Free Jazz at Vision Fest (Part 1)

Ingrid Laubrock
Burnt Sugar
Vision Festival 17 @ Roulette
Brooklyn, NY
Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ingrid Laubrock’s quintet explored a broad but detailed soundscape. Painting with a wide palette of sound, Laubrock used subtle tonal changes and percussive, breathy rhythmic figures.

On drums, Tom Rainey controlled many of the textures. He created literal textures of sound by rubbing his hands over the drum heads, the dry friction producing squeaks that gave a new element of physicality to the drums. He held multiple drum sticks loosely over the snare and shuffled them as they rattled continuously as if in free-fall.

The rest of the band, Mary Halvorson (guitar), Kris Davis (piano), John Hébert (bass), played cautiously and judiciously, almost hesitant at times, from Laubrock’s complex charts. They altered their instruments’ tones, Davis with a John Cage-esque prepared piano muffle and Halvorson with a slide as if bending beams of light.

Laubrock was at her best playing eruptive melodies mixed with pops and squeals. The intensity of these lines contrasted like a horizon of fire against the conservative, almost sullen shapes that formed the bulk of her compositions.

Next on stage was Burnt Sugar, an ingenious project that combines free improvisation with more traditional forms in a variety of styles, funk, R&B, soul, swing, bebop, and groove rock.

The personnel was vast: Greg “Ironman” Tate (conductor, guitar), Lisala, Abby Dobson, Mikel Banks (voice), Lewis “Flip” Barnes (trumpet), Micah Gaugh (alto sax), V. Jeffery Smith, Avram Fefer (tenor sax), Dave Smith (trombone), Jason DiMatteo (bass), Jared Nickerson (electric bass), LaFrae Sci (drums), and others, a sax player, a keyboard player, two more guitarists, and a percussionist.

This throng of musicians is Tate’s playland. In snazzy duds, he directs the band with fluid arms and hands as if he is throwing clay, sculpting a giant urn on the potter’s wheel of sound.

Tate’s mind is a premiere arranging mind, full of creative surprises, lifting the horns up, defining a rhythmic figure for them, cutting out percussion, leading the singers through harmonies of liquid vowells, dropping everything down to a capella.

While their size enables them to touch every color in the sky, when the whole band improvises together, they reach a critical density and their sound turns into an unpleasant overload.

I heard the keyboard player only once. I never heard the third guitar player. And, Tate would do best to lay down his guitar and conduct the whole time.

Lisala stole the show when she started the fourth song with a series of yearning blues lines punctuated by huge hits from the band. The song transitioned into a 60s spy-themed uptempo, and then out of nowhere dropped into a low, dirty swing, Lisala’s lusty vocals soaring over the band.

Check back soon to hear how Rob Brown and Daniel Levin and the Kidd Jordan Quintet finished off the evening.

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