Five Must-See Shows: 2018 Vision Festival

It’s Vision Fest time. You know the deal. A week-long throwdown that touts a vibe of committed inquiry in the name of free-wheelin’ improv, celebrating musicians who forego established rules whenever it seems wise, and forge a personalized trajectory at all costs. Its 2018 home is Roulette, a smart choice for congregating and a great room to see shows. Get your tickets NOW. There’s an abundance of action, so here are five key gigs to get you started.

Archie Shepp / Dave Burrell / William Parker / Hamid Drake

It’s living music of course, but for me a bit of nostalgia plays into the seeing these two veterans shoulder to shoulder again.  Pieces such as Lybia‘s title track and A Sea of Faces“Hipnosis” made me swoon when I was initially falling for jazz. Burrell, who receives a lifetime achievement nod by the fest this year, is a gloriously fluid player, but he has two or three drummers in his left hand when need be, and both of the above tracks from the ’70s remind how punchy and buoyant a performance can be when the pianist and saxophonist connect.


Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl

There’s no lack of buzz around this new outfit, which puts vocalist Amirtha Kidambi in the mix, singing lyrics penned by the leader. Tracks from their new double CD such as “Thunderhead” and “Drop the Need” remind listeners that Halvorson’s omni aesthetic is driven by an ever-morphing approach – she chases what she hears and she hears a lot. Rigor and grace mark the experimentation; poise and editing keeps abstraction on its best behavior. The addition of Ambrose Akinmusire’s poetic trumpet lines make the collective swirl that much richer, and warmer, too.  They’ve been gigging, so coherence ain’t gonna be a prob.


Nasheet Waits’ Equality

From Nothingness To Infinity still gets a fair amount of spin time at my place, but it’s onstage where these four freebop experts (Mark Helias, Darius Jones and Aruán Ortiz join the drummer this time ’round) are most engaging, because watching the reactions between them can be riveting. A gambit is made, a countermove suddenly appears. Accents beget mood shifts; declarations emerge and evaporate. And when the boss decides it’s time to swing a bit, the whole room turns sideways.


Gerald Cleaver / Chris Potter / Brandon Lopez/ David Virelles

This group has been figuring itself out for a few years now, but one trait has defined them from the get-go: fluid punch. Chris is a thriller, his horn lines teeming with an ardor and equilibrium that makes his wildest passages present themselves with a deep clarity.  And the way that drummer Cleaver connects the dots with pianist Virelles boasts the kind of pliability that takes nuggets like Monk’s “Work” to the kind of joyously eloquent spot you’re always looking for.


Jaimie Branch Fly or Die

Been driving in the car this week listening to a cassette of Kudu, Branch’s sprawling electronics/brass/percussion venture by the Anteloper duo (Little Women’s Jason Nazary is her partner), and even as the spacy extrapolations spill forward, I’m reminded that the most seductive aspect of the trumpeter’s 2017 bass/cello/drums opus was its sharp design sense. Regardless how extended a passage she navigates, she has an editor’s sense of when to move into the next chapter. Chad Taylor drives the action here, and there’s no lack of liftoff as cellist Lester St. Louis and bassist Anton Hatwich, bubble along.

Vision Fest goes through next Monday, and btw…I’d also keep a sharp eye on a world premiere by Matthew Shipp’s Acoustic Ensemble; the Akinmusire/Davis/Sorey trio; Mutations for Justice; Oliver Lake Big Band. Full schedule here.



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