So sayest Lewis “Flip” Barnes, the trumpeter/MC for the opening night of Vision Festival XII. That statement was realized to varying degrees of success by the five groups on Tuesday night at the Angel Orensanz Foundation, a converted synagogue in the
The concert opened with an invocation of sorts by poetess and vocalist Patricia Nicholson, William Parker on an African(-derived? -inspired?) box-like bass and Hamid Drake on frame drum, delivered while people were still filing in. Nicholson’s poetry was delivered with sincerity, but the smiles/raindrops/rainbows imagery rang a little forced and dated to me. The instances of her speaking in tongues and waving her arms in a neo-tribal hippie fashion seemed, in the wake of Matana Roberts’ Coin Coin performance at the Suoni festival, a little hollow. Parker and Drake exhibited their unique hook-up, but in one of the many sound problems to plague the evening, Drake’s frame drum was ill represented sonically.
William Parker followed up with his large ensemble commission and premiere, Double Sunrise Over Neptune. After having heard him quite recently in duo with Drake, I was extremely curious to hear what he would do with a much larger group. The piece consisted of three bass ostinati, played dutifully by Shayna Dulberger, the first of which I felt lasted far too long. While I loved the hypnotic grooves of the duo, in the large ensemble they felt ponderous and I longed for some more change-ups, if not in material than in texture. On the other hand, much of the initial string writing seemed underdeveloped, fleeting motives that would repeat twice and then move on to something only tangentially related. I was struck at how all the different cultures represented – the Indian vocalist Sangeeta Bannerjee, Bill Cole’s Eastern reeds, Joe Morris’ banjo, Brahim Fribgane’s oud – blended far better than expected. Much of the solos were in overlapping dialogues, many of which were tremendous – Morris’ flurried guitar with Mazz Swift’s soulful violin, Rob Brown’s hard-edged alto and responsive interaction with Bannerjee, “Flip” Barnes’ cogent trumpet logic, Jason Kao Hwang’s beautiful singing tone, and the combination of Drake and Gerald Cleaver was mighty indeed. Sabir Mateen indulged in his squeaking and squawking, in tandem with baritone saxist Dave Sewelson, and I longed for the opportunity to hear him do something – anything – else. Jessica Pavone was completely buried for her otherwise great viola solo, Bill Cole was generally too loud for the duration of the piece, Parker’s bass kora was mostly inaudible, and while the saxes’ first entry was overwhelmingly loud, their chorale parts were lost in the mix.
The ending of the piece arrived as a non sequitur, with Bannerjee abruptly starting to sing English lyrics in place of her earlier vocalise. Once it settled in, it was beautiful, and Parker’s string writing had vastly improved, with some gorgeous string quartet passages over Parker’s bass kora. Cole’s shakuhachi punctuations seemed out of place here, but it was a minor interruption. Double Sunrise could have been more effective in many ways, but even still was fairly successful. It was hard to tell who was responsible for the sonic clutter – the soundmen or Parker. I want to give Parker the benefit of the doubt here.
By contrast, the collective trio Fieldwork were all quite audible in the system. Vijay Iyer’s a fascinating pianist and composer – his hand position is like a tarantula traversing the keyboard, grasping odd intervals. Drummer Tyshawn Sorey looks like a Buddha behind the kit, embracing both the hip-hop machine-like grooves of Marcus Gilmore but with a looseness and fluidity of Dan Weiss, peppered with drum ‘n’ bass references. Saxophonist Steve Lehman dug into the Carnatic-influenced rhythmic patterns, sounding less brittle than I’ve usually heard him, and less edgy than Iyer’s usual alto cohort, Rudresh Mahanthappa. (My neighbour, DJA, felt differently.) At one point, through his phrasing and extended technique, he sounded like a human sampler. There was a cinematic quality to the music, with its dark intervallic harmony and the sonorous overtones from the Steinway. Iyer’s created a language for himself – his rhythmic conception and line construction are different from most, and quite systematic. He’s brilliant, and I appreciate his work, but I can’t say it often gets me on a visceral sort of level.
I’m still trying to figure out how to parse Cooper-Moore’s Keyboard Project. It was too insistent upon itself to be taken purely as farce, but too broad to be effectively subversive. Cooper-Moore spent most of his time ranting how “Jazz ain’t got no mama,” jazz being an orphan, whore and prostitute, and all he needed was some sort of punchline to complete it. When he wasn’t doing that, or singing in a gruff theatrical tenor, he was playing some hokey
Having seen Marc Ribot in an intimate solo setting a couple of weeks ago, it was truly spectacular to experience Spiritual Unity, his Ayler tribute project with Chad Taylor, trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr. and bassist Henry Grimes. Again, I admit my ignorance with Ayler’s music so I can’t provide titles, but there was such a power and passion to this music that automatically engaged me. The intriguing aspect of that project is how Campbell and Ribot translate Ayler’s sax skronk to their respective instruments –