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.

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_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.

%d bloggers like this: