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Jazz Acts Run Superhot And Cool

Published: 2012-06-16
Matthew Shipp So much about the Vision Festival communicates openness, multiplicity, fluctuation. An independent summit of experimental jazz, the festival has an aesthetic descended from the scrappy, permissive mood of downtown New York in the 1970s.

Look closer, and over time you might notice that it’s a tended garden like any other. It plays favorites and exercises biases. There’s an outsider ethos at work in its presentation, but also an implicit closing of the ranks. Even the outside has an outside, for practical purposes.

Matthew Shipp, who played with a quartet featuring the British tenor saxophonist Paul Dunmall in a gripping, spontaneous set. Which is mostly to the credit of a festival committed to preserving a point of view, on its own terms, in the face of cold indifference and colder economic realities. (At this point the Vision Festival, 17 years strong, is the oldest continually running jazz festival in the city, which may strike you as either incredible or inevitable.)

This year’s edition was programmed as usual with its constituency in mind, from a lifetime-achievement celebration for the saxophonist and trumpeter Joe McPhee on Wednesday to the heavy presence this weekend of Kidd Jordan, an important saxophonist and educator from New Orleans who wouldn’t otherwise be appearing in these parts.

But the festival’s opening night, on Monday, felt at times like a shake-up. It’s being held in Brooklyn this year — at the new-music hub Roulette, on Atlantic Avenue — after a longtime association with the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And the first proper group to appear on this year’s bill only underscored that sense of dislocation.

The band was Kneebody, an ultramodern young collective. What occasioned the band’s appearance was “MoNoMe,” a Chamber Music America commission composed by the saxophonist Ben Wendel as a collaboration with the electronic artist Daedelus, whose absence must have thwarted some of the piece’s intention, though it didn’t feel that way.

Kneebody likes deep-pocket funk, shrewd dissonance and high dynamic contrast, often suggesting a brainy but visceral upgrade of fusion. Each of the four included sections of “MoNoMe” reflected this style, with variations: one piece had an aggressively syncopated horn line, and another had calmly shifting hues. The playing, notably by the trumpeter Shane Endsley, was bright and slashing. And Mr. Wendel made a point of including his band mates’ tunes, of which the rousing standout was “Unforeseen Influences,” by the keyboardist Adam Benjamin.


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