Vision Festival Vol. 3 CD/DVD/Book
Regretfully, the first decade of New York's Vision Festival has not been documented properlyat least officially (any proficient web surfer can download many live audience recordings from each year of the festival). So far only three volumes have attempted to bring a glimpse of this unique gathering of the free jazz tribethe limited edition Vision One: Vision Festival 1997 Compiled (AUM Fidelity, 1998); the VisionFest, Vision Live CD and DVD (Thirsty Ear, 2003), and the current limited edition of Vision Vol. 3. A few releases on the Swedish Ayler label captured complete setsHamid Drake & Assif Tsahar (Soul Bodies, Vol 1, 2002); Jemeel Moondoc Tentet, Jus Grew Orchestra (Live at the Vision Festival 2001, 2002); Exuberance (Live at Vision Festival, 2004). That's a scarce selection in comparison to the enviable documentation of a similiarly-minded festival, the International Festival Musique Actuelle Victoriaville in Canada, on its own Victo label.
This Arts For Art releasethe first release from the non-profit organization that runs the festivalis a compilation of recordings and live footage from the eighth festival in 2003, with better sound (including 5.1 surround sound) and much better picture quality than the earlier Thirsty Ear release. Many ad-hoc outfits are represented on the CD and the DVD, but there are no repeat performances.
The first thing you notice upon playing the CD or the DVD is the sound of the double-bass, a buzzing and succulent sound, no surprise given that one of the festival's main activists is bass giant William Parker and its chief producer is Parker's wife, dancer Patricia Nicholson. The clever miking of the double-basses and the distinctive sound of the bull-fiddle in the performances of remarkable players such as Henry Grimes, the underrated Harrison Bankhead, Joe Morriseven on the home-made bo-diddley of Cooper-Mooreand of course, Parker himself, engulfs you with deep, resonating timbres that connect you to the creative spirits that constantly flow in this festival.
The Vision Festival has always framed itself as part of the rich tradition of jazz, and the most impressive performance on the CD and DVD is William Parker's Jeanne Lee project, a seventeen-member orchestra with four vocalistsLisa Sokolov, Ellen Christy, Thomas, Buckner and Jay Clayton, dedicated to the innovative vocalist, who died five years ago. The CD excerpt "Bowl of Stone Around the Sun" is from the concluding part of the third movement of this hour-long composition and features the exciting voices of Sokolov and Christi that bring this emotional piece to a climax.
The DVD piece "Song For Jeanne Lee" comes from the instrumental opening of the second movement, and features, sonically and visually, Grimes and his young student, bassist Nick Rosen, standing near Parker, who plays the talking drum and the balafon in a way that signifies a meeting of generations. The camera manages to capture inspired solos by violinist Billy Bang and trumpeter Lewis Barnes. But as with Parker's large ensembles, his loose arrangements and the high degree of freedom he grants his fellow musicians also means that his compositions demand some space and time until they gain the right momentum and magnitude. These two excerpts, as beautiful and revealing as they are, fall short of drawing the real experience of such a heartfelt performance.
All the performances are exemplary, but some really stand out. The CD duet of saxophonist Fred Anderson and bassist Bankhead, "Trying To Catch The Rabbit," finds the two moving from a relaxed walking rhythm to raging wail in a matter of milliseconds. The great telepathy and interlocking patterns between saxophonist Kidd Jordan, drummer Andrew Cyrille, and Parker are captured both on CD and DVD. There is the delicate and sophisticated meeting of strings, led by the Korean-descended Jin Ji Kim on the komungo, Parker on the African harp (dosun ngoni), and Bang on violinonly on the DVDthe overly political cries on the CD version of "War Crimes and Battle Scars: Iraq" by trumpeter Roy Campbell and reed player Joe McPhee, and "False Selections and Elections" on the DVD. My only complaint is that the performances are too short.
The DVD offers an additional and illuminating treatinterviews with the musicians and organizers, photographed in their homes. These interviews reveal another important aspect of this independent festival: its clear political message. These artists refuse to surrender to the corporate business ethic and the numbing ideology of the dominant mainstream media, instead performing are free-minded activists determined to bring positive and peaceful change to their communities.
Producer Nicholson explains, in her wise and thoughtful way, that being an artist is more than playing notes or performing beautifully; it is a vocation, a social vocation, and a great responsibility towards our close community for the survival of the universe. Nicholson says that by organizing this economically impractical event she is in fact doing the most practical thing, restoring balance to a world that is polluted by arrogant and violent politicians such as the "megalo-maniac president Bush."
Parker adds that the music is adding a positive element to our life and offers us a means to tap into our spirituality and change ourselves. Trumpeter Roy Campbell speaks about the way that music can uplift you in these "depressive days," and drummer Whit Dickey explains how this highly improvised music is helping him to "lose my self, my entire being" in the music.
This limited edition black and white book encapsulates the Vision Festival ethos with essays and manifestos (Patricia Nicholson, Parker), treatises about music and art (Rob Brown, Parker, Grimes, Dickey, David Budbill, Campbell, Yuko Otomo, Alain Kirili), poetry (David S. Ware, Oliver Lake, Daniel Carter, Budbill, Steve Dalachinsky, Oluyemi Thomas), and photographs of artifacts (Jeff Schlanger, Lois Eby, Kazuko Miyamoto, Jo Wood Brown, Marilyn Sontag) and musicians.
All reflect about art, the history of the Vision Festival, and its roots in the New York loft scene of the 1970s (including photos of rare posters from that era). Nicholson writes in the introduction about the essence of the festivalto "celebrate the concept of visions and the importance of the ideal" and mentions that "when we fail to take responsibility for our world we are left to deal with what the world hands us."
Parker sums up the peaceful call of the Vision Festival by writing that "the world is changing for better or worse. All we can do is stay committed to our vision (the vision) of freedom, love and compassion within each living being. The art that comes through does not glorify war of any kind....play music, paint the painting, write the poem. Dance, step and leap out into the world. If it were not for art there would be no life."
A very useful companion for those of us who have not been there yet, but sympathize with the festival's much-needed message.
Personnel and track listings
CD: Whit Dickey Quartet: "Coalescence One; Fred Anderson/Harrison Bankhead: "Trying To Catch The Rabbit; Matthew Shipp Quartet featuring Daniel Carter: "Surface and Dream: Excerpt #1; Roy Campbell/Joe McPhee Quartet: "War Crimes and Battle Scars: Iraq; Thomas Buckner feat. Roscoe Mitchell/Jerome Cooper: "Improvisation #1073, Excerpt #1; Andrew Cyrille/Kidd Jordan/William Parker: "Quilt; Patricia Nicholson's PaNic w/Joseph Jarman/Cooper-Moore: "Rise Up; Rob Brown's Resonance w/William Parker/Henry Grimes: "Resonance, Excerpt #1; William Parker's Jeanne Lee Project: "Bowl of Stone Around the Sun."
DVD: Matthew Shipp Quartet featuring Daniel Carter: "Surface and Dream, Excerpt #2; William Parker's Jeanne Lee Project: "Song for Jeanne Lee; Whit Dickey Quartet: "Coalescence Two; Patricia Nicholson's PaNic w/Joseph Jarman/Cooper-Moore: "Rise Up (further); Thomas Buckner Open Roscoe Mitchell/Jerome Cooper: "Improvisation #1073, Excerpt #2; Jin Hi Kim with William Parker/Billy Bang: "Once Again; Kali Z. Fasteau Group w/ Maria MIitchell (Dance): "Ganapati's Dance; Andrew Cyrille/Kidd Jordan/William Parker: "Junction; Roy Campbell/Joe McPhee Quartet: "False Selections and Elections; Rob Brown's Resonance w/ William Parker/Henry Grimes: "Resonance Excerpt #2."
Additional DVD material: Interviews with William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Rob Brown, Roy Campbell, Whit Dickey, Steve Dalachinsky, Jeff Schlanger, Jo Wood Brown, Yuko Otomo, and Vision Festival founder/dancer Patricia Nicholson.
Visit the Vision Festival on the web.
Marilyn Sontag, Paravent=Screen, from Vision Festival: Peace, p. 57.