The Vision Festival New York
June 11, 2008
Figuratively – and usually single-handedly – carrying the banner for experimental Jazz in New Orleans for many years, tenor saxophonist Edward “Kidd” Jordan, 73, must have felt metaphorically out-in-the-cold on many occasions. But heat was certainly in evidence – literally and emotionally – mid-June in New York as a turn-away crowd helped celebrate the reedman’s Lifetime Achievement with a series of concerts.
Highlight of the 13th Annual Vision Festival that took place at the Lower East Side’s Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, the five sets honoring Jordan were hot – as was the venue. Despite a few strategically placed revolving fans, the temperature hovered around 35 degrees Celsius in the venerable space, with body heat from the packed audiences adding to the ventilation challenges.
Besides working as a sideman in Crescent City bands and an educator at Southern University, introducing generations of students – including his own children – to improvised music, Jordan has been playing “outside” since the 1960s, but wasn’t really recognized until collaborating with outsiders in the late 1970s. His most affecting work during the festival was with two of those ensembles.
Culmination of the evening was an incendiary workout between Jordan and another Free Jazz pioneer, 79-year-old tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson of Chicago backed by the unbeatable rhythm section of Chicago’s Hamid Drake on drums and New York’s William Parker on bass. Earlier there was as impressive a collaboration with some of Jordan’s Southern associates: pianist Joel Futterman from Virginia, New Orleans trumpeter Clyde Kerr, plus Parker and – subbing for indisposed Mississippi-based drummer Alvin Fielder – New York drummer Gerald Cleaver. As if he was playing at New Orleans’ Preservation Hall, Kerr remained seated on a chair throughout the set.
Perhaps the most notable part of this meeting was how seamlessly the full rounded tone of Kerr’s trumpet fit with Jordan’s split tones and frequent altissimo excursions, plus Futterman’s hunts, pecks and stops both inside on the piano strings and on the keyboard. Kerr’s burbling, heraldic timbres and carefully measured lines existed besides, but not quite in the same time-space as the other four. Yet even as Futterman jabbed the keys and Parker played sul tasto vibrations, Jordan made common cause with the brass man without altering his characteristic style. Knitting quotes from late period John Coltrane ballads and the familiar “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” to Kerr’s grace notes, Jordan ensured harmonic inclusion, with the improvisation’s conclusion as tender as a lullaby.
The saxophonist’s gift for melodic interpolation was used even more effectively in the evening’s first set which matched his long-lined theme elaboration with the baritone saxophonist Hamiet Bluiett’s high pitches. Backed by Dave Burrell pounding high frequency piano chords and Maynard Chatters stretching the piano strings, the baritonist however seemed to feel he had to mirror every one of Jordan’s excursions into altissimo, shrilling similar pitches on his larger horn. Rarely was the baritone’s basso timbre properly exploited. But again – with some help from Burrell’s boogie-woogie-like arpeggios – it was Jordan who kept the exposition on an even keel.
Segueing into “Body and Soul” references, he moderated the bigger saxophone’s altissimo blats. Following Chatters’ piano string scraping and Burrell’s song-like patterning, Jordan interpolated the hymn “Wade in the Water” into the mix, had the melody doubled with gospel chording from Burrell and finally had it accepted by a more relaxed Bluiett.
Jordan could relax himself in a later set of nimble swing that paired him with animated violinist Billy Bang, backed by Parker and Drake. With the bassist flaying his strings rhythmically and the drummer sounding a powerful backbeat, the bravura front line lobbed sound shards at one another – but shards that owed more to the blues than dodecaphony.
Often operating in double counterpoint, the two were a study in contrasts. Bang, who sometimes swayed in an Elvis-like snake-hipped dance as he double-stopped and picked at near warp-like speed, faced Jordan, who at one point sprawled on a nearby chair and fired off chorus-after-chorus of multiphonics and double tonguing while foot-tapping. With Bang replicating participation in a demented hoedown, the saxophonist varied his responses with Woody Woodpecker-like cries and staccato trills. Finally over a chorus of brittle, jagged sweeps from Bang, he shouted out a series of vocalized exhortations, which rather than being disruptive, fit jigsaw-puzzle-piece-like with the fiddler’s runs.
Jordan’s skills so energized Bang’s imagination, that in the late-night finale, after prowling the stage, he made an unannounced addition to the Anderson-Jordan quartet romp. So too, mid-way through that set, did another veteran Chicago tenor saxophonist, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre. Unlike Bang whose broken octave confrontation with Anderson and Jordan provided spirited contrapuntal lines to the dual tenor’s exposition, McIntyre merely vamped, and his sound was eventually subsumed beneath the churning Parker-Drake rhythm section.
Upfront Anderson and Jordan perfectly complemented one another. Despite the geographic gap, the two have worked frequently in a quartet configuration since the late 1980s, after discovering they were reedists of a similar age, who had been attempting similar experiments independently of one another. That night, preferring staccato breaks and splintered altissimo runs, the animated Jordan’s improvisations were easily distinguished from Anderson’s, whose meditative exposition is explicitly linked to the classic tenor saxophone tradition that encompasses Coleman Hawkins as well as John Coltrane.
Someone who bends into a semi-crouch when he plays, Anderson expanded his sounds with foghorn honks, while Jordan splayed split tones, alternating with sudden reed bites. With Bang playing near-saxophone-like lines as well, the three produced a series of chases and shouts. Eventually the tune turned towards steady blues progression as Parker walked and slapped and Drake thickly press rolled the beat. Diminuendo, the tune climaxed as the saxophone honked lustily and gradually more softly.
Each of these varied collaborations made it clear why Jordan had been honored. Although his saxophone conception takes its basic vocabulary from the advances of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, unlike some others he was quickly able to escape their influence and forge his own style. Another saxophone veteran of the 1960s, altoist Sonny Simmons who played in the next day, provided a contrasting example of someone who never escaped the Trane-Coleman trajectory.
Jordan, who wryly noted that if you live long enough you become appreciated, also deserved his accolades for passing on improvisation skills to further generations, even if – like his own sons, trumpeter Marlon Jordan and flutist Kent Jordan, who played less interesting contemporary sounds with their own band in a set honoring their father that night – the aim becomes professionalism rather than invention.
-- For MusicWorks Issue #102
November 20, 2008