The Vision Festival was born in New York City in 1996 as a way to unite the city’s increasingly dispersed free jazz community.
The changing nature of the city in the ‘90s, a time when gentrification blew up numerous downtown Manhattan neighborhoods and Giuliani’s draconian enforcement of the city’s cabaret laws closed many music clubs, was a winding down of one New York golden musical era.
Patricia Nicholson, the partner of legendary jazz bassist William Parker, first helped bring together the Improvisers Collective, which would meet weekly to play music and free improvisation, accompanied by dance, at a rehearsal studio on Avenue A in the East Village. One of the Collective’s year-end programs was a five-day festival of music, poetry, dance, and art in loft space near Broadway/Lafayette: the first Vision Festival.
Nicholson and the organization she runs, Arts for Art, have been a cornerstone of presenting improvised music in New York over the last 25 years — music that many of the city’s big-name jazz clubs and institutions (and, often, its documentarians) find too radical in tone and content.
Vision Festival has moved venues every few years, always keeping at least a toe-hold on the East Village/Lower East Side neighborhood where it first flourished. It moved the majority of its live music program to Roulette in Downtown Brooklyn in 2018 and 2019, while always remaining true to the music’s values, its freedom-minded quest for sound and social equity.
Over the course of the next two weeks — Thursday, July 22nd and Friday, July 23rd; then again Thursday the 29th and Friday the 30th — much of Vision Festival’s live music program, and art installations will take place at Pioneer Works in Red Hook. Other live and arts programming will take place at The Clemente, 114 Norfolk Street in Manhattan. This year’s festival conference, entitled “Fighting for the Sustainability of Black Improvised Creative Music,” will take place online.
For fans of improvised music and jazz, Vision Festival offers a glory of riches, presenting legendary musicians alongside the next generation of excellent improvisers, many debuting new music and ensembles, others settling into the warmth of old collaborations.
This year’s Vision Festival Lifetime Achievement celebration honors the great pianist/organist and composer Amina Claudine Meyers who will be honored with a night of her own music in various configurations, on Friday, July 23rd at Pioneer Works. The festival’s opening night, on Thursday, 22nd at Pioneer Works, will feature a typically spectacular bill, with baritone saxophonist Dave Sewelson's Music for a Free World Sextet, pianist Matthew Shipp’s String Trio, duets between pianist Dave Burrell and alto saxophonist Darius Jones, and a set of solo piano music by Cooper-Moore.
Full information at the Vision Festival site.
OUR LIVE MUSIC PICKS: 7/16 - 7/22
With all the rain in the forecast, and the preponderance of outdoor shows in the city, PLEASE do not forget to contact the venues or at the very least check their social media to make sure that the event is not canceled due to inclement weather. Also: Please remember to check with individual venues about their vaccination requirements and proof for attendees, and whether RSVPs are required to buy tickets at the door. (I’ve now been burned by this on a couple of occasions.)
Fronted by Benin-born veteran guitar player Leon Ligan-Majek, Kaleta & Super Yamba Band have been one of Brooklyn’s finest importers of the West African guitar-funk sound for a few years now, mixing the various strains of highlife in a deliriously loud and colorful live show that any fan of juju and Afrobeat will find much satisfaction in.
On Friday (7/16) that show comes to the psychedelic confines of the Sultan Room, which is almost guaranteed sweaty walls by the end of the night. (234 Starr Street, 9 pm, $15)
Yonatan Gat is an experimental rock guitarist (formerly of the Tel Aviv-based band, Monotonix) whose new project, Visuæls is in the midst of a residency at The Sultan Room, each month playing with a wildly diverse cast.
On Saturday (7/17), that noisy cast features Red Medicine (of the Native American Eastern Medicine Singers), Oliver Ackermann (guitarist in A Place to Bury Strangers), Brian Chase (drummer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), and Christopher Pravdica (once bassist Swans). There’s also an opening set by the mighty Susie Ibarra. (234 Starr Street, 9 pm, $20)
The DJ Monk-One has been playing great records in Brooklyn bars and clubs for almost as long as I’ve been going to them, cutting up old 7”s making new edits, and rarely wiping the smile off the patrons' faces.
He now has a monthly at Mama Tried, the cozy spot with the wonderful, freeway-shadowing backyard on the edge of Sunset Park and South Slope. And it’s on again Saturday (7/17), with Boogieman and Little Dynasty in support. (787 3rd Avenue, 8 pm, Free)
“Free Concert By a Legend” Alert! The Puerto Rican-born, Bronx-for-life singer who goes by the name of La India first broke through singing on some huge freestyle (TKA’s “Come Get My Love”) and New York house (“I Can’t Get No Sleep”) hits, before being crowned the Princess of Salsa in the 1990s, a crown she’s never given up.
On Sunday (7/18), La India brings her Trayecatoria Tour to Coney Island Amphitheater, along with DJ Bembona, La Bruja and DJ Flow from NYC radio powerhouse La Mega (3052 West 21st Street, 7 pm, Free)
The Brooklyn Public Library Plaza’s occasional concerts continue this week with two very different performances:
- on Monday (7/19), Orchestra of St. Luke’s musicians perform a wonderfully diverse program of “Music For Winds and Brass” that touches upon canonized “classical” composers (Stravinsky, Bernstein), new-world American rags (Joplin), and contemporary works (selections from flutist Valerie Coleman’s Portraits of Josephine Baker);
- on Wednesday (7/21) Brooklyn-based Haitian singer Emeline Michel, a wonderful vocalist sometimes dubbed “Queen of Creole Song” whose work injects the island’s rara and drumming traditions into the melodious flow of Afro-Caribbean songcraft, plays an auspiciously timed concert. (Grand Army Plaza, 7 pm, Free)
Greg Lewis brings his “Organ Monk” trio back to Bed-Stuy’s Bar Lunatico on Tuesday (7/20), which is an opportunity to do two things: bask in the melodic genius of one of America’s (and New York’s) greatest-ever composers, Thelonious Sphere Monk, and to witness the glory of a fully-operational Hammond B-3 organ, which in a space the size of Lunatico might be akin to hearing a funky spaceship taking off. (486 Halsey Street, 9 pm, $10 suggested donation)
Steve Gunn & William Tyler are two of this hard land’s finest interpreters of long-form, acoustic guitar Americana — and pop up often enough on Brooklyn’s stages that I am pretty sure they’ve both transplanted here. On Thursday (7/22), the duo opens a short Northeast tour at Bell House in Gowanus, which should bring out the new generation of Deadheads, folk jammers, and their adjacents. (149 7th Street, 7 pm, $25)
Reminder: If you are a Brooklyn (or greater New York) artist, label, venue or musicker organization that is releasing new music, or producing (Brooklyn) events, or just making noise that you want to spread through the community, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear it — and potentially put it on. And - come out to Littlefield on on August 6: