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Poet Steve Dalachinsky opened Vision Fest 19’s second day on Thursday, June 12th. Dalachinsky’s a Vision stalwart and fittingly gave tribute to Amiri Baraka, as all poets and many other performers are this year. “Amiri was a person who should’ve been with us forever”, Dalachinsky said as he reflected on his relationship with Baraka. Dalachinsky dedicated one of his own poems, “Saga of the Outlaws #3”, to Baraka.

Dalachinsky’s work shares some lineage with Baraka’s, with influences of jazz and the free flowing verse of the beats and broadly eclectic references that force one to listen deeply. Although he’s read with musicians before, Dalachinsky read solo this time, inviting listeners to delve deep into the words and connections they invoked and taking in the improvisational rhythms of the words themselves and his delivery.

The Wimberly Harlem Ensemble then took the stage. Wimberly mixed African dance with instruments. Sabir Mateen, now living in Italy, returned to play Vision, armed with flute and sax. Meanwhile, Michael Wimberly tirelessly worked the stage, playing balafon, oud, and several percussive instruments. Larry Roland (bass) and Nioka Workman (cello) ably held down the rhythm section. Diane Harvey-Salaam and Souleyman Bodolo added and important dance and theatrical element to their composition titled “Signs and Rituals”.

In a break from the music, visual artist Jeff Schlanger was presented with a lifetime achievement award. “I’ve tried to be the quietest man in the room for 19 years”, Schlanger said, and this is usually the case, though his art speaks volumes. Schlanger probably spoke more than he has in the entire time he’s been at Vision Fest, but in keeping with the spirit of the entire festival this year, gave important historical context from his memory of being a longtime participant in the music scene.

“I’ve tried to be the quietest man in the room for 19 years”—Visual Jeff Schlanger

Schlanger, who goes by the moniker musicWitness®, recalled being at the first Vision Fest on Lafayette Street and spoke to the centrality of dance and movement in Vision. He also recalled many artists who have made their transition: poets Amiri Baraka, Louis Reyes Rivera, and Sekou Sundiata; all of whom were performers at past Vision Fests.

Schlanger is omnipresent at the Festival, quietly composing his vibrant drawings in front of the stage, improvising just as the musicians are and drawing inspiration from what happens a few feet in front of him. For the past several years, his work has been projected as a backdrop during the performances. His body of work is large enough that what one sees usually reflects what is going on onstage at the time. Schlanger’s work exhibits the same feeling of freeform dynamism that one hears in the performances at Vision. You can see a clip of his process in the following clip.

I’ve seen emerging electric guitarist Mary Halvorson several times, and always feel good about the future of the music when I see her perform. She was joined by Susan Alcorn on steel pedal guitar this evening and the duo did an excellent job of playing off of each other, with Alcorn providing a good counterpoint to Halvorson’s richly textured, brooding, work.

The final set of the evening featured a trio of Vision Fest regulars: saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, drummer Hamid Drake, and bassist William Parker. It’s always a treat to hear Brötzmann, as his playing is electrifying and when joined by the solid rhythm section of Drake and Parker, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a powerful, earth-shaking performance.

Brötzmann, who was given a lifetime achievement award in 2011 at Vision Festival 16, fits the Vision ethos well. While he’s known in this context as a musician, he’s an accomplished visual artist and designer as well, having done several solo art shows in Europe, a few of which can be seen on his website.

Drake started the set solo, with a remembrance of Roy Campbell and Amiri Baraka. Parker and, finally Brötzmann then joined him on the alto sax. The set started slowly with a long solo by Drake, who was joined by Parker.

The quiet and introspective feel eventually gave way to Brötzmann’s familiar high register squeals as he pushed the sax to its limits. Drake and Parker easily kept up and kept pushing Brötzmann ahead.

On Friday, June 13th, saxophonist Jameel Moondoc’s quintet devoted its set to another departed Vision stalwart, trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr, who died in January 2014. Moondoc, trombonist Steve Swell, and drummer Newman Taylor Baker all appeared on Campbell’s last CD, See You on the Other Side (2013). Nathan Breedlove (trumpet) and Hilliard Green (bass) rounded out the quintet.

The quintet’s renditions of Campbell compositions “Charmain” and “Thanks to the Creator” provided the individual members ample room to stretch out, while bringing out the best in the songs’ melodies.

Electric guitarist James Blood Ulmer’s Music Revelation Ensemble Revisited capped off Friday night with a blistering instrumental set. Each Vision Fest illuminates at least one group that stands out from the rest, and Ulmer’s ensemble did so this year. Ulmer’s far from a newcomer and is well established in the blues scene, but may not be the first thing people think about in the context of free jazz, but fit brilliantly into the format.

Ulmer promised a retrospective of 20 years of his work, guided by guitar harmolodics, fittingly drawing a connection to the great saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who he joined in a rare NYC concert himself not too far away in Brooklyn this week. Calvin Rochester’s powerful drumming was the perfect counterpoint to Ulmer’s blues-inflected guitar on the first few songs, with Calvin “The Truth” Jones (bass) rounding out the rhythm section.

Near the end of the set Ulmer gave Rochester a chance to let loose, and he more than rose to the occasion with a blistering solo that showed (not that there was any doubt) that he had plenty to say in addition to being an excellent foil for Ulmer and providing color throughout the set.

Ulmer, sharply dressed in a yellow suit, looked the quintessential bluesman, though perfectly grasped the ethos of Vision, drawing from deep in the well of the blues, yet playing out and connecting it all to the jazz tradition. That’s a tall order, but the Music Revelation Ensemble Revisited delivered in style, sending us off into the cool night with their songs still in our heads.

Do you have any favorite moments? Add your thoughts in the comments!

You can see the Vision Fest 19 magazine with full days’ lineups, interviews, and more on Issuu here.

All photos courtesy of Joyce Jones and used with permission. Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licensed.

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 producer and host for Suga’ in My Bowl on WBAI Radio and a graphic artist.