Vision Festival, NYC, Days 6-7: June 16-17, 2012
17th Annual Vision Festival
June 16-17, 2012
June 16: Steve Swell Quintet / Trio 3 / Jason Kao Hwang Burning Bridge
June 17: Ingrid Laubrock's Anti-House / Burnt Sugar Holy Ghost & Fire / Rob Brown/Daniel Levin / Kidd Jordan Quintet
Festival Wrap Up
June 16: Steve Swell Quintet / Trio 3 / Jason Kao Hwang Burning Bridge
You couldn't wish for a better start to the evening than trombonist Steve Swell's super charged ensemble. Swell had selected his colleagues wisely. Everyone proved adept at propounding his gritty themes with verve, before utilizing them as launch pads for a series of hot solos. Chris Forbes, the sort of pianist who very quickly creates a stir, surged out of the tunes with knuckled clusters and forearms in glissandos which stretched from top to bottom of the keyboard as hammered simultaneously in the bass register. In terms of high-octane exhilaration, he showed some affinity with John Blum, another pyrotechnical keyboard artist who has graced the brassman's Slamming The Infinite combowitness his outings on Live @ The Vision Festival (Not Two, 2007) and 5000 Poems (Not Two, 2009).
On alto saxophone Rob Brown was an inspired presence. His acerbic-toned expositions ricocheted at unsettling angles, invoking bridled chaos. Although at times he might sound completely outside any order, he knew exactly where he was. That went for the leader as well, his unpredictable undulating lines matching his bending and twisting frame as he ducked and swayed, inspired by the music.
Hilliard Greene on bass and Michael TA Thompson on drums meshed thoughtfully, manipulating an elastic pulse. Thompson deftly combined keeping free with keeping time, and still finding opportunity for glancing commentary on the shells of his drums. But structure was never far away: in one malleted statement, he started on floor tom, then moving around his kit in purposeful eruptions before cutting loose and then suddenly pausing to usher in the staggered theme reiteration. Greene added grain as well as tempo, showing his range in one feature where widely spaced, resounding notes contrasted with arco outbursts of ever increasing anxiety.
Tight yet loose at same time, the band performed with a heightened emotional resonance as exemplified by their second number, which began with a richly nuanced Swell intro, presaging a vaguely oriental head, doubled by Brown's alto. As was ever likely, such organization then dissolved into an apparently unscripted give and take, prior to a perfectly judged synchronous reentry. Later the reverse held true as the trombonist pontificated while the band slowly cohered around him, until they leapt into a passage of syncopated swing in 4/4 time. One of hallmarks of the group was the knotty interaction behind the soloist, unlocking exciting pockets of sound to be navigated. Forbes enthusiastically shone in this regard, even having to literally hold onto his hat at one point, something which the audience only had to do metaphorically during this excellent set.
A buzz of anticipation coursed through the auditorium before the appearance of veteran collective Trio 3, who stand as one of the preeminent working units of the present era, with more than a 30-year history behind them. Their democratic ethos was evident both in the space allowed for each member and in the repertoire itself, featuring six charts drawn from across the band. But as if to demonstrate that they could do it all, they opened with an improvisation, which saw bassist Reggie Workman blowing on his pickup for an ambient whooshing, through which percolated Oliver Lake's emotive alto saxophone cries.
Exploitation of freedom within frameworks was one of the joys of Trio 3's performance. Each knows the other so well that they can leave space to be filled and still pick up and keep the inner logic to what sounds like a completely unscripted extemporization, as on the drummer Andrew Cyrille's stop-start "Fate," with its hanging suspensions where Lake, glorying in his distinctive sour/sweet tone, switched between thematic and off-the-cuff outbursts. The group achieved a similar effect on the reedman's "Debts" as bass and drums accelerated into a headlong tumble, before slowing as the author entered, accompanied only by Cyrille's sticks on the shells of his toms.
Cyrille has long been one of the most graceful of avant jazz drummers, as he confirmed in an accomplished display, immaculately balancing sound and silence on Lake's "Lope." Each member took on the allotted roles of the jazz trio, but then executed them in unanticipated ways. That was never more true than in the stickman's "The Navigator," where after a rubato false-fingered opening by Lake, the subsequent interchange felt like a deconstruction of the jazz trio, bringing to mind the band's acclaimed Time Being (Intakt, 2007) in terms of dismantling structures into fragments of melody and rhythm. At the finale, Lake worked himself up into a fine frenzy, alternating his coruscating runs with vocal shouts and stamping his foot on the spot. At the conclusion of their set the audience leapt to their feet in vocal approbation.
There wasn't a weak act all evening. Under the title Premiere, a threesome of vocalist Thomas Buckner and the increasingly familiar twinning of flutist Nicole Mitchell and bassist extraordinaire Joelle Leandreheard to positive advantage on Before After (Rogue Art, 2011)lined up across the stage. Each listened intently to the other as their intersecting lines and timbral gestures coalesced into an ongoing flow.
Buckner's wordless vocals blended well with the two women, both of whom used their voices alongside their instruments. This was a group creation, with brief individual vignettes appearing naturally from the flow. Mitchell was at her most timbrally inventive, creating a symbiosis of flute and voice with multiphonics and trills. Leandre was typically exuberant, effortlessly deploying stunning technique and tone, and at one juncture bowing while at the same time creating a pizzicato rhythm on two strings. Collective in the true sense of word, and all about communication between three consummate musicians who transcend their instruments.
Jason Kao Hwang's Burning Bridge
Closing out the penultimate evening, Jason Kao Hwang's Burning Bridge expounded four movements from a Chamber Music America commission which featured an augmented version of his talented group Edge, heard on the acclaimed Crossroads Unseen (Eunonymous, 2011). Hwang's arrangements leavened melodicism with adventurous textures, giving birth to complex and varied backing for solos, which at times recalled Charles Mingus in their infectious holler. The horns riffed joyously in support of first Taylor Ho Bynum's wah-wahed cornet and later the leader's testifying violin.
Unusual juxtapositions blossomed from the charts, like the haunting duet for Ken Filiano's peerless arco bass and Wang Guowei's beautifully evocative erhu (a one-stringed Chinese violin) which morphed into a heated argument for strings. On drums, Andrew Drury was full of timbral ingenuity, conjuring oriental similes with his use of gongs and cymbals, and a mind-bending array of source materials deployed on his drumheads.
In the second movement there was a forthright clash of cultures between the brass quoting a hymn, and the strings, more ethereal. Swell moved the mind from the sacred to the profane with rapidly articulated, blowsy trombone over a lurching riff, while an interchange between violin and pipa became an exercise in abrasive color. Later Sun Li unveiled plushly shimmering pipa work on the fifth movement (they skipped the fourth due to time constraints). By this late hour, such densely plotted constructs proved hard to grasp, but it made one hope that the work would be recorded in its entirety so it could be appreciated at leisure.