Thursday, July 27, 2006

Visions of Torrents, Part 1: Some kind soul has been posting audience recordings of sets from the 2006 Vision Festival in New York City, and I have been downloading this very interesting music. The resurgence of trombonist Grachan Moncur III continues on his Vision Festival set after his fine 2004 comeback album Exploration. The band is a well rehearsed sextet of Moncur; Khan Jamal on vibes; Noriko Kamo on piano; Bruce Edwards on guitar; Bob Arkin on bass; and Richard Pearson on drums. What's interesting about this set is that although Moncur is an excellent composer in his own right, they elect to perform three lengthy interpretations of jazz standards: Blue Rondo by Jackie McLean, Footprints by Wayne Shorter and So What by Miles Davis. The band sounds great both as an ensemble and in solos, particularly Jamal, whose shimmering vibes recall Bobby Hutcherson's role on all of the classic Blue Note sessions that he and Moncur were a part of. This was a really good set of modern sounding jazz, and I hope this band will be properly recorded for an official release soon.

Violinist and composer Billy Bang is another musician who has been seeing a renaissance lately, as he has been courageously confronting his painful memories of the Vietnam War through a series of excellent albums on the Canadian Justin Time label which mix far eastern music with western jazz. For this performance he revisits some of those compositions with colleagues
James Zollar on trumpet; Andrew Bemkey on piano; Todd Nicholson on bass; and Newman Taylor Baker on drums. Bang plucks and bows through a short set of eastern influenced music that ranges from quiet to loud with impressive dynamism. The band, particularly Zollar, solo very well and work well as an integrated unit. The collective trio of Miya Masaoka on koto and electronics; Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Peggy Lee on cello played a sublime set of electro-acoustic chamber jazz on the final day of the festival. While most people may think of the Vision Festival as a place where free musicians blast off on explorations of the cosmos, there is quite a bit of exploration of the quieter "inner-space" like this where the plucked and strummed koto adds an unusual feel to the probing piano and underpinning cello. While the music may have strayed away from jazz per se, it never grew stale or boring throughout the length of the 42 minute continuous performance. You really have to pay attention to the dialog amongst the trio but the dividend paid is enchanting music.

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