Vision Festival 2009: Day 4
Miriam Parker's Corridor / Charles Gayle Trio / The Ras Ensemble / The Ayler Project / Zim Ngqawana and the Collective Quartet
14th Annual Vision Festival
Abrons Arts Center
New York City
June 12, 2009
On Friday the Vision Festival was sold out again, with the line stretching down the road. On offer was some of the cream of New York City's avant jazz talent, with the U.S. debut of the Roy Campbell's Ayler Project particularly noteworthy. As a showcase, the annual venue is important not only to the audience who can pack a year's worth of gigs into one week, but also the artists themselves. A good performance can catch the ear of European festival promoters, of whom several were present, and lead to invitations for appearances by headliners for the delectation of those not able to cross the Atlantic. Perhaps this attention translates into above-average performances. Certainly a fair proportion of sets ultimately get released, as a growing catalogue of Vision performances on diverse labels attests.
- Miriam Parker's Corridor
- Charles Gayle Trio
- The Ras Ensemble
- The Ayler Project
- Zim Ngqawana and the Collective Quartet
To start the night, Miriam Parker brought her solo dance piece "Corridor" to the blacked-out stage and auditorium, with music by Jason Kao Hwang together with Joseph Daley's tuba along with banks of electronics, raised on a podium on the left-hand side to allow space for dancing. At the outset Parker cavorted sinuously in front of a spotlight in the wings so her shadow undulated across the stage, as Hwang plucked on violin, though for the most part the sounds accompanying the wonderfully lithe Parker were more like ambient electronics. At one point Hwang bowed a grandly romantic theme but generally the electronic soundscapes with tuba drones and heavily amplified violin had the elemental feel of weather rather than music.
Free jazz saxophonist (and sometime pianist) Charles Gayle has been a fixture of the Vision Festival over the years, finding the trio format particularly well suited to his needs. With him tonight were Lisle Ellis on bass and longtime collaborator Michael Wimberly on drums, for a 50-minute set of improvised conversations.
Looking gaunt in a gray suit, Gayle began with a whinnying cry, before a crash of drums and strutting bass signaled buoyant support for the leader's forceful upper register forays. Ellis was almost dancing with his bass during his full-toned pizzicato solo, before a repeated motif led him into a delicate section which elicited such attention from the photographers that it became a duet for bass and camera shutters. Punctuating his flow with harmonics plucked below the bridge, he soon made it apparent that here was another monster bassist, very strong rhythmically, with great presence and plying a continual counterpoint to Gayle's outpourings. Coming out of his feature, Ellis locked into a repeated pattern to underpin Wimberly's explosive flurries on the drums. Although he gave his kit a good thrashing, Wimberly was far from one dimensional, displaying acute sensitivity when needed. Wielding very thick sticks, the drummer eased into a powerhouse solo, ended when Gayle strode back onstage for a short closing statement on alto saxophone.
Gayle had a very clear idea of what he wanted. After a lovely abstract conversation with Ellis at the start of the second piece, Gayle turned to one side to signal Wimberly to join, tapping his foot to set the tempo, before embarking on a litany of bent hollers. Ellis interjected a tumbling series of plucked notes in a pleasing interaction with Gayle's soulful vocalized shout. Preaching the ugly beauty of distorted tones and wide vibrato, Gayle arched his back as he stretched for a high falsetto, before turning to one side with his sax, to guide the piece to a close.
Moving to the piano, Gayle essayed stuttered chording, with Ellis joining for some flowing arco work, contrasting with Gayle's increasingly wild prancing fragmentation. A second piece began with some abstracted stride, with Gayle growling at the piano as he played. Testament to the responsiveness of the trio, Ellis repeatedly plucked a note like he was glued to it, prompting Gayle to hammer at a single note with his right hand, and Ellis to up the intensity even more.
Clinching evidence of all the listening going on was the final piece, on which Gayle brought out his tenor saxophone, a rarely seen sight over the last few years. Ellis picked up straight away on Gayle's opening phrase, transmuting it into a contrapuntal motif grounding the saxophonist's exhortations. As Gayle alternated multiphonic shrieks with deep subtone honks, Wimberly crashed his cymbals to a crescendo while Ellis swayed his bass from side to side. Working out of the middle register again Gayle could almost have been playing some abstracted standard in terms of his phrasing and tempo, but in terms of content it was anything but. Shifting from a great tenor wail to distorted bleating, Gayle finished with breathy vulnerability and a wavering cry. Excellent set. A powerful set and one of highlights so far.