Archives for posts with tag: Vision Festival 19

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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.

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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.

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One thing I look forward to every year in mid-June is the Vision Fest, a weeklong celebration of improvised music they’re referring to as “AvantJazz”, poetry, and visual art.

This year’s Vision Festival (number 19) kicked off on June 11th at Roulette in Brooklyn with the spotlight on multi-instrumentalist Charles Gayle, one of this year’s recipient of the lifetime achievement award organizer Arts for Art presents to selected artists at the Fest.

If you didn’t catch the June 8th Suga’ in My Bowl show with Joyce Jones’s interview with Gayle and Patricia Nicholson Parker, it’s worth checking out. Parker runs down some important history of Vision and its evolution over the years, including its struggle to survive as an independent institution free from corporate sponsorship. Gayle, who’s a man of few words and extreme humility, talks about his work and approach to music. (you can hear a short preview of the show below.)

Last night, Gayle took the stage with drummer Michael T.A. Thompson for the first set dressed as his alter-ego “Streets”, and playing upright bass. The set gradually grew in intensity with Gayle and Thompson playing off each other.

William Parker (b) and Charles Gayle (sax) at Vision Fest 19.| Joyce Jones Photo.

William Parker (b) and Charles Gayle (sax) at Vision Fest 19.| Joyce Jones Photo.

Gayle played the most of the night as “Streets”, his Chaplin-esque alter ego in clown makeup. Gayle explains in a Village Voice interview that he took on that stage persona to free himself from some of the constraints he saw and allow him more space as an artist, feeling that he could be more expressive in costume. Don’t be confused, though: Gayle’s playing is no joke and he takes the music so seriously that he is probably harder on himself than the average critic would be. He walked away from a teaching position at SUNY Buffalo, for example, because too many of the students he dealt with couldn’t put in the voluminous amount of time practicing that he did and he didn’t feel that he could bring out their best without that high level of commitment. Thus Gayle eased himself away from what’s become an important income source for many working artists these days.

Charles_Gayle_Piano_Vis19Gayle then switched to piano for the rest of the set, playing in an angular, percussive style reminiscent of Cecil Taylor. For the final part of the opening set, dancers Patricia Nicholson Parker and Miriam Parker joined Gayle onstage along with Daniel Carter on trumpet and saxophone.

WKCR Radio’s Ben Young emceed the evening and was on hand to reflect on Gayle’s legacy. Young compared Gayle to the main character in the Bernard Malamud story “The Natural”: someone who is in the game for the purity of it. As journalists, Young pointed out, “we always wanted to put a brand identity on” Gayle’s work and “make a marketing plan”, but Gayle has resisted such efforts, partly as a result of his own humility; partly in an effort to resist outside pressure on his musical creativity.

Young also reflected on past shows at disappeared venues such as the Knitting Factory and other disappeared NYC venues where Gayle honed his craft.

Gayle’s second set was a quartet with bassist William Parker, drummer Michael Wimberly, and pianist Dave Burrell with Gayle on tenor saxophone.

Quincy Troupe reads on opening night of Vision Fest 19 | Joyce Jones photo.

Quincy Troupe reads on opening night of Vision Fest 19 | Joyce Jones photo.

Poet and writer Quincy Troupe (also known for collaborating with Miles Davis on his autobiography) had a short set all to himself. Some of his readings were dedicated to the late Amiri Baraka, whose been a fixture at Vision, reading poetry either by himself or with wife (and fellow poet Amina) and their Blue Ark jazz ensemble or participating in discussions around the culture and politics. Troupe recalled meeting Baraka in the late 1960s in Los Angeles and being surprised that Baraka knew his work. “A lot of people didn’t like [Amiri] because he told the truth [and] people don’t like truth tellers. But that’s what poets are supposed to do”, Troupe reflected. Troupe read Baraka’s poem “Wise 1 as a salute.

From his own work, Troupe read an excerpt from the intro to his book Miles and Me on the poetry of Miles’s music. Troupe finished his set with a poem on Duke Ellington and one dedicated to the late vocalist Leon Thomas.

Final set on Vision 19's opening night. | Joyce Jones photo.

Final set on Vision 19’s opening night. | Joyce Jones photo.

The night’s closing set featured Gayle returning on piano and conduction and a number of musicians joined him in the type of freewheeling jam Vision is known for: Andrew Cyrille (percussion), Shayna Dulberger (upright bass), Ted Daniels (trumpet), former Vision lifetime honoree Kidd Jordan (tenor sax), Steve Swell (trombone), Mazz Swift (violin), Nioka Workman on cello, Jason Kao Hwang (violin), and Ingrid Laubrock (tenor sax).

Thursday evening’s line-up includes another Vision regular, poet Steve Dalachinsky, who’ll also be paying tribute to Baraka; a film tribute to visual artist musicWitness® Jeff Schlanger, who’s being awarded a lifetime achievement award by Vision and whose work provides the backdrop for the sounds each year; guitarists Mary Halvorson and Susan Alcorn; and a closing set by saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, drummer Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker.

The final set is one to look forward to and looks to be one of the highlights of the week. Brötzmann’s frenetic, rapid-fire sax playing is serious and he doesn’t get to the US very often. In combination with Parker and Drake, it’s likely to be a set to remember.

Are you there this week? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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

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.

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