jazz, dance, poetry, and visual art all under the same roof and available for the same admission fee. Single day passes are available and it’s probably a good idea to grab them in advance since the individual evenings can sell out. It’s worth considering a full festival pass, which gets you entrance to all six nights.

The 2019 event moves back to a more traditional calendar slot, running from June 11-16 and returns to Roulette in downtown Brooklyn. Roulette’s extremely easy to access, though: it’s one long block from the Atlantic Avenue subways and LIRR station.

The festival officially started on Sunday June 9 with film screenings at Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan.

This post will highlight a few key performances to look forward to, but you can (and should) look at the full schedule since it’s not possible to focus on every performance there in a single post and one of the wonderful things about the festival are the sets that take you by surprise.

Andrew Cyrille | Joyce Jones/Sugabowl Photography

As is Vision’s tradition, the opening night on Tuesday June 11 is centered around an artist that Vision bestows with a lifetime achievement award. This year’s honoree is drummer Andrew Cyrille. As is Vision’s tradition, Cyrille will perform in multiple ensembles during the course of the evening with collaborators chosen by the honoree. Cyrille’s going for quantity this time and will be part of eight different ensembles throughout the evening.

Cyrille’s Haitian Fascination ensemble starts off the night, and here he’s joined by poet Quincy Troupe. Later on is a duet with saxophonist and frequent Vision participant saxophonist Kidd Jordan. Jordan’s wide-open, bluesy style should mesh well and will push the limits as both are consummate improvisors. Following that, drummer Milford Graves joins Cyrille for another duo that recalls the conversation between them in a live performance captured on their 1974 Dialogue of the Drums release.

In the second half of the evening, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and guitarist Brandon Ross join Cyrille for a trio. But one of the highlights of the night not to be missed is Cyrille’s duo with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Again, it reunites collaborators from an old recording, this time recalling the 1982 Andrew Cyrille Meets Peter Brötzmann release. Brötzmann rarely plays in the US these days, so any opportunity to see him is worth it.

Henry Grimes (left) and Marc Ribot at the 2016 Vision Fest. | Joyce Jones/Sugabowl Photography

Wednesday night kicks off with the return of guitarist Marc Ribot, who leads a quartet here along with drummer Chad Taylor–a frequent collaborator who was part of Ribot’s trio with bassist Henry Grimes. Nick Dunston (b) and Jay Rodriguez (sax, flute) round out the ensemble. Ribot’s set should be an evolution of his work with the Spiritual Unity ensembles and be a highly experimental, energetic show.

Later on Wednesday night, the stage gets turned over to poetry as Edwin Torres and Fred Moten’s words are accompanied by Brandon Lopez (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums). It should be on the more experimental, “out” end of the spectrum, but that’s one hallmark of Vision: not only does it give space to poets, but it gives them prime time slots, doesn’t relegate them to a secondary stage (which there hasn’t been for several years now), and doesn’t shy away from performances that may be conceptually difficult.

                                            (L-R) Kidd Jordan, Michael Bisio, Hamid Drake | Joyce Jones/Sugabowl Photography

Saxophonist Kidd Jordan earns the closing slot on Wednesday night. Here, he’s joined by frequent Vision collaborators in bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake along with pianist Joel Futterman in a tribute set dedicated to the late AACM member Alvin Fielder. This is another attribute of Vision: the constant reminders of those who’ve passed on and the commitment to continue their legacy through new and revisited work. Jordan’s set should be one of the highlights of the festival, though. While Jordan’s work fits in with the avant garde slant of the festival, it draws equally deeply from the blues and sacred music. One of the most impressive things is his ability to move seamlessly between points of inspiration and create improvised free-form narratives. Parker and Drake are perfect partners here as both have the flexibility to respond to whatever Jordan does and create moods of their own for Jordan to answer.

Melvin Gibbs at the 2016 Vision Fest | Joyce Jones/Sugabowl Photography

Thursday night again features a full night of performances, bookended by two particularly worth paying attention to. The God Particle ensemble brings together Melvin Gibbs (electric bass), Stephon Alexander (sax, laptop, EWI), James Brandon Lewis (sax), Luke Stewart (bass), Marc Cary (piano, synth), Graham Haynes (tpt), Will Calhoun (d), and David Pleasant (d, body perc). Gibbs’s ensemble builds on his interest in physics and collaborative work with Alexander, who’s a theoretical physicist and author of The Jazz of Physics. Their description probably sums up the set best: “God Particle will premiere a new work, Ogodo, the Cosmic Fabric, which examines the similarities between theoretical physics and African cosmology in relation to the concept of the “cosmic fabric” of space-time.”

To close Thursday evening, saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc leads Alto Gladness, featuring a trio of saxophonists along with William Parker (b) and Gerald Cleaver (d) in a tribute to Cecil Taylor that looks to be loud, boisterous fun.

Friday begins the first of a trio of afternoon panel discussions, held at 3 PM before the evening’s main performances start. This afternoon’s focus will be on Race and Gender in music and how it reflects economics and available resources for artists.

Later on Friday night, the duo of bassist William Parker and pianist Matthew Shipp hits, in what they say is their first duo appearance in the US in a decade. Expect intense and nuanced conversation between the two from this intimate set.

Saturday starts off with another rountable discussion (this time at 1 PM) on Practical Concerns of FreeJazz Artists). A large panel takes on a range of issues including housing, funding opportunities, education, and performance opportunities.

James Brandon Lewis at the 2016 Vision Festival | Hank Williams

Saturday night features a solid lineup as well, with several acts worth seeing. Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis’s Unruly Quintet takes the stage at 9:30 PM. The lineup is the same one as the critically acclaimed Unruly Manifesto released earlier this year: Luke Stewart (b), Warren “Trae” Crudup (d), Anthony Pirog (elec guitar), and Jaimie Branch (tpt). Pirog and Branch add depth to the already tight, hard-hitting trio that played Vision in 2016 and made a big impression with their raw energy and Lewis’s incredible honesty. Lewis brings the same raw power and finesse to the stage and the colors and textures Pirog and Branch add to the mix promise an extremely enjoyable and challenging set of music.

Douglas R. Ewart closes out Saturday night with a set that should be a little less high energy than the previous one, but still extremely satisfying as well, with bassist Luke Stewart returning and guitarist Brandon Ross joining the cast to pay tribute to Joseph Jarman.

Sunday starts with the final afternoon panel discussion on Understanding and Achieving Cultural Equity at 3 PM followed by several strong closing night sets. Heroes are Gang Leaders, led by James Brandon Lewis and poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, takes the work of the late poet, writer, music critic, and Vision performer Amiri Baraka as a starting point for their own combination of words and music that serves as a fitting follow-up to Baraka’s own Blue Ark ensembles that graced the Vision stage many times in the past.

Pianist D.D. Jackson draws the honor of closing out the entire festival on Sunday night with a band formed in tribute to the late saxophonist Hamiett Bluiett.

That’s a lot–and it still just scratches the surface of what’s on offer at Vision. Again, it’s worth jumping to the full schedule to see everyone scheduled to perform.

For a deeper dive into this year’s honoree Andrew Cyrille, check out our show that aired on June 4 on WBAI, which was actually the first of two parts. We’ve also previously profiled several of the artists highlighted in this piece.

Constants of the festival are the open atmosphere, where artists mingle before and after sets and outside the venue and the vending area with releases from the artists you’ve just heard–often on small or obscure labels–that you can likely have autographed on the spot to taker home and all sorts of other related things.

With as much change as there is every year in the arts scene and the continuing reports of either the resurgence or death of jazz (depending who you read), the Vision Festival endures as a reassuring institution that’s seemed to survive by keeping true to its roots and taking real ethical and artistic principles that it sticks to no matter what. For an impressive 24 years, that’s been the secret to success, if only by sheer force of will, lots of community support, and tons of behind-the-scenes and often donated labor that substitutes for corporate underwriting. But the above is simply an embodiment of the festival’s name: it creates one vision of what we might want the artistic world to look like and a template for bringing it closer to fruition.

We’ll also check back in with a review and photos after Vision wraps up.

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. Find him on Twitter @streetgriot