VARIOUS ARTISTS

Live from the Vision Festival
Thirsty Ear THI 57131.2

The next best thing to being there, this combination CD and DVD package offers a distillation of some of the outstanding performances from last year’s Vision Festival in New York’s Lower East Side. Lacking the name recognition of Newport, Montreux, or any other capitalist entity-associated international star festival, in its less than 10 year existence, Vision has still promulgated a unique artistic vision.

Built around the vision of bassist William Parker, it’s a place where pioneering avant gardists from the 1960s mix it up with younger players who are carrying on experimental ideals. It’s cross-cultural, national and international as well, with the musicians showcased on this session arriving from Germany, Korea, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, Valencia, Calif., New Orleans… and Brooklyn,

Substantiating his ubiquity, Parker holds down the bass chair on five of the nine tracks —in five different bands, Fellow bull fiddle masters Tyrone Brown, Reggie Workman and the late Peter Kowald are represented as well.

Longest performance, at more than 11 minutes, is “Crepuscule IV in Powderhorn Park”, which reunites three founding members of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Music who now reside in different parts of the country. Minneapolis-based Douglas Ewart shows up with his reed collection — some of which are homemade — to improvise with the woodwinds of Brooklyn’s Joseph Jarman. From California, Wadada Leo Smith adds his trumpet to the duo, and the three members of the front line are backed by the unbeatable rhythm section of Chicago’s Hamid Drake and Parker.

Perhaps it’s the strength of the go-for-broke rhythm of the bassist and drummer, but the performance is more convincing than some recent CDs by each of the front line partners. Expelling a mixture of gritty bluesiness and elegant, brassy grace notes, Smith states the theme, which is then elaborated by Jarman’s soprano saxophone. Using whistles and straining his notes sharply to make a point, the saxman turns rubato with a brief stop-time section, which is then echoed by Ewart’s tenor sax undertow and Parker’s perfectly proportioned bass line. Finally the three horns conclude triple forte, with Drake’s rolling roughs giving them enough leverage on which to soar.

The same rhythm team backs up tenor veterans Kidd Jordan from New Orleans and Chicago’s Fred Anderson. Each pushing 70, the extended multiphonics they propel from their horns often mix with a primeval funkiness, hinting at how Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis might have handled Free Jazz. At a little more then four minutes though, “Spirits Came In” is barely long enough to let everyone feel the spirit.

Almost double in length, but flashing by at supersonic speeds is “Bangart 100”, performed by unconventional fiddler Billy Bang, World Saxophone Quartet anchor, baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett, and contemporary composer Jin Hi Kim on Korean komungo. With his unaccompanied attack as reminiscent of hoedown as Heifetz, here Bang’s technique keeps up with his emotionalism. Working the opposite end of his horn’s palate, Bluiett ignites basement tones, altissimo wild pig squeals and growling feline feints. Keeping this all-together fingerpicking on her multi-stringed traditional instrument is Kim.

Other highlights include the definition of “Existence” provided by the duo of Dave Burrell on piano and bassist Brown. Cognizant of jazz history, like the late Jaki Byard, Philly’s piano pride mixes several of the music’s key streams on his keyboard. Initially he outputs high frequency, percussive cadenzas that are as far out as anything practiced by the New Thing, which counted Burrell as a member for his work with Archie Shepp. Later, providing fills behind Brown’s ringing tones, he shows off his lyric side that characterized him as a “song man” when he played with David Murray.

Then there’s Kowald’s stinging, more then 10½-minute solo “Improvisation”. Sometimes appearing to make his bass talk in several voices, the German maestro wraps together pizzicato buzzing strings, vocal drone and some grating, yet impressive arco thrusts into a characteristic show-stopping display.

Running down the outstanding merits of every track would be pointless, since each offers a different perspective on modern free sounds. The weakest piece, in fact, is also the first: “Truth Is Marching In”. Not the Albert Ayler standard, this reunion tune by alto saxophonist Jameel Moondoc’s Muntu quartet, featuring trumpeter Roy Campbell, drummer Rashid Bakr and bassist Parker seems, like the composition’s title, to be more caught up in New Thing revivalism than inventing the music anew. But isn’t nostalgia one construct of reunions?

Couple the more than 70½-minutes of music with the images available on the DVD and you’ll yearn to be in attendance at the Fest next time it takes place. Making light of geography, this VISION package means you can experience some of festival highlights at home.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing:1. Truth is Marching In 2. Existence 3. Bangart 100 4. Crepuscule IV in Powderhorn Park 5. Speech of Form 6. 45 Hours 7. Synchronicity 8. Sprits Came In 9. Improvisation

Personnel: 1. Muntu: Roy Campbell (trumpet); Jameel Moondoc (alto saxophone); William Parker (bass); Rashid Bakr (drums) 2. Dave Burrell (piano); Tyrone Brown (bass) 3. Hamiet Bluiett (baritone saxophone); Billy Bang (violin); Jin Hi Kim (komungo) 4. Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet); Douglas Ewart (bass clarinet, clarinet, tenor saxophone); Joseph Jarman (alto clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, bass flute, alto saxophone); William Parker (bass); Hamid Drake (drums) 5. Mathew Shipp (piano); Mat Manner (viola); William Parker (bass) 6. Rob Brown (alto saxophone); Karen Borca (bassoon); Reggie Workman (bass); Newman Taylor Baker (drums) 7. Ellen Christi (vocals); Rolf Strum (guitar); William Parker (bass); Hamid Drake (drums) 8. Kidd Jordan; Fred Anderson (tenor saxophones); William Parker (bass); Hamid Drake (drums) 9. Peter Kowald (bass)