Archives for posts with tag: Vision21

P1020119
Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND. Main Photo: (L-R) James Stuart and Dave Davis of the Sun Ra Arkestra
 
For the second year in a row, the Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen had a closing night spot at the Vision Festival. This year they celebrated the group’s 60th anniversary in grand style at the historic Judson Memorial Church on June 8th. The Arkestra is a blur of color, sound, and motion both on stage and off: they typically end their shows with members weaving their way through the audience, which you can see here. You really need to see the Arkestra in action as well as hear them. Joyce Jones’s photos give a sense of what the scene looks like during the shows. If you missed it, check out the rest of our daily coverage from Vision21.
 


 
—-
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.

Advertisements

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_Vision21
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.
 
Stewart_Crudup_JBLTrio_Vision21
(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_portrait_finalnite_Vision21
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.

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.

DSC_0721
Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND. Main Photo: Michele Rosewoman
 
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. 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.
 
Friday night’s closing set belonged to pianist Michele Rosewoman, who returned to Vision, this time with an 11-member version of her New YorUba ensemble in tow and playing both old pieces and a new work receiving its first public performance at Vision.
 
The set started with “Old Calabar” from the Abakuá tradition, a version of which appears on her New YorUba release. New YorUba melds jazz improvisation with Afro-Cuban rhythms, drawing heavily on sacred music. The inclusion in this year’s Vision broadens the scope of the festival and what one might think of as jazz avant garde.
 
DSC_0739
 
Appropriately enough, Rosewoman introduced the second piece, “Oru De Oro”, composed with the help of a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant and receiving it’s public premiere, explaining that “although this is not of the free jazz tradition, it grows out of that tradition”. Drums–especially African percussion–were at the center of the piece.
 
The piece evolved organically around the expansive rhythm section, buoyed by an impressive brass lineup including Stacy Dillard and Roman Filiu on saxes, Chris Wasahburne on trombone, and Alex Norris on trumpet. A sacred sequence of rhythms (called the Oru Igbodu) played on bata drums set the tone for the piece along with Cuban folklorist Roman Diaz’s expressive vocals.
 


 
“Reza a Ochun (Prayer for Ochun)” closed the set. Amma McKen returned to the stage to sing lead vocals and her deep, soaring voice formed the centerpiece of the song. In this song, the big band took a turn in an incredibly funky direction, showing that they can swing as hard as anyone. Rosewoman played off McKen’s vocals in an almost call-and-response pattern in a song that seemed to end way too soon.
 
Vocalist Amma Mcken

Vocalist Amma Mcken


 
The ensemble showed yet another way of approaching the idea of a big band. Instead of leaning on the sheer power of an expansive brass section, New YorUba drew out the subtlety and complexity of the music, which, at times, sounded pleasantly sparse, concealing the incredible difficulty of the exchange.
 
While we’re now seeing renewed interest in what’s called Spiritual Jazz (thanks, in part, to the breakout success of saxophonist Kamasi Washington) New YorUba reveals a basic element of spirituality and jazz: one that many musicians would argue is at the core of their work. In this case, it’s a return to the very roots of the musical tradition.
 
Earlier sets included drummer William Hooker’s ensemble, accompanied by dancer Goussy Celestin; vocalist Fay Victor’s Sound Noise Quartet; poet Bob Holman and bassist Todd Nicholson’s collaboration in memory of late violinist Billy Bang; and multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore’s ensemble with percussionist Michael Wimberly.
 

 
See the full schedule at Vision’s site for info on Sunday night’s sets 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, tune in to our next Suga’ in My Bowl show with drummer 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.

DSC_1073
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.
 
DSC_0590
 
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.
 
DSC_0979
 
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.
 
DSC_1010
 
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.

Arkestra_Full_Vision21
Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND. Main Photo: The Sun Ra Arkestra
 
On Wednesday night, poet Quincy Troupe took to the stage without introduction and launched into his work, reading from two unpublished collections of his work. Troupe, invited by jazz trumpeter Miles Davis to co-write the musician’s autobiography, has deep connections with jazz, infusing his work with references to musicians and even reading with musical cadences. Troupe knows improvisation, collaboration–and even the need to listen and work as part of an ensemble–as he’s collaborated with musicians before, having worked with trombonist and AACM member George Lewis and including guitarist Kelvyn Bell and saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett on his 2011 SOUNDART release. His set-closing poem “Blue Mandela”, dedicated to Harlem-based artist Xenobia Bailey’s installation in the NYC subway’s new 34th St.-Hudson Yards station, brought Troupe a standing ovation as he exited the stage.
 
Pianist Connie Crothers’s set was (as promised) an exercise in free improvisation building on her angular, shimmering piano styling nicely complemented by Warren Smith’s solid drumming and Michael Bisio’s standout performance on bass.
 
The Sun Ra Arkestra returned to Vision as the closing set for the night–fortunately, at an earlier scheduled time than last year, when they took the stage well past midnight.
 
No strangers to finely honed (and theatrical) performance, the Arkestra entered the hall single file, chanting “this is the planet dream of the Earth Galaxy” as they filed through the standing room only crowd to take the stage. It could also be seen as a continuation of earlier in the day, when the Arkestra was one of the highlights of what’s becoming a Vision tradition of having a parade starting in the adjacent Washington Square Park cross the street to Judson. Marshall Allen, the Arkestra’s 92-year-old leader and conductor, finished off the first song with a positively celestial sounding flourish on the Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI), which Allen uses to supplement his saxophone and has become an acknowledged master at. The sound meshed perfectly with Judson’s acoustics, which are challenging to large ensembles such as the Arkestra. Indeed, the sound was a challenge throughout the set, as musicians signaled for more volume for their instruments. Part of the challenge is the difficult acoustics of Judson itself, a large open church with hard surfaces and high ceilings. Allen seems to have mastered the tricky acoustics, though.
 
The Arkestra’s “Discipline 27-II” kicked off with the sampled voice of none other than Ra himself sending a missive to the “People of Planet Earth”.
 
The Arkestra then launched into “Angels and Demons At Play”, with vocalist Middleton’s rich, deep vocals meshing with the synthesizer. Saxophonist Knoel Scott was inspired enough to put down his instrument and step to the front of the stage to show off his dance moves. Multiple roles and talents are simply par for the course for Arkestra members. As vocalist Tara Middleton explained to us after the set, there is no set list with the Arkestra, following how things worked under Ra himself. The band just responds to the vibrations present at the time and chooses songs accordingly.
 
The next piece matched Middleton’s scatting vocals to Allen’s upper register sax squeals in the bass and electric guitar – heavy tune that had the Arkestra swinging hard.
 
A bluesy acoustic bass solo kicked off “Blues in the Night”, eventually giving way to flute and electric guitar solo by Dave Hotep that allowed Middleton to show off her Blues chops.
 
The Arkestra classic “Love in Outer Space” followed and “When You Wish Upon a Star” was given the Arkestra’s unique, slightly atonal treatment and gave Allen the space to kick off the latter with a solo.
 
The final set-closing medley of “We Travel the Spaceways” and “Space is the Place” with the Arkestra leading a second line through the audience came all too soon.
 
Despite the issues with sound and acoustics, the Arkestra put in a strong performance, with Allen still playing with a force, intensity, and enthusiasm that defies his age. I’ve written that a few times about the Arkestra before, but it remains true and it’s something I hope to continue reporting for quite a while. However, with the addition of Middleton and other members who’ve been with the Arkestra a long time, Ra’s prodigious back catalog, fresh tunes composed by Allen added to the performance rotation, and the release of the Babylon CD/DVD set, the Arkestra looks set to be continuing traveling the spaceways for quite a while to come.
 
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, which she’ll discuss on our colleague Basir Mchawi’s Education at the Crossroads show on Thursday at 7 PM EST. 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.

DSC_0251
Words by Hank Williams | Photos by Joyce Jones. Creative Commons CC-NC-BY-ND. Main Photo: Vision Fest 21 honoree Henry Grimes
 
Bassist/violinist/poet Henry Grimes famously doesn’t talk much nowadays: at least not to journalists like myself. To be perfectly clear, it isn’t an issue of him being inaccessible or thinking he’s too good or his time is too valuable: on the contrary, he’s usually in attendance at almost any event having to do with free/avant garde jazz in New York City–usually with his wife and manager Margaret at his side–and is just there digging the music even if he isn’t on the bill or has finished his own set. It’s just that he doesn’t talk a lot, period. An affable smile and recognition is all you’re likely to get. That’s fine since his body of work fills in much of the story. Still, those of us itching to dig deeper and get some of the history he’s been involved in won’t walk away with much more than we see on the bandstand.
 
Personal testimony isn’t the only story, though, and what your peers say about you counts for a lot. And Grimes’s peers have a lot to say about both the man and his work, which makes focusing the 2016 Vision Fest’s spotlight on Grimes all the more valuable since you’d be hard pressed to find someone with bad things to say about the man as either a person or musician. That’s rare in any industry.
 
Grimes’s remarkable story of walking away from the jazz spotlight before reemerging 35 years later has been told elsewhere, so I won’t repeat it here. The point is that Grimes is the type of artist who’s easy to overlook if one isn’t deep into jazz — much less the free improvisation that he revels and excels in. All of that makes Vision’s choice to highlight his career this year a good one, especially since he’s been a mainstay at the festival since his return to high level performance was punctuated by a Vision appearance over a decade ago and he’s been a mainstay ever since.
 
Grimes stood on the bandstand throughout three sets to kick off Vision on Tuesday night as both the honoree and center–figuratively and literally, as he occupied center stage–of all of the performances.
 
After Vision’s traditional opening invocation, the evening started with an ensemble pairing Grimes with pianist Geri Allen (in her Vision debut), Vision veteran Andrew Cyrille (who’ll be interviewed on Suga’ in My Bowl on Sunday 6/12) on drums, and Graham Haynes on coronet. Grimes alternated between bass and violin, showing equal comfort on each instrument. Allen showed, unsurprisingly, that she can keep up with the best improvisers out there and is as adept at playing more freely as she is in more structured environments. Cyrille, meanwhile, added a solid base for the group’s explorations and punctuated their second song with a steady rhythm on the cowbell.
 
Grimes has also written a fair amount of poetry, which was the focus of the second set, featuring vocalist Lisa Sokolov’s songs and Grimes’s poetry. Grimes accompanied the Sokolov-led choir of Imani Uzuri, Karma Mayet Johnson, Dwight Trible, and Mixashawn.
 
The night’s final set featured Mixashawn on saxophone, Melanie Dyer on viola, flutist Nicole Mitchell, and cellist Tomeka Reid joining Grimes’s frequent trio collaborators guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Chad Taylor. The ensemble produced some of the night’s memorable performances. The first song of the set built to a crescendo riffing off of Mitchell’s repeated flute phrase with Ribot filling in the colors while Grimes kept a steady hand on bass. The set’s third (and last) piece started with a solid beat by Taylor, joined by Mitchell, then Ribot and Grimes. Taylor’s steady rhythms kept driving the group forward as they all set a frenetic pace.
 
Through it all, Grimes remained impassive, focused intently on the music at hand. While he may be a man of few words, Grimes “speaks” loudly and authoritatively on bass, violin, and written words. All of which were on display tonight.
 
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, which she’ll probably discuss on our colleague Basir Mchawi’s Education at the Crossroads show on Thursday at 7 PM EST. 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.

Vision21
 
Suga’ in My Bowl host Joyce Jones and I refer to the annual Vision Fest as the high holy days of jazz and we’re only half-kidding. The festival has managed to outlast competing fests with much deeper pockets and big name corporate sponsors behind them while still managing the delicate balancing act between being a smaller artist-focused event willing to take risks and keeping up with the times and technology. So while you can now buy tickets online and follow their various social media feeds, Vision is unafraid to feature poets in prime time slots or book quirky acts. It’s all part of the scene and that’s why we’ve been going for several years now and have featured numerous performers as guests on the show. In full disclosure, WBAI Radio returns as a media sponsor this year and happily so: it fits the station’s vibe fairly well.
 
Suga’ in My Bowl previewed this year’s festival in our last show, interviewing festival organizer Patricia Nicholson Parker for a “big picture” view, along with pianist Geri Allen (in her first time Vision appearance), guitarist Marc Ribot, drummer Andrew Cyrille and composer/vocalist Lisa Sokolof all speaking on the influence and importance of bassist Henry Grimes. If you missed that, be sure to catch WBAI producer Basir Mchawi’s Education at the Crossroads show on Thursday June 9 st 7 PM EST, where Patricia Nicholson Parker will be giving an update.
 
Vision started on Sunday June 5th with 3 classic films celebrating the 60th year of the Sun Ra Arkestra at Anthology Film Archives. While none of the film’s are new, provided a good opportunity to see John Coney/Sun Ra’s Space is the Place, The Magic Sun, or Robert Mugge’s Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise again. Mugge’s documentary has aged well and does about as good a job as anyone could of giving a broad overview of Ra himself and the Arkestra. Coney’s film, on the other hand, is pure fun: a sci-fi/Blaxploitation mashup that’s the ultimate fan experience.
 
Vision settles in for the week at Judson Memorial Church from the 7-12 with nightly performances highlighting the career of bassist Henry Grimes. It retains its usual informal atmosphere and you’re likely to see musicians hanging out and checking out other sets. Everything happens in the main upstairs space, while the basement houses a marketplace and food vendors. It’s a good place to pick up some of the music you’ll hear over the course of the week and you can usually even get your CD autographed, too!
 
Tuesday night is all about this year’s Vision honoree: bassist/violinist Henry Grimes. Grimes leads two groups over the course of the evening and participates in a third. Pianist Geri Allen and drummer Andrew Cyrille join Grimes for the first set, while the final set of the night features a Grimes-led septet as an expended version of Marc Ribot’s trio with Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor, whose collaboration was captured in the 2014 Live at the Village Vanguard release.
 
Grimes’s story is a remarkable one. He was in high demand in the 1960s, especially in the free jazz scene, where he played with notables like Sunny Murray, Sonny Rollins, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Cecil Taylor — to name only a few. Grimes suddenly dropped out of the music scene after getting stuck in Los Angeles with a broken bass he had no money to repair before being rediscovered. Bassist William Parker sent Grimes one of his basses and Grimes practiced feverishly to prepare for his reemergence on the jazz scene. Appropriately enough, his big return to New York was punctuated by a performance at the 2003 Vision Fest and he’s been a regular ever since.
 

 
Wednesday night has poet Quincy Troupe (who we talked to in May for a Miles Davis birthday show) given his own slot to read some of his work in prime time. Pianist Connie Crothers then leads a trio as a lead-in to the night’s closing act: the Sun Ra Arkestra led by the 92 year old saxophonist Marshall Allen.
 
While the Arkestra can be wildly uneven in the quality of their performances, they’ve been solid lately, including at last year’s Vision where they closed an evening with a phenomenal show, at the Winter Jazz Fest earlier this year, where they brought the house down with a midnight set at Judson Memorial Church, and an inspired performance at a Red Bull Music Academy-sponsored “Night of Spiritual Jazz” earlier this year. Much of what I wrote for their Winter Jazz Fest date still applies, including the vitality that vocalist Tara Middleton has brought to the ensemble. I’d add that the Arkestra is actually a perfect intro for people new to jazz and while they have showmanship and performance honed to a science, their level of performance lately has been high. Fortunately, you won’t have to stay up all night to see the Arkestra do their thing this time, since the scheduled descent to Earth is at a relatively early 9:40 PM.
 

 
Thursday night’s lineup starts with multi-instrumentalist Bill Cole, who leads his “UnTempered Ensemble” featuring saxophonist Ras Moshe–who channels the spirit of John Coltrane with nearly every breath he takes–followed by Vision veteran saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc’s ensemble and a first Vision appearance by poet Tonya Foster.
 
Trombonist Steve Swell leads a trio as a lead-in for the night’s closing set with drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake (who we profiled in 2014) backed by an all-star cast of saxophonist Kidd Jordan, pianist Cooper-Moore, and bassist Michael Bisio.
 
Friday night’s lineup has early sets of ensembles led by drummer William Hooker and pianist Cooper-Moore before a closing set with pianist Michele Rosewoman’s “New Yor-Uba” ensemble. We profiled Rosewoman in 2013, for the CD release of her New Yor-Uba project. Look for an inspired spiritual set from Rosewoman, as she blends Yoruba songs with jazz improvisation and expect a special touch of freedom for the Vision crowd.
 

 
Saturday night’s lineup highlights saxophonist Hamiett Bluiett and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, each leading ensembles. Bluiett wrapped up last year’s Vision on the last night leading a rousing performance with a cast so large that it spilled off the stage and needed to commandeer space on the floor to accommodate everyone. It was a grand vision (pun unintentional) of swirling sounds that captured much of what the festival is about. The enormity of the sound produced nearly shook the building at times. Expect a slightly less magisterial treatment this year, as he “only” leads a quartet, however, with solid backing from pianist DD Jackson and drummer Hamid Drake, expect a wild ride.
 
Sunday night’s lineup has saxophonist Kidd Jordan’s ensemble given the duties of closing out the festival: an honor Jordan’s been tasked with before and handled brilliantly.
 
I can only scratch the surface here while keeping this a readable length (and may have failed in the latter already). Check the full schedule to see all the acts with our preliminary recommendations in mind. My ultimate recommendation is to show up, watch, listen, and just get lost in the atmosphere. I always walk away from Vision blown away by someone I was vaguely aware of beforehand, but that’s the magic of this festival.
 
We wrap our coverage with a show interviewing drummer Andrew Cyrille on Sunday June 12 from 11 PM – 1 AM EST on WBAI. If you scoot home quickly after the Kidd Jordan set, you’ll be able to catch the tail end before calling it a night and wrapping it all up until this time next year. If you miss it, not to worry: we archive shows on our website.
 
—-
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.

%d bloggers like this: