The 23rd iteration of the Vision Festival (Vision Fest 23, for short) opened on May 23 in the traditional manner: with an invocation by one of its directors, Patricia Nicholson Parker. “We’ve got a lot of work to do this year,” she repeated over a sparse groove courtesy of her husband, bassist William Parker, and percussionist Hamid Drake. “We’ve got a lot of work to do this year.” That’s for sure, and when it comes to getting work done, this festival’s organizers can serve as an example to us all. Over six days and nights at Brooklyn’s Roulette—plus a one-night movie screening/panel discussion at Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan—the Vision Festival presented an exceptional array of boundary-pushing music, dance, film, and conversation.
Photographer Marek Lazarski was there for many key moments, from pianist Dave Burrell’s joyous opening-night reunion with saxophonist Archie Shepp to performances by Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl; SPACE with Roscoe Mitchell, Scott Robinson, and Thomas Buckner; Matthew Shipp conducting his Acoustic Ensemble; Ambrose Akinmusire with Kris Davis and Tyshawn Sorey; Gerald Cleaver with Brandon Lopez, Chris Potter, and David Virelles; and a lot more.
“The bad guys, the expletive, blanket-y blanks—those guys are busy messing up our lives,” Vision Festival founder Patricia Nicholson Parker said from the stage of Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn late in May. ”We have to create spaces in our lives for sanity, and places where we encourage each other to stand up and not take the bullshit.”
Since 1996, Parker and Arts for Art has produced the Vision Festival, which ran May 23-28, as an annual avant-garde event. Its goal, according to the organization: “The promotion and advancement of free jazz [which] embodies music, dance, poetry and visual arts.” This year, the six-day Vision lineup included Archie Shepp, Dave Burrell, Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl, Nasheet Waits Equality, Oliver Lake Big Band and Arts for Art’s Visionary Youth Orchestra!, directed by Jeff Lederer and Jessica Jones.
The festival’s Saturday lineup included Afro Algonquin 2018 featuring, Mixashawn Rozie on saxophones, Rick Rozie on bass and Royal Hartigan on drums. Whether intoning Native-American chants, raucously swinging, playing electric mandolin or riffing on classic rock, Rozie was an unstoppable force leading an equally vivacious trio in Roulette’s memorial hall.
After a bracing set by poet Patricia Spears Jones, the trio of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Kris Davis and drummer Tyshawn Sorey offered up a crash course in dynamics, tone and texture. Wearing what looked like French military fatigues circa 1914, Akinmusire led the trio in simple sounds that swelled into thunder clouds of heated interplay. As Sorey rolled on his toms, extracting unusual groans and sighs, Akinmusire created trumpet squalls against Davis’ lush piano palette. As if composing an instant film soundtrack, the trio produced peals of careening unison notes, crescendos of discordant melody and jagged assaults with infrequent gentle passages that rounded the barbed edges.
Drummer Francisco Mora Catlett’s combustible AfroHorn Fellow closed the evening, Afro-Cuban sizzle meeting balmy group improvisation.
Sunday began with a panel discussion, “The Ongoing Struggle for Cultural Equity in NYC Music Communities,” followed by the exultant Frode Gjerstad Trio, accompanied by trombonist Steve Swell. Gerald Cleaver’s quartet took the stage next, brainstorming a swirling brew and reveling in the chaos of the drummer’s emergent groove-grid.
Monday closed out Vision Festival 2018 with performances by Jamie Branch’s Fly or Die, pianist Cooper-Moore, poet and visual artist Julie Ezelle Patton, saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc’s New World Pygmies and the Oliver Lake Big Band. But the weeklong series clearly was underpinned by Nicholson Parker’s energy and heroic intent at every turn.