Vision Festival 2008: Day 1
Douglas effortlessly threw off fanfares, apercus, and whinnying decrescendos, toying with both the tunes and the audience, frequently bringing a smile to the face with his virtuosity. While largely responsible for the rhythmic thrust, Caine nevertheless found space to echo the phrases of others or essay emphatic commentary. Though Douglas and Caine are perhaps the more known quantities, Carrott was the real revelation with his spare and unpredictable contributions. In one solo he used one mallet to dampen and bend notes struck with the other, extending the tonal range of the vibes, and even played briefly with his hands.
Closing the 45 minute set was an involved unison line, interspersed with shouting accents, then breaking apart into more open-eared dialogue. Caine rumbled on piano leading to a chiming duet with Carrott, then passed motifs around the group setting up another unison finale to great applause for a very polished set.
The NU Band
More typical Vision fare was provided by the Nu Band: a cooperative outfit featuring Roy Campbell on trumpet, and pocket trumpet, Mark Whitecage on alto and curved soprano saxophones and clarinet, Joe Fonda on bass and Lou Grassi on drums.
Campbell has been a fixture on the downtown scene for over 30 years, gracing ensembles such as Other Dimensions in Music, William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra and Marc Ribot's Spiritual Unity, with his smoldering trumpet. He has a habit of forming fine understanding with his front line partners and in the veteran Whitecage he has found another kindred spirit who dealt with everything thrown at him, switching between inside and outside at will. Since a flurry of activity on CIMP records in the mid 90s, too little has been heard from the mercurial saxophonist, so it was a real pleasure to catch him in this setting.
Though neither man is tall both Fonda and Grassi pack enormous energy into their compact frames. Fonda verged on the hyperactive, whether stomping his foot as he played with an intense grimace, scatting along with intricate runs or essaying delicate arco work. Grassi combined tumbling polyrhythms with a feather light touch as he swept around his kit.
As Fonda sardonically announced: "The Nu Band has no leaders. We all contribute tunes, and even on occasion finances." Their program reflected this, opening with Campbell's effervescent "Loeasida Blues," before Grassi's loping "Avanti Gallopi," and a pair of tunes from Fonda. Whitecage's blues tinged "Connecticut Solution" closed out the set with Whitecage reciting a deconstructed US Constitution, following a fine pocket trumpet outing by Campbell.
The line "It is the people's duty to throw off such Government" drew a cheer from the audience, and vocal interjections from Campbell, culminating in a chorus of "Bush whack him," over Whitecage's bitter sweet alto peregrinations. Seeing the sign from the side of the stage that their time was up, catapulted them into a slow down and dirty line with frantic chase interludes and the closing statement "we've been Bush whacked." An excellent set.
Mark Dresser and Denman Maroney
Mark Dresser may still be best known for his tenure with one of Anthony Braxton's classic quartets, but the bassist and pianist Denman Maroney have a musical relationship stretching back some 19 years, and it showed in the highly personal duo language they have evolved.
Their unique sound world is predicated upon extended techniques, with Maroney rubbing wooden blocks along his piano strings, producing unearthly shrieks and glissandos, almost as a recurrent motif through the performance. Dresser made assured and purposeful use of the whole gamut of bass techniques, drawing from frog croaking yelps, rubber band twangs and stuttering drones in pursuit of their tandem vision. Dresser is a master: at times he simultaneously plucked and bowed to inspired effect against abrasive rubbing on the piano strings, or subtly varied the pressure as he bowed on the bridge of his bass to modulate a firm but vocalised squeaking.