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  Visions from the Past  

The 2003 Vision Festival Resurrects Legends from the '60s


By Kurt Gottschalk 2003-06-24

History cut in line on May 24, when Henry Grimes took the stage two days prior to his much anticipated spotlight during the 2003 Vision Festival.

The festival was bookended by a couple of lost ESP artists, with vocalist Patty Waters (now living in Hawaii) on opening night, and bassist Grimes playing with William Parker's Jeanne Lee Project closing the fest.

But on Saturday night, just before a duet by Parker and Rob Brown, festival organizer Patricia Nicholson announced that a "very special guest" would be joining the two. With no more hype than that, the legendary bassist, who played on some great sides in the late '60s and disappeared from public view shortly thereafter, took the stage.

Grimes presumably had little time to rehearse, not having played in roughly 30 years. Parker sent him a bass this spring, after articles announcing that Grimes had been found, alive and well in California, appeared in Signal to Noise and The Wire. Grimes played a gig with guitarist Nels Cline in San Francisco before heading east for his New York re-debut.

Like a modern day Mississippi John Hurt, the resurgence of Henry Grimes is the stuff of legend. He received a standing ovation before playing a note that night, and sat in the front row throughout the six-night festival. He already has a gig booked for July at the upscale club Iridium in midtown Manhattan.

No doubt many in the audience were wondering, miraculous as his return was, how his playing would be. As it turns out, Grimes was fast and nimble, quiet but assured; he clearly remembers his Juilliard schooling. He and Parker began as two of a kind, opening arco, their hands moving nearly in unison, Brown's searing alto soaring above. The set progressed, Brown dropping out at times to allow a bass duo, and was rewarding if not entirely remarkable. Parker is always amazing and Grimes more than held his own.

Patty Waters
Patty Waters    [Photo by M.P. Landis]
Waters, too, proved an elder but rewarding version of the youthful exuberance documented on her two ESP releases. She opened with a shaky voice and a sweet smile, saying simply "Thanks for coming. Let's all hope for world peace and justice." Then, ably backed by pianist Burton Greene (with whom she recorded those early sides) and bassist Mark Dresser, she launched into a stirring version of "Strange Fruit," a song that not only mirrors her plea for justice but perhaps represents a woman whose voice shows her years. Seamlessly they drifted into a lyric version of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" and, later, Holiday's "Don't Explain," "Nature Boy" and Waters' "Moon Don't Come Out Tonight." She might not have had the range or the power she once demonstrated, but she still carried every bit of the drama, standing in repose during instrumental segments, and leaving the stage during some of Dresser and Greene's own compositions.

The Vision Family

Family comes in different forms, and family is what the artist-run New York City institution is all about. If that's a little corny, then it's the kind of corniness William Parker, Patricia Nicholson and their growing list of sympathizers embrace. More musicians each year add their names to the list of those traveling (at their own expense) from near and far to be a part of the venerable shoestring operation. Grimes is no doubt part of the clan now, and Waters may prove to be as well.

The 2003 Vision Festival Schedule

Wednesday May 21

  • Joe Maneri Trio (Matt Maneri / Randy Peterson / Christine Coppola)
  • Carl Hancock Rux / DJ Spooky
  • Billy Bang Sextet (Frank Lowe with Todd Nicholson, Andrew Bemkey, Tyshawn Sorey, and Tatsuya Nakatani)
  • Patty Waters / Burton Greene / Mark Dresser

Saturday May 24

  • Amina & Amiri Baraka with Blue Ark: The WordShip (Dwight West / Rahman Herbie Morgan / Andy McCloud / Vijay Iyer / Rudy Walker)
  • Rob Brown / William Parker / Henry Grimes
  • Milford Graves / Peter Brotzmann
  • Jin Hi Kim Trio (Billy Bang / William Parker)
  • Louis Belogenis / Roy Campbell / Hill Green / Michael Wimberly
  • Improvs: Tatsuya Nakatani, Roy Campbell, Lewis Barnes, Jonathan LaMaster and others

Thursday May 22

  • Bill Cole Project (Warren Smith / Cooper-Moore / Patricia Smith)
  • David S. Ware Quartet (Matthew Shipp / William Parker / Guillermo E. Brown)
  • Fred Anderson / Harrison Bankhead
  • The Jemeel Moondoc / Connie Crothers Quintet (Nathan Breedlove / Adam Lane / John McCutcheon)

Sunday May 25

  • Thomas Buckner / Roscoe Mitchell / Jerome Cooper / Harrison Bankhead
  • Masada String Trio (Mark Feldman / Erik Friedlander / Greg Cohen, John Zorn conducting)
  • Matthew Shipp Quartet (Daniel Carter / William Parker / Gerald Cleaver )
  • Whit Dickey / Rob Brown / Roy Campbell / Joe Morris
  • Patricia Nicholson's PaNic (Joseph Jarman / Cooper-Moore)

Friday May 23

  • Edwin Torres / Sean G. Meehan
  • Kali Fasteau / Mixashawn / Maria Mitchell / Newman Taylor-Baker
  • Roy Campbell / Joe McPhee, Warren Smith, William Parker
  • Andrew Cyrille / Kidd Jordan / William Parker
  • Raphe Malik Quartet (Sabir Mateen / Larry Rolands / Warren Smith)

Monday May 26 ~ Jeanne Lee Memorial

  • Steve Dalachinsky / Treva Offutt / Frederico Ughi
  • Gunter Hampel Galaxy Dream Band (Perry Robinson / Lou Grassi / Mark Whitecage / Ruomi Lee Hampel / Hershel Silverman / Prince Alegs
  • Amina Claudine Myers
  • William Parker's Jeanne Lee Project (Thomas Buckner / Ellen Christi / Jay Clayton / Lisa Sokolov / Rob Brown / Lewis Barnes / Joe Daley / Cooper-Moore / Gerald Cleaver / Henry Grimes)

So what better way to open the festival (after illness canceled Joseph Jarman's traditional opening invocation) than master of microtones Joe Maneri with his son and daughter-in-law, violinist Mat and dancer Christine Coppola and their longtime collaborator, drummer Randy Peterson. The three musicians played as one, tenor saxophone, electric viola and percussion in tight-sync improvisation Coppola opened with the two Maneris, adding a surprising energy to their slow, taut lines. When she left the stage, the elder Maneri took over the dance, slowly rocking in his chair, eyes closed, arms akimbo, whenever his reed left his lips.

Fred Anderson was one of the first out-of-towners to commit to the annual trip, usually appearing in a remarkable quartet with Kidd Jordan, William Parker and Hamid Drake. But this year the tenor twins were bifurcated (and Drake, touring Europe, not on the bill), so he brought along one of his Chicago compatriots, the great bassist Harrison Bankhead.

Chicago's AACM boasts many great players (specifically saxophonists) too little known outside their hometown, and Bankhead is one of the best. They played a beautiful duet of lyrical, fast-paced ballads, simmering but never boiling over.

With the Anderson/Jordan/Parker/Drake quartet out of commission this year, it was left to Parker, Joe McPhee, Roy Campbell and Warren Smith to rock the roof off the house. Other regulars also delivered pieces of what the festival has become known for. Davis S. Ware brought his firestorm groove. Kali Z. Fasteau told musical tales of world travels. Brotzmann and Graves went 0-60 in zero seconds, hitting hard and not backing down, Brotzmann blowing clarinet with enough force to make it sound for all the world like an alto sax. Matthew Shipp was in rare, free jazz mode, laying out with Parker, Daniel Carter and Gerald Cleaver, not relying on formalist, geometric structures but instead playing the sweet, hard stuff.

Guitarist Joe Morris has also been a recurring part of the festival, but this was the first year for Morris the bassist. When he started picking up the banjo a few years ago, he sounded very much like himself on banjo. His more recent upright bass playing has been that much more of a surprise as a result. Far from the fast lines he favors on the smaller strings, on bass Morris tends toward simple, heavy, repeated lines, sounding something like hislong time partner Parker. Whit Dickey led a set with Morris on bass, Brown on saxophone and Roy Campbell on trumpet. Like Dickey's recent recordings on Aum Fidelity and Riti, the set was a satisfying, cogent statement.

Although Jarman gave a scare when he missed the opening invocation, leaving Nicholson to lead the festival blessing, he was in fine form four nights later, dancing across the stage, playing sopranino, bells on his ankles. He went through a variety of settings withCooper-Moore providing percussive basslines and momentary blasts from a strung and heavily amplified table.Nicholson danced and sang, breathily invoking the "Vision for Peace" mantra that reverberated throughout the festival. "So much sadness and a few moments of unbounded joy," she sang, whispered and screamed as she spun across the stage. "Rise UP!" It was captivating enough that painter Jeff Schlanger, another Vision regular and self-proclaimed "Music Witness" was still, not painting a stroke.

Dalachinsky  Offutt
Steve Dalachinsky & Treva Offutt
[Photo by Kurt Gottschalk]
The festival occurs over Memorial Day weekend every year, and the final night appropriately serves as a memorial for a musician who died during the previous year. This year's closing night commemorated the vocalist Jeanne Lee, who died in October 2000. Poet Steve Dalachinksky read a long piece capturing her passion for life, with drummer Federico Ughi and the remarkable dancer/singer Treva Offutt. Lee's husband, reed player and vibraphonist Gunter Hampel, played a set of strong jazz complimented by poetry from their son Ruomi Lee Hampel and some rambunctious street dance by Prince Alegs.

Henry Grimes Brown
Henry Grimes & Rob Brown
[Photo by M.P. Landis]
Parker's Jeanne Lee Project, a 14-piece band with four vocalists,was similar to his Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra. The long piece opened with cutely boppy four-part vocals that morphed into swirling vocalese and then into an extended solo by Grimes who, thanks to the attention of The New York Times and other local media, was responsible for packing the house. To say his playing is strong does not require the caveat "four months practice after 30 years of not playing." Grimes and second bassist Nick Rosen, along with four percussionists (Parker being among the latter) laid down an earthy groove, and the six horns swelled in shining fanfare. If there's anyone who can surf that sort of wave, it's Billy Bang, who rose with his violin from center stage and tore through the funk. It was pure Parker, grand and great Parker.



continued...




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