Saw the Vision Festival in their new digs at the Abrons Arts Center on Saturday. Abrons is a real theatre, so the acoustics are much improved from the beautiful-but-cavernous Angel Orensanz Foundation (which is still ground zero for the VF's final night tonight). Unfortunately, the amplified sound was a wee bit... over-enthusiastic, let's say, and the piano especially suffered from persistent, piercing brightness. This was a shame as the evening featured some real masters of modern improvised pianism, beginning with a dazzling, tightly focused solo set by Matthew Shipp.
Alto saxophonist Rob Brown followed up, in a kinetic bass-less trio with Craig Taborn and Nasheet Waits -- the unbelievably intense sparks generated between piano and drums contrasting sharply with the leader's more cerebral, floating approach. (I recommend you fire up the wayback machine and check out Ben Ratliff's now 10-year old profile of five up-and-coming NYC drummers, including Nasheet.)
The next drummer, Milford Graves, has a few years on Waits. Graves is probably best known for his contributions to the New York Art Quartet back in the 1960s, but he has been active since then as both player and educator (he's a longtime faculty member at Bennington). He began his set offstage with a plaintive chanting-and-talking-drum incantation, before making his way behind an impressively expanded drum kit. Graves invited his collaborators to the stage one by one -- pianist D.D. Jackson, bassist and festival honcho William Parker, and young DC-based tenor saxophonist Grant Langford -- who is, I presume, the first active member of the Airmen of Note to ever perform at the Vision Fest. I am not sure this diverse group of personalities, brought together here for the first time, ever quite gelled as a unit (except Graves and Parker, who have an undeniable hookup), but Graves certainly proved his free-flowing energies remain undiminished by age.
I did not catch singer/pianist Lisa Sokolov's set, but I made it back in time for the Stateside premiere of Boston bassist (and guitarist, though he played only bass in this band) Joe Morris's "GoGo Mambo." This band is a tribute to original Mambo king Pérez Prado -- the free-blowing horns (notably Tony Malaby on tenor sax and Bill Lowe on trombone) over straight-up Afro-Cuban grooves reminded me a bit of some of Don Byron's projects, especially Music for Six Musicians. I especially enjoyed the interplay between Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng on congas and Willie Martinez on timbales -- it made for a fun and satisfyingly earthy close to a night that otherwise embraced a more abstracted rhythmic perspective.
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The next day, I hit Search and Restore's festival-within-a-festival at Public Assembly (AKA "the old Galapagos"), stupidly leaving my camera battery in its charging cradle. Urg. Anyway, I was definitely impressed with the healthy Sunday afternoon turnout, and more impressed still by the rapt attention paid to Steve Coleman's austerely intimate music -- the curious quartet of Coleman's alto sax, Jonathan Finlayson's trumpet, Jen Shyu's voice, and Miles Okazaki's guitar made some of the most beautiful and unusual "chamber jazz" I have heard in a good long time. I'd never experienced Coleman's music without a rhythm section before. In a situation like that, everyone's personal responsibility for the time ramps up dramatically, but Steve's command of rhythm is, of course, legendary, and it was quite something to hear him and his cohorts put it all out there for an extended spell. I really enjoyed everything I heard at Public Assembly -- Ken Thompson's ambitious new compositions, Kneebody's groove-drenched electrojazz, and the life-affirming energy of Andrew D'Angelo's Gay Disco trio -- but Steve Coleman's set revealed facets of his artistry I hadn't previously appreciated.
Vision Fest photos are below the fold.