Vision Festival 2005

An 11th-hour venue change failed to diminish the 10th annual Vision Festival, New York’s avant-jazz gathering. Squeezing dozens of acts into one room at the Angel Orensanz Center (rather than two rooms at the nearby Clemente Soto Vélez, as originally planned) couldn’t have been easy. But the six nights ran smoothly—far more punctually than usual, in fact. There were many standouts on the roster: two sets with Chicago tenor stalwart Fred Anderson, whose Lifetime Recognition Day fell on Thursday, June 16th; a rare American gig for trumpet veteran Bill Dixon; a Henry Grimes/Marshall Allen encounter; an appearance by W.A.R.M., the supergroup featuring Reggie Workman, Pheeroan akLaff, Sam Rivers and Roscoe Mitchell; duo sets by Peter Brötzmann and Nasheet Waits, Joe McPhee and Lori Freedman, Joelle Léandre and India Cooke and Leroy Jenkins with dancer Felicia Norton; and contributions from such Vision regulars as Charles Gayle, William Parker, Roy Campbell, Billy Bang, Matthew Shipp, Joseph Jarman and many more. And let’s not forget the emerging artists, including Guillermo E. Brown (with Matana Roberts) and Tyshawn Sorey (playing solo piano!).

The Orensanz Center, a converted 1849 synagogue, has creaky wood floors, a high arched ceiling and a grand Gothic altar rising from the rear of the stage. Visually, acoustically and environmentally, the venue was an excellent fit for this interdisciplinary confab. Art covered the walls of the ground floor; on the balconies were photo showcases by Raymond Ross, Enid Farber, Michael Wilderman and Peter Gannushkin. Videography, dance and poetry played an important and organic role in the programming.

Highlights at a glance:

Poet Steve Dalachinsky’s set, with violist Mat Maneri and guitarist Vito Ricci, had a seductive rhythmic urgency and interpretive openness. But David Budbill’s reading, accompanied by William Parker and Hamid Drake, lapsed into an unintentional parody of pacifism (“I don’t want to fight in your war. I want to make… a salad.”) One of Budbill’s parting thoughts—“Drunk on music; who needs wine?”—sent me running to the refreshment stand for a cup of Chardonnay.

Bill Dixon’s guttural, echoing trumpet (Cuong Vu follows in his footsteps) bounced off Orensanz’s walls at all angles, conjuring untold mysteries during his set with Warren Smith on timpani and vibes, Tony Widoff on synthesizer, Steve Horenstein on baritone sax and bass flute and Andrew Lafkas on upright bass. Dark and haunting as it was, the music was an oasis of relative quiet and calm, and one of the few moments during Vision when creaking chairs became genuinely bothersome.

Sam Rivers’ tenor, soprano and flute musings were a treat, and a beautiful complement to Roscoe Mitchell’s awesome circular-breathing feats on alto. Workman and akLaff—the former logging time on didjeridoo and whistle—lent the music not only a powerful thrust, but also a judicious pace. A fairly short set from a strong band-of-the-year candidate.

Charles Gayle gave forth a harrowing alto cry during his trio set with bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Jay Rosen. Busy and tumultuous yet directed, the music included a sophisticated Gayle interlude on piano, not to mention a simultaneous, ambidextrous piano and alto passage. The burly Greene handled his instrument like a dancing partner, dipping it low to the ground. Tall, lean and commanding, Gayle spoke not a word.

Playing duo with bass clarinetist Lori Freedman, Joe McPhee switched between alto clarinet and tenor sax for four dynamic improvised pieces. Having just heard McPhee on solo soprano sax in Los Angeles (his first-ever performance in that city), I was refreshed by these contrasting sounds, which were by turns contemplative and explosive. Freedman’s hearty tone could be felt in the body; her aside on mouthpiece was remarkably varied and listenable.

Peter Brötzmann’s duo set with the far younger Nasheet Waits was slightly delayed, but those who stuck around were rewarded. Waits has played standards behind Fred Hersch with an impeccable touch. Here he was, however, raising the roof with Brötzmann, the outest of outcats, who divided his time between tenor sax and B-flat clarinet. They started together on a dime, with an enormously loud outpouring, but quickly turned toward fine shadings and nuances (the clarinet piece was the best). Waits’ detailed cymbal work, and his gift with mallets and brushes, made this a truly memorable and successful pairing.

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