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It’s that time of year again: time for New York’s weeklong avantjazz blowout run by the scrappy nonprofit Arts for Art organization. While larger, bigger festivals have crashed and burned over the years,  the Vision Festival just keeps rolling on, getting better every year and setting a high bar for improvised music.

For 2017, the festival returns to the historic Judson Memorial Church with nightly concerts from May 29-June 3, with an all-day conference at Columbia University on Thursday June 1 and a new series of after-hours midnight sets  at the cozy Nublu on Ave C. This is all in addition to the usual well-managed mayhem at the Judson mothership where you can casually run into visual artists like Jeff Schlanger, furiously sketching and translating the sound to lines, shapes, and color or the musicians themselves, who often hang out to see other sets. There’s also the marketplace in Judson’s basement, where you can grab a drink, or buy some music (and probably get it signed by at least one of the musicians).

Although Vision’s focus is avant garde jazz and poetry, the scope and variety shows how broad a spectrum there is even within that category. There are acoustic acts, ones that experiment with various electronic instruments and other electronics, duos, trios, big bands, the occasional solo act, with the most common thread being a fierce allegiance to Wayne Shorter’s definition of jazz as challenge– “I dare you”–to which Vision’s artists respond “challenge accepted.”

With that said, I’ll walk through a few highlights (with an admitted slight bias to former Suga’ in My Bowl guests) of acts I’m looking forward to. With those caveats admitted up front, I’ll say that one of the great pleasures of Vision is learning about someone new or getting blown away by the set of someone you’d heard or seen before and not appreciated. So while this guide is meant to point to a few highlights, leave yourself open to listening to a few new things. Some might hit; others might not, but that’s the way it goes with challenges and taking risks. When they pay off, however, they pay off big time.

Monday May 29

Pianist and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore is the focus of tonight’s sets and recipient of this year’s lifetime achievement award from Vision. Cooper-Moore is featured in three ensembles over the course of the evening: In Order to Survive, Digital Primitives, and Black Host. Sandwiched between the sets is poet Carl Hancock Rux, who takes the stage at 9 PM with DJ Hamilton Kirby. Rux’s storytelling skills are phenomenal, as is his grasp of music. Expect a highly lyrical, deeply captivating set.

William Parker’s “In Order to Survive” is appearing in just one of its numerous permutations this evening, but here the quartet of bassist Parker, saxophonist Rob Brown, drummer Hamid Drake, and Cooper-Moore on piano joins some of the most frequent collaborators in the ensemble. It also fuses a quartet that thoroughly embraces the philosophy of free improvisation, which makes it somewhat difficult to predict exactly where things will go, but it’s sure to be one of the highlights of the evening and the festival itself. See the video on the Vision page for an idea of that to expect.

“Digital Primitives”, on the other hand, joins Cooper-Moore with Assif Tsahar (tenor sax), Chad Taylor (drums, m’bira), and Brian Price (tenor sax). Here, Cooper-Moore’s weapons of choice will be his hand-crafted instruments, which promises a much different interpretation of free jazz. Check out the video on the Vision page for a sample of their work.

The evening’s closing set promises that “Black Host”  will “bring forth original compositions that blend modern jazz, free music, psych, post-punk and electrified noise with painstaking detail and heady abandon. A reverb-drenched and incisive stew of rhapsodic piano, searing alto and fractured guitar over rhythms that are alternately chunky and airy, rendered with a tremendous live energy.” Cooper-Moore returns to piano for this set and one can expect a high energy climax to end the evening. Again, Vision’s page has a video.

For a much deeper dive into Cooper-Moore, check out Suga in My Bowl’s show focused on his career.

Tuesday May 30

Yoshiko Chuma’s “School of Hard Knocks” shows a different end of the Vision spectrum, combining dancers, visual projections and music to kick off the evening’s festivities. The “Jazz and Poetry Choir Collective,” on the other hand, fulfills Vision’s longstanding practice of centering experimental poetry and music collaborations.

Drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s ‘Double Trio” teams him up with frequent collaborator, guitarist Mary Halvorson. Halvorson’s own career is starting to take off and her work with fellow electric guitarist Marc Ribot always produces brilliant exchanges of exciting improvised work.

Closing out the evening are “TRIO3,” who make a welcome return to the Vision Fest. This time, the core veteran trio of saxophonist Oliver Lake, bassist Reggie Workman, and drummer Andrew Cyrille are joined by Marc Cary on piano and Ayana Workman, who’ll read text from “Suite for Courage.” TRIO3 is always worth catching and will likely be playing some music from their just-released Visiting Texture album. See Vision’s page for a video of them in action.

Wednesday May 31

The trio of Whit Dickey (drums), Mat Maneri (viola), and Matthew Shipp (piano) combines three Vision regulars, but for the first time in this specific combination, according to Vision organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker. In a later set, violinist Jason Kao Hwang’s “Burning Bridge” brings tuba player Joe Daley back in a medium-sized ensemble. Poet Tracie Morris returns to Vision after a long hiatus accompanied by guitarist Marvin Sewell for a short set that promises a set rooted in Morris’s bluesy spoken word.

Saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Charles Gayle also makes a return, joined by Vision stalwart William Parker on bass and
Michael TA Thompson on drums for the closing set. It’s a rare treat to get to see Gayle, and you should do so. Vision’s page has a video from 3 years ago, when he received a lifetime achievement award. For a much deeper dive into Gayle, I’ll send you to the Suga’ archives again, where we discussed Gayle’s career in a Vision preview.

Thursday June 1

If you’re a hardcore Vision fan and attending several (all?) nights, you might be running a little ragged by now, but Thursday’s not a night to skip.

First, however, if you’re on vacation or can manage a day off from work, then head to Columbia University for a free Vision Fest-focused conference titled “The Sound of Resistance.” Academics, including Ingrid Monson (Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call out to Jazz and Africa; Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction) and Fred Moten (In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition) will be joined by Cooper-Moore, Patricia Nicholson Parker, and many others to go deeper into the state of improvised music, politics, and culture.

Head back to Judson in the evening for Odean Pope’s “Saxophone Choir”, which starts things off at Judson with a 7 PM set. Poet Jesus Papoleto Melendez follows with a short set (which will hopefully include his poem for Oscar Lopez Rivera).

Flutist Nicole Mitchell’s “Artifacts Trio” gets tasked with batting cleanup this evening and will be easily up to the task. Mitchell had a memorable part in last year’s ensemble with bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor and this year helms her own trio with two other members of the legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians collective: cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed. Vision’s page has an audio sample and you can listen to our March 2017 show with Mitchell for a deeper dive into her work.

Friday June 2

“Dream Book” joins Vision veterans Joe McPhee (sax, trumpet) and Daniel Carter (sax, trumpet, flute) with a capable ensemble in tribute to late bassist Dominic Duval and saxophonist Ornette Coleman.

Later in the evening, pianist Dave Burrell leads a quartet that should provide lots of fireworks and interesting interaction. William Parker joins in on bass with drummer William Hooker and the first appearance this year of saxophonist Kidd Jordan. Jordan’s saxophone style has evolved into an impressive mix of free-form eclecticism, as he seamlessly moves between upper register squeals  and more open free-form blowing. But for Jordan, it always seems to revert to the roots of the music in the Blues and what he referred to as the “Holy ghost” in Joyce Jones’s interview in our last show.

Saturday June 3

Vision has a tradition of closing with big blowout performances and this year looks to hold true to form. “Postitive Knowledge” with Oluyemi Thomas (bass clarinet, soprano sax) and Ijeoma Thomas (voice poetry, percussion) should provide a spiritually grounded (and spirited) opening set–especially when accompanied by special Guest Andrew Cyrille on drums.

Later in the evening, David Murray (tenor sax, bass clarinet) leads a unique trio with percussionist Kahil El’Zabar and
Gerry Eastman on bass and guitar. Murray’s well known for his “Class Struggle” ensembles, but Murray promises an experience different from any of his previous Vision appearances. He writes in introduction that “Kahil and I have broken ground by composing extremely memorable songs which he leads and I answer vocally, which is something I rarely do. His infectious enthusiastic spirit always takes my horns to another level.” For a deeper dive into Murray, I’ll point you to our 2014 show with him.

William Parker and saxophonist Oliver Lake are tasked with co-leading the closing set with “Songs for a Free World,” featuring choreography by Patricia Nicholson Parker and a vast assemblage of vocalists and musicians marshalled to bring their swirling vision (pun unintentional) to life. It promises to be an incredibly moving set to end the festival.

If you can stay up late, head over to the postage-stamp sized Nublu for the midnight set with “Heroes are Gang Leaders,” featuring an expanded version of saxophonist James Brandon Lewis’s trio with vocalists and spoken word artists (including the incomparable Thomas Sayers Ellis) joining JBL’s normal collaborators Luke Stewart on electric bass and  Warren Trae Crudup on drums. Last year, Lewis’s trio was one of the revelations of the festival for me and put his work squarely on my radar with their hard-hitting style and inspired energetic playing.

I’ll be reporting daily dispatches throughout the festival including photos from Suga’ in My Bowl host and executive producer Joyce Jones. We also have tentative plans to try some video shorts this year during the festival. Check back for all of it.

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

James_B_Lewis_close_Vision21Words and Photos by Hank Williams | Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND. Main Photo: James Brandon Lewis
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, Day 4’s report focusing on Michele Rosewoman’s New YorUba, and day 5’s report on Wadada Leo Smith. Suga’ host and executive producer Joyce Jones has been on the scene as well, and it’s largely her photos you see in the previous posts.
Today’s post is one that wasn’t really supposed to happen–at least not in its current form. I said at the end of yesterday’s report that it would be the last one and had planned to do a Vision review that included the final day. The review will still happen, though give me a few days on it.
Why? Well, there’s that whole economy of effort thing and the fact that I was covering the last night by myself, as Suga’ in My Bowl host Joyce Jones (who has the real photography chops) was busy editing sound for last night’s show with drummer Andrew Cyrille (which you should definitely listen to when we get it online). But then that magical thing happened of someone totally blowing you so far away that you just have to write something, especially if others are reading. And it does appear that a few people are reading these dispatches.
That’s a long way of saying that the trio of saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, electric bassist Luke Stewart, and drummer Warren Trae Crudup III are the primary inspiration for today’s post. Blame it on them.
James Brandon Lewis Trio
Lewis is by no means a stranger to Vision, explaining to me after the set that he’d been a volunteer several years ago, has been following it for a while now, and I’d met him before, though don’t think I’d heard him play. I confess that his 2015 Days of FreeMan release had gotten by me too, even though it’s gotten some favorable reviews. There’s a lot of good stuff out there that I miss. The trio played earlier this year in Arts for Art’s January series, so they should’ve been on my radar.

James Brandon Lewis Trio at Arts for Art | Don Mount video
The three had an incredibly high energy set. Buoyed by Stewart on the electric bass and Crudup on drums, the evening took a turn to a party-like atmosphere. Crudup’s intense pulsing backbeat drove the trio forward, providing a solid foundation for Lewis and Stewart.
Lewis, his infectious energy seemingly uncontainable, at one point hopped back and forth like a prize fighter egging the rest of the group on. Lewis described himself in terms of an MC, except using a saxophone instead of words, trying to bring a similar feel of energy and improvisation to his work. He also stressed the importance of the collective and that while he’s nominally the leader, he wants to democratize the process of creating and playing music with the other members. Writing this now, I feel bad that I didn’t corner Stewart and Crudup after the set as well. Lewis reported that the energy on stage was good for the group, and he felt comfortable taking some more risks as the trust level between the musicians is increasing as they play together more.
(L-R) Luke Stewart and Warren Trae Crudup III
The good news is that (aside from getting their CD) there are a few immediate chances to see them: they’re playing the Red Hook Jazz Festival on Sunday the 19th and have a lunchtime set in Madison Square Park on the 29th as well as other upcoming dates. For me, the trio was one of the revelations of the festival and one thing it does well: expose you to new artists.
The set ended with a surprisingly calm, melodic coda, however: almost as if the trio realized the need to let the audience down easily after getting us so fired up. Lewis told me that he just wants to tell the truth as a musician. His honesty and enthusiasm was completely on display on Sunday night and it was difficult not to believe in him or in the future of jazz after seeing him live.
While Lewis’s set may have been the revelation of the festival (for me, at least), saxophonist William Edward Jordan, better known as “Kidd”, took the stage again to close out this year’s festival. Jordan, playfully referring to his now-outdated nickname as the “world’s oldest kid.” Jordan doesn’t play around when it comes to his music however, and–in his second appearance at this year’s Vision Fest and too many other Visions for me to collect right now–led the group in a rousing final set.
Kidd Jordan
Jordan is seemingly a Janus face of free/avant jazz: seamlessly incorporating the past, present, and future all in one persona. Jordan’s earlier forays this year drew the New Orleans native repeatedly back to the Blues; this set initially focused more on the free improvisation he’s brought to the festival repeatedly over the years–though soon detoured right back in the Blues when the spirit so moved him and he felt confident his collaborators could make the journey with him.

Jordan dedicated his set to the memory of the victims of the attack earlier that day in Florida, invoking the determination that “nobody else get [should] by messed up like that at any time”. And with that thought, he sent us off into the night.
This really does wrap up our daily Vision coverage, but we’ll check back in with a full review. 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.

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.

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