Reviews - VISION ONE:.. Vision Festival 1997 Compiled (AUM007/8)

Aum Fidelity is in the midst of a period when every recording is a must-have. This compilation of live tracks from 1997's Vision Festival is more than just the documentation of a particular event. The Festival, which brought together the core of the label's roster (Matthew Shipp, David S. Ware, William Parker, Other Dimensions in Music) with the likes of John Zorn, Thurston Moore, Butch Morris and many others, was more than a series of concerts. Forgive the soapbox stance but it's an indication that improvisation , as inherited from the free jazz pioneers of the late fifties and early sixties, is now the source of a vital community of artists that are, against huge odds and commercial apathy, forging a coalition that is cutting across lines. Those lines can be seen as musical, generational, geographical, economic, and even racial but the important thing is that this thing is happening.

All of which wouldn't mean much if this double CD set didn't deliver some primo listening, which it does in volume. The performances here shift from the cascading scree and dizzying drumming of Rashied Ali's Prima Material to the remarkable inner workings of William Parker and The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra to Mark Dresser's remarkably subtle bass solo on "Bosnia." There's a real gem to be found in Thurston Moore/Lawrence Cook/Jon Voigt trio's "Fuzz Against Junk," which features beautifully subtle guitar-bass interplay that builds off the best traditions of the rock power trio and moves into transparent waters. Out of fifteen tracks there's only one that left me cold, a meandering piano-flute duet by Matthew Shipp and Rob Brown and I'll admit that's mostly because my flute tolerance level is so low. The rest are all worth going back to again and again. Most importantly, Vision Volume One fulfills the prime directive of any compilation; it entices you to check out the recordings of the artists represented. Personally, that will mean the pursuit of Other Dimensions in Music and The Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra.

The CD booklet provides some examples of the artwork associated with the Vision Festival and refers to the interdisciplinary work that went on there between painters, sculptors, dancers, and poets. The entire package is worth picking up. -Bruce Adams

AMAZON.COM : on the list of "11 Best Jazz Records of 1998"

Review of Vision Festival 1997 by Scott Hreha (originally written in July 1997 for Scott's very fine webzine ONE FINAL NOTE)

The word 'vision' carries strong implications, often concerning the notion of looking forward/ahead to a point in time when states-of-being will have improved. Similarly, the recently-staged (May 27-31) Second Annual Vision for the 21st Century Festival ('Vision Fest') remained true to the concept which inspired its name. Completely disregarding my routine obligations, I managed to travel from Minneapolis to New York for three nights (Thursday-Saturday) of the six-day long festival, during which I witnessed live performances by many of the major (yet marginalized) proponents of creative jazz (not to mention the poets, dancers and visual artists also involved in this multi-disciplinary event), and gained a first-hand understanding of the higher planes (dare I say 'nirvanas'?) sought by the 'visionary' artists.

Coming from the Midwest, quite a few aspects of this festival struck me as unique: ethnically and gender-ly diverse attendees, lack of delineation between 'performer' and 'audience' (all of the participating artists wandered freely around the building) and the general positive attitude among everyone involved. The climate produced such a casual atmosphere that I kept finding myself completely 'starstruck' by the idea of so many of my musical heroes, most of whom I've only heard on recordings, standing in my immediate vicinity. In all sincerity, the fact that this festival happened in two consecutive years is cause enough for rejoice, especially considering the allusions made to operating 'in the red'. Anyway, I want note that while I have limited this review to the actual performances I observed, there were also stimulating exhibits by visual artists (Jo Ann Wood, Yuko Otomo, Alain Kirili, etc.) who also embody the tenets of freedom in creativity. So keeping all of these rambling ideas in mind, I'll try to do justice to the music...

Thursday, May 29: ...Due to a juggling of schedules, a succession of poets followed Jarman's performance. The first was Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest who nearly bored the audience to tears with thirty minutes of poems written while he visited Vietnam as an anti-war activist. Fortunately Amiri Baraka, who has been writing about the 'new music' since the early 60s (writing which initially exposed me to the wonders of free jazz), took the stage next to breathe some excitement back into the proceedings. With tenor saxophonist Hubie Morgan (?) playing snippets of classic jazz and spiritual melodies as accompaniment, Baraka ranted through a hardcore barrage of poems like "Heathens", "I Love Music" and several pieces from his "Wise, Why's, Y's" collection. Considering that he immediately followed Berrigan, it was fascinating to watch some members of the audience shift uncomfortably in their seats at the anti-Christian overtones found in much of Baraka's work. In all, Baraka's appearance worked both to invigorate the evening and to give a powerful endorsement to the festival's continuation of the free jazz tradition.

Next up was William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, whose astounding intricacy left both ears and minds sufficiently blown. While the size of the band and its sheer sonic force recalled the mid-60s Sun Ra Arkestra, Parker's compositional style seemed to borrow very little from that of the omniscient Saturnite. The LHCMO played one piece, just under an hour long, that displayed a complex blend of free improvisation and tight composition, often sharply contrasting the two concepts within single passages. Highlighted players in the 15-piece LHCMO included Rob Brown (alto sax, flute), Marco Eneidi (alto sax), Assif Tsahar (tenor sax), Roy Campbell (trumpet), Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Susie Ibarra (drums) and Cooper-Moore (piano); not to mention Parker in his wonderfully loud fire-engine red suit. Needless to say, after their blistering performance I was already feeling satisfied--with two more sets (and two more nights!) to go...

...The evening concluded with a beautiful duet performance by Matthew Shipp (piano) and Rob Brown (alto sax, flute), showcasing the multiple talents of both musicians. Their late set (it was after 12:30 AM at this point) consisted of mesmerizing and sensitive improvisations similar to those which appear on their recent "Blink of an Eye" recording (No More Records). Shipp's trademark lower register thunderings contrasted well with Brown's lyrical phrasings, while two sections of Shipp's unaccompanied playing created a strong organic balance. That is to say, even though the music was entirely improvised, the uncanny communication between the two retained a sense of direction throughout the piece's duration. As the duo finished, festival organizer Patricia Nicholson thanked everyone for their patience amidst the evening's disheveled schedule and asked if the wait for Shipp and Brown's performance was worthwhile--to which the crowd answered a resounding yes!

Friday, May 30: ...Maneri/Morris/Maneri were followed with a festival-eclipsing set by the David S. Ware quartet, whose music (as usual) walked the sacred ground between subtlety and intensity/structure and chaos, stridently navigating the gaps between John Coltrane's 'classic' quartet and the 21st century. Their set-closing piece (each note, sound and color of which will be etched into my memory forever!) knocked the proverbial roof off the Orensanz Art Center. Beginning with a free-for-all between Ware's tenderly, lung-collapsing tenor sax, William Parker's simultaneously anchoring and propelling bass, Matthew Shipp's swirling flow of piano sound and Susie Ibarra's polyrhythmic rim shot-laden drumming, the group burned at full intensity for five to ten minutes (what's time when the music is so beautiful?). Eventually Ware signaled Shipp for a solo, at which time the entire band dropped out to leave Shipp unaccompanied--juggling registers and bouncing technicolor notes off the walls. With little visual communication, Ware, Parker and Ibarra roared back into music/life, nearly throwing me from my seat (even Shipp seemed a bit startled) and ending the piece on a fully resonant meta-chord. I am convinced that seeing this group perform live IS a spiritual experience.

...Friday night's final performance by the Cooper-Moore Quartet definitely won the honor for the festival's most pleasant surprise. I had previously experienced Cooper-Moore only as a pianist, so his use of self-constructed instruments caught me completely off-guard. Except for one piece as a flute duet with Rob Brown, Cooper-Moore displayed masterful command of his homemade 'twanger': an amplified 2x4 with a single bass string, played on the lap with a wooden dowel-slide in the left hand and either violin-bowed or struck with another wooden dowel in the right. With Brown (also on alto sax), an unidentified drummer (the scheduled Michael Wimberley didn't show) and Tiye Giroud (vocals and amplified gourd--presumably another Cooper-Moore creation), the quartet's soulful, earthy offerings pleased the late audience and ended the evening on a funkily pastoral note.

Saturday. May 31: ...Algarin was followed by two separate dance performances by the Anarchy Group and festival organizer Patricia Nicholson. The Anarchy Group's piece "The School of Hard Knocks" (choreographed by Yoshiko Chuma), worked nicely on an esoteric level but held little in the way of musical interest. However Nicholson's performance (divided into two sections: "Stories Blur"--choreographed for three dancers, and "Song"--which she performed herself), accompanied musically by Cooper-Moore (playing his now-infamous 'twanger'), Jason Hwang (violin), Denis Charles (drums) and Dave Shields (piano), twisted the boundaries between aural and visual art with bodily extensions of the group's music... or was it musical extensions of bodily manipulations?

Next came the second major highlight of the festival: a rare New York appearance by the masterful percussionist Milford Graves, incidentally one of the first drummers to disregard the conventional timekeeping role. Accompanied by Hugh Glover (alto sax) and Joseph Rigby (reeds), Graves created a world of sonic energy that astounded the capacity audience. Glover and Rigby took turns as partners in duo improvisation with Graves, while the drummer filled the spaces between with solo bursts of percussive thunder from his vibrantly hand-painted kit. Graves also stopped at many points to tell impromptu stories rich with the history and experience of almost thirty-five years of free jazz. As the performance built in intensity and depth, Graves finally called both Glover and Rigby to the stand with, "Let's take this thing home." And if Graves' 'home' could be seen as the very soul of every person who cherishes this music, then that is precisely where it went.

...Saturday's final performance by Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble came as another pleasant surprise. The music developed slowly with spaciously collective improvisation between Cole (playing didgeridoo and a variety of whistles, musettes and other non-Western instruments), Joseph Daley (tuba), Cooper-Moore (flute and homemade instruments) and Warren Smith (drums), creating aural visions of the cultures in which many of Cole's instruments originated. When William Parker joined the group (he was scheduled to play but arrived late), his solid bass presence pounded an explicit framework into the music's delicacy. After much dynamic group interaction, Parker took the spotlight with an amazing display of solo bass, only to lead the others into the HARDEST-of-hard, straight-up, set-closing blues.

...As must be obvious, this festival was a truly incredible event, gathering both the legendary masters and the modern visionaries of creative jazz. Hopefully the organizational powers behind the Vision Fest will succeed in presenting a 'Third Annual...' (and a Fourth and Fifth...) and will keep the musicians and appreciators of this music looking ever-forward to the time when corporate oppression and public indifference are things of the past. Meanwhile, the do-it-yourself aesthetic survives--not only in NYC--with the Fire in the Valley festival (Amherst, MA), the Empty Bottle festival (Chicago), the Unity Temple series (also Chicago) and other equally impressive gatherings in Victoriaville (Quebec), Toronto and Vancouver, not to mention a plethora of independent and artist-run record labels around the world. And despite the 'powers-that-be' (who continue after forty years to lament their inability to crush this music)--the climate for creative jazz (free jazz, avant-garde jazz, whatever you wish to call it) persists as an increasingly positive (and 'visionary') one.