Vision Festival 2009: Day 7 Finale
In a change of pace, Patricia Nicholson (pictured left) was joined by her daughter Miriam Parker, Jason Jordan and Mariko Kumanomido for some energetic and expressive free form dance. Accompanying them were partner William Parker on bass, Jason Kao Hwang returning on violin and Cooper—Moore on hand- crafted percussion with a flowing rhythmic improvisation.
After his triumph earlier in the evening Hwang seemed to play with particular abandon, and it was a revelation to hear him in this pared-down setting. His fast sinuous bowing moved from tension to joyous release in wave after wave of mercurial invention over Cooper-Moore's madcap percussion and Parker's propulsive throb. Parker in particular gave a butt-shaking rhythmic masterclass, with one infectious riff begun as the dancers were leaving the stage drawing them back irresistibly back for a final coda, which drew an enthusiastic response from band and audience alike. This was excellent music which would have easily stood on its own merits, and hopefully seeding the thought of Hwang exploring such a format further.
Closing out the festival in style was the William Parker Quartet featuring Hamid Drake on drums, Rob Brown on alto saxophone and Lewis Barnes on trumpet plus special guests Bobby Bradford on cornet, James Spaulding on alto saxophone and the ubiquitous Billy Bang on violin. Parker's Quartet has become one of the most acclaimed units in contemporary jazz since their inception back in 2000 with O'Neals Porch (Aum Fidelity, 2002). On the back of regular touring, a sequence of knockout discs has followed with Petit Oiseau (Aum Fidelity, 2008) just the most recent. Further recognition arrived with both Parker and Drake featuring in the Jazz Journalist Association Awards for 2009, long overdue some might say.
So in demand are they that this was the fifth opportunity to hear Parker and Drake in tandem during this festival, and their breath-taking rhythmic alchemy was at the core of the Quartet. Though billed as a new composition "Light Cottage Draped in a Curtain of Blues" their performance sounded more like a suite-like mash up of familiar themes, with "O'Neal's Porch" and "Gilmore's Hat" clearly recognizable, but with the presence of guests evoking almost a jam session vibe. Brown and Barnes' years in the band meant they only needed the merest rhythmic hint of a theme to seamlessly lock into the heads which were torn up with a practiced panache, leaving the guests to step forward for solos.
However, Brown was the standout soloist, full of deliberate distortions to color the notes, fluent at high speed and never retreading ideas in his unfurling, long-form expositions. He has been a fixture in Parker's bands ever since the early '90s, and it's easy to see why. Once you find someone this good, why would you let them go? Not that Barnes is any slouch. His trumpet, alternately tart and soulful, made a winning combination with Brown's bittersweet tone. Of the guests Spaulding was perhaps the pick, his alto saxophone soaring over traffic jam horns early on, then hitting on a riff until the rest of the horns picked it up as backing at which point he spiraled up above . Bradford's cornet was abstractly mellifluous , while Bang played pizzicato to round out some of the ensembles, but soloed with his customary verve and rhythmic attack.
But it was the superb expansion and contraction of time by Parker and Drake that in itself proved the highlight. It is hard to think of any other pairing active today with such seeming telepathic communication and ability to instantly adjust, making the outcome appear rehearsed rather than of the moment. Drake has said "With William [Parker] I feel that rhythmically I can go anywhere I want and he can respond," and that is the feeling that the listener got as well from what almost seemed like a sequence of Parker's greatest hits.
Even when one of the pair soloed, they came out of it with another groove. Case in point, Parker's feature involved strumming while moving his hands up, down and along the fingerboard in karate fashion to produce a rippling locomotive rumbling, which became ever quieter, until he finished it with the riff to the bouncy "Wood Flute Song" from Sound Unity (Aum Fidelity, 2005). Straightaway Brown and Barnes were on to it before giving way to a garrulous five horn chorale over a relentless rhythm. One by one they eventually pulled back to leave Bang bowing along with the rhythm duo. Drake slipped into a heavy 4/4 and the horns improvised a riff behind the ebullient Bang for a grandstand finish and a fantastic good time end to the festival, leaving an ecstatic audience calling for more.
Building on a solid start, the Festival just got stronger and stronger through the seven days with outstanding sets becoming commonplace by the end. Of the 34 shows on the main stage, the cherries on the cake were Roy Campbell and Joe McPhee's Ayler Project, Seth Meicht's Big Sound Ensemble, Matthew Shipp's solo set, the Rob Brown Trio, Planet Dream, the Fred Anderson Trio, Dickey/Yamamoto/ Carter, and Trio X, but it must be said that it was a very good cake.
As the audience dispersed, thoughts turned to the future. In the current economic climate nothing can be taken for granted, and as other festivals fall by the wayside, the need for the Vision Festival as a showcase for the underexposed medium of avant jazz, free jazz, creative improvised music, call it what you will, remains as much as ever. The Vision Festival has been largely the brainchild of one woman, Patricia Nicholson. Each year it is a labor of love which relies on support from musicians, the Lower East Side artistic community, volunteers and the audience. Go to the Vision Festival website to find how you can contribute.