06/26/08

Kidd Jordan at the Vision Festival

New Orleans tenor titan Edward “Kidd” Jordan has not always been accepted in his own hometown. As he told the adoring crowd at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on this night celebrating his career, “For years they’ve been throwing everything they can find at me. It’s been a struggle to not get discouraged.”

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Alan Nahigian

Kidd Jordan

But Jordan has always had a home away from home at the Vision Festival, an annual celebration of free jazz in New York that brings together a vibrant underground community while providing an important showcase for artists that live on the fringe. A revered figure at the festival since its inception in 1996, Jordan has never failed to electrify audiences with his cathartic abandon and sanctified zeal on the horn. And over the course of 13 Vision Festivals, Kidd has been preaching to the converted.

At 73, Jordan still has as ferocious an attack as he’s ever had, with a particular command of the altissimo register, that lofty place where few tenor players (with the notable exception of Albert Ayler, Frank Lowe, Frank Wright and David Murray) dare to dwell. And on this special night, in which he appeared in four different bands, the eternally youthful Kidd showed that he still has an inexhaustible supply of energy.

He opened the evening by exchanging some fusillades with baritone saxophonist and AACM member Hamiet Bluiett, whose sense of freedom equals Kidd’s own. At the peak of their energetic bursts, pianist Dave Burrell entered to fan the flames. When Bluiett eventually dropped out, Jordan and Burrell engaged in an intimate duet, with Burrell’s left hand providing more harmonic movement than Kidd is generally accustomed to at these Vision Festivals, and yet he rode through the changes with graceful aplomb. Meanwhile, the pianist’s right-handed forays into the upper register matched Kidd’s melodic ideas stride-for-stride.

Bluiett returned to the trio and the vibe rapidly changed from fragile melodicism to shards of dense energy music, with Burrell slamming the keyboard ferociously and rolling his fingers up and down the keys like Cecil Taylor or the late Don Pullen. And while Kidd, a masterful free player capable of galvanizing an audience with his intense overblowing, thrives in this kind of intense cauldron of dissonance and harsh textures, he is also a melodicist at heart, which he demonstrated on a gentle improvised segment that was as lyrical and poignant as “Body and Soul.”

Their spontaneous set flowed in one continuous expression, like one of longtime Vision Festival house artist Jeff Schneider’s action paintings that hung from the ceiling behind the bandstand. And throughout the organic proceedings, Bluiett shaded Jordan on the low end like Don Cherry used to shade Ornette Coleman. At the peak of some gospel-flavored testifying by both horn players, Jordan coaxed Bluiett into a touch of “Wade in the Water” before quoting briefly from “A Love Supreme.” Both references spoke to the spiritual nature of their musical expression, and the enraptured audience felt the uplift.

Jordan’s second set was sparked by the dynamic presence of Hamid Drake on drums and the near-subliminal low-end presence of William Parker on upright bass. Kidd’s frontline partner for this volatile set was Billy Bang, a formidable improviser who matched Kidd’s intensity and aggressive attack on electric violin. Whether sawing double stops, unleashing outrageous glisses or taking off on quicksilver high-register runs, Bang provided the kind of visceral excitement that his name would suggest. The two went toe-to-toe, wailing in the high register as Drake and Parker swung ferociously underneath. And that, by the way, is one of Drake’s talents, injecting a potent swing factor into these otherwise “out” proceedings. He definitely lit a fire under Bang, whose solo on the opening segment was part Stuff Smith, part Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, part Michael White—earthy, out and swinging all at once.

And the versatile Drake shifted nimbly throughout this vibrant set from pure bombast to polyrhythmic pulse playing, a la Rashied Ali or Sunny Murray, to Max Roach-inspired swing beats, military press rolls and even a nasty downhome Chicago shuffle groove. While shaping the terrain with sly beat-shifting from behind the drums, he also commented on the proceedings by occasionally echoing Jordan’s melodic phrases on the kit. And at times he would shape the proceedings by dropping out entirely, a Zen-like choice in the midst of the fray. A polyrhythmic marvel, great listener and highly interactive player, Drake enlivens any bandstand that he steps on.

Kidd and Bang played cat and mouse in the high register throughout their set, Kidd with forceful, squealing overtones, Bang with bowed overtones and radical hand vibrato. At one point in these heated exchanges, at the very peak of intensity, where it seemed like the entire bandstand might levitate a foot or two above the ground, Jordan put down his horn and started screaming into the mike like he had just hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer of Game 7 in the NBA playoffs. And to the assembled faithful, of course, he had.

Set three paired Jordan on the frontline with one of his longtime New Orleans colleagues, trumpeter Clyde Kerr, who cut the air with a slashing, authoritative style. With drummer Gerald Cleaver subbing for an ailing Alvin Fielder, another of Kidd’s longstanding colleagues who didn’t make the trip up from New Orleans, Jordan pulled no punches in his high-octane set. Pianist Joel Futterman put an angst-ridden spin on the proceedings with his dissonant chordal clusters and spiky right-hand runs, and Kidd responded with white-hot intensity on tenor. Parker served as the anchor for this set, which also revealed some sensitive, almost fragile playing by both Jordan and Kerr.

Set four, which Kidd did not participate in, was billed as “New Orleans Pays Tribute.” With Jordan’s sons Kent on flute and Marlon on trumpet, along with Darrell Lavigne on piano, Brian Quezergue on bass and Cleaver again subbing for Fielder on drums, they ran through a set of postbop tunes—Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” John Coltrane’s “Miles’ Mode” and Trane’s “Impressions”—that would’ve been more appropriate in the Village Vanguard or the Blue Note than the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on this night. As one wag in the audience was overhead saying, “Didn’t they get the memo that this is an avant-garde festival?” I guess “outness” skips a generation. But judging by the polite audience response, it’s fair to say that the avant crowd is far more tolerant of bebop than beboppers are of free jazz.

The final set of the evening paired Jordan with another longstanding collaborator, Chicago tenor sax icon Fred Anderson, who at 83 still blows with as bold and blustery a tone and as much fluency as ever. (He must be drinking the same kind of water that Roy Haynes drinks ... and I want to find out where to get some.) Jordan and Anderson have set off sparks before at previous Vision Festivals, and the occasion of their meeting at the 13th annual was no exception. The two elders opened with a powerful two-tenor excursion, sans rhythm section, that had Kidd wafting in the high end and Anderson dealing with earthy tones in the low end of his saxophone. After building to some exciting call-and-response flurries, the indelibly tight rhythm tandem of Parker and Drake entered with some kinetic energy of their own to take things up a notch. Anderson’s playing is more informed by the blues and bop vocabulary than Jordan’s. One of his other specialties is blowing big, bold whole notes that hang in the air and resonate with the kind of deep tone that you can feel in your gut. Jordan complements those deep tones by wailing in that stratospheric altissimo range where he seems so comfortable and expressive.

Billy Bang sat in on violin and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre added to the heightened festivities by sitting in on tenor sax. The overlapping of four simultaneous contrapuntal lines created a kind of beautiful cacophony that had a positively hypnotic effect. As the torrid energy built to a peak, Drake morphed the rhythmic character into a reggae beat and Kidd responded instantaneously, soaring with typical authority over an infectious one-drop groove. And when Drake quickly segued to an exuberant Chicago shuffle, Anderson dug in with some raucous blues honking. At some point in his urgent solo, I could’ve pictured the 83-year-old sax man walking the bar, if there had been one there.

It was a triumphant ending to an evening that paid tribute to the great New Orleans instrumentalist and educator, who remains largely underrated outside the confines of the Vision Festival.

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