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Various Artists: Vision Vol. 3

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Compiling a representative CD/DVD sampler from the umpteen marathon sets that make up the Vision Festival, New York City’s annual free-jazz bash, must be a Herculean task. Indeed, it surely borders on the impossible. Shrinking so many lengthy improvisations into bite-sized seven-to-10-minute chunks in order to fit the compilation’s condensed format means the formal arc of the performances will be destroyed. That problem plagues this set.

There are hints of transcendence, as you’d expect, given the talent on hand. Violinist Billy Bang’s solo with William Parker’s Jeanne Lee Project lifts an otherwise muddled performance; Bang’s trio with Parker and komungo player Jin Hi Kim is strong. A quartet fronted by trumpeter Roy Campbell and saxophonist Joe McPhee shines, as does a trio with Parker, drummer Andrew Cyrille and the venerable New Orleans saxophonist Kidd Jordan. While Whit Dickey’s quartet and Matt Shipp’s quartet are among those groups victimized by the format, a duo of bassist Harrison Bankhead and saxophonist Fred Anderson is exceptional. The pair’s nine-and-a-half-minute track is a complete, self-contained episode. Both men are masterful.

With a couple of exceptions, the two discs present mostly the same artists. The DVD is beset by low production values (the sound and video often go their separate ways) and several rather bizarre spelling mistakes–for instance, alto saxophonist Rob Brown’s name is spelled “Rob Brwon” on the DVD’s menu screen. There are technical glitches as well. I was unable to access some sections of the DVD, and the disc suddenly stopped playing in spots. If the music itself was better presented, such problems might be taken somewhat in stride, but given the cut-and-paste nature of the production, this set is hard to recommend without extreme qualification.