Various Artists visionfest visionlive (Thirsty Ear)
It's hard to believe that in the first seven years of what has become the summit meeting for New York free improv, only one year has been collected for commercial release (Aum Fidelity's double disc VISION ONE: Vision Festival 1997 Compiled. While individual sets occasionally have been released, this is the second collection culled from the annual Vision Festival, with 10 tracks recorded during the 2002 edition.
The set features some festival friends, including the reunion of Jemeel Moondoc's Muntu, which he formed in the early 1970s, and pieces by Billy Bang, Matthew Shipp and a segment of a stomping performance by the Fred Anderson/Kidd Jordan Quartet; tracks by some underdocumented greats, such as Dave Burrell in a duo with bassist Tyrone Brown and a Douglas Ewart group with Wadada Leo Smith, William Parker and Hamid Drake; and an appropriate dedication in the form of a 10-minute bass solo by Peter Kowald.
In other words, there are plenty of things to justify picking up this cd/dvd set. Beyond being an important document, it's a nice souvenir.
The Vision Festival is a labor of love (in no small part on behalf of dancer and festival organizer Patricia Nicholson), and it's the kind of love that's more akin to a home-cooked meal than a diamond necklace. So, as with the festival, we are implicitly asked to forgive certain things. The sound, while acceptable, is at times muffled and unbalanced, and some of the fades between tracks are disarmingly abrupt. And anyone at the fest would probably have some quibble or another with the track selection (though surely none would argue that
the Anderson/Jordan dual sax quartet with the Parker/Drake rhythm section - who appear on a third of the tracks here - merited unedited release. Here it just breaks four minutes.) A more serious gripe arises with the duplication of all but one of the audio tracks on the
accompanying dvd. Surely two discs with two discs worth of material could have been arranged.
Still, strong performances abound. Shipp's trio with Parker and Mat Maneri turn out a thick-but-singing version of "Speech of Form" (from 2001's Expansion, Power, Release, released on HatOLOGY); Muntu (with Parker, Drake and Roy Campbell) play
a sweetly subdued version of Albert Ayler's "Truth is Marching In"; and Ellen Christi, accompanied by guitarist Rolf Strum, Parker and Drake, proves that pretty vocals and clean guitar aren't necessarily enemies of good jazz.
Beyond the duplication of tracks, the dvd holds other disappointments. While the videographers mercifully didn't flood the stage with lights or run around in front of the audience, the single camera shoot (supplemented by black-and-white stills and roving close-ups of Jeff Schlanger's real-time portraits of the performers) makes for a static viewing. And because of the wide angle shot with little light, they were forced to brighten the footage, causing a slightly grainy picture.
Furthermore, the video accentuates some unfortunate choices in material. The Burrell track includes too long a bass solo for an eight-minute track of the too-rarely-seen pianist. Burrell even gets up and walks offstage before the end of the track. And while it's nice to have Kowald preserved for posterity, his exceptional set with dance that year would have been a better choice for viewing.
But never mind all of that, because ardent followers of this heavily documented scene are insatiable, and of course the proof is in the pudding.
By Kurt Gottschalk