Sunday, June 24, 2007
A brief report on two evenings from the Vision Fest.
Friday night proved to be fairly solid, more so that I would have guessed. The 50 violin piece (more exactly 38 musicians, including seven bassists, two cellists and five violists) turned out to be an arrangement, by Jason Kao Hwang, of Leroy Jenkins' "New York", from the Revolutionary Ensemble's "People's Republic" album. The arrangement itself was quite beautiful, containing sonorities that reminded me of "Skies of America". Unfortunately, Billy Bang's conduction of the improvised sections was clumsy and obvious. Would've worked far better as a through-written piece.
Roy Campbell's band was OK as well, especially the first number which recalled John Handy's music from Monterey (are we sensing a theme here?). Inconsistent, but not bad.
The highlight of the evening (of both nights, actually) was Matt Shipp's solo piece. I'm not overly familiar with Shipp's work and have only seen him a handful of times but this was easily the best I've heard him sound, an opinion I later heard echoed by listeners with presumably vastly more experience with his music. I heard a lot of Ellington in there, specifically the rugged Ellington of "Money Jungle" or, even better, Duke via early Dollar Brand as heard in some of his knottier recordings like "African Sketchbook". Shipp interpolated several standards including "My Funny Valentine" and kept things consistently shifting but solid, only dipping into Cecil territory here and there. Nice set.
I skipped out during the Patricia Nicholson set, always an excellent option, returning for Fred Anderson/Harrison Bankhead/Hamid Drake. They were fine, though nowhere near as inspired as the Anderson/Bankhead duo had been a few years ago. Granted, there's only so much one can expect from an 80-odd year old fellow, so props to him for anything he still creates. Really thought Drake was playing insensitively a lot of the time, often trampling over the other two. Would have much rather heard just the duo.
Didn't stay for Myra Melford.
The second evening was far more inconsistent. Came in for only the last few minutes of the Ganelin trio which sounded pretty ok though I heard they kept things at one (loud) level for the entirety of the set.
The Eddie Gale/Prince Lasha sextet didn't do much for me. Gale sounded decent but my Kidd Jordan tolerance levee was breached early on and I had to go outside for ten minutes or so. Back for the last half hour of the set, nothing much moved me. I purposefully placed myself out of sight range of the stage area so as not to inflict Ms. Nicholson on my retinas though I dutifully moved to the railing of the balcony late in the set so as to objectively ascertain that, yes, she is as abjectly awful as ever. Pete C. said he was always reminded of the old Jules Feiffer cartoons of the girls flinging out their arms, exclaiming, "I'm a dancer!". Exactly.
Rob Brown's set, which began with some execrable electronics work from Guillermo Brown, wasn't doing the trick for me, so I went out for some dessert with Scott and the inestimable Al from NYC. Back for the last half of Whit Dickey's performance, wherein Sabir Mateen played exactly the same notes I've heard issue from him a dozen other times.
Things didn't promise to improve from there with Amiri Baraka's group, so we took off.
The odd (sad?) thing was that the better music from each evening almost inevitably referred directly to earlier great music. So you get pastiches of Handy, the Art Ensemble, Ellington etc., which are enjoyable enough but hardly possessing any "vision". Not surprising, of course, but still. Worse, as always, for something describing itself as "free music", countless strictures were constantly in place. There was rarely a moment where you got the idea that a given musician could do anything that came to mind. Solo order tended to follow the standard routes (horns to piano to bass to drums). Hell, the whole "solo" thing was sometimes laughable. During Dickey's set, bassist Todd Nicholson was soloing and Dickey's accompaniment (not as a joke) was tapping the ride cymbal in a "ching-chinka-ching" pattern. It's 2007 and people who are purportedly experimental, avant and free musicians are still doing "ching-chinka-ching". Jesus.
Favorite non-musical moment was simply laying eyes upon the only surviving Blue Note, Louis Moholo-Moholo. That was worth everything else.