An action-packed weekend started Friday at The Vision Dance Music Series to check out Yessified: Sally Silvers (dance), Bruce Andrews (words) Julie Patton (words) and Henry Grimes (violin and bass). Vision Festival events tend to be vigorous re-creations of free jazz in the late 60s style, while occasionally throwing in dance or poetry. This Dance Series variation mixes dance with free jazz players as the theme of the series. The line-up in Yessified worked well. The arrangement basically had all four participants performing in the equivalent of four separate tracks, doing what they wanted to do, interacting when they wanted to interact and leaving room for others as they saw fit.
I tend to find Bruce Andrews' performances in ensembles to be the most interesting of what he does. Andrews was seated at a desk on the left side of the stage like a news caster. He read short word sequences and statements from index cards (which he is know for writing on during readings), flipping through with some degree of improvisation, and leaving spaces in between which opened up the cognitive space in the overall sound field, and made room for the rest of the ensemble. Subtraction is something I'm always looking for in collective performance, and one of my favorite moments with Andrews was during a brief duo interlude with Grimes on bass. As with almost everything during this half-hour performance, the feeling of balance, forward momentum, and transitioning just completely worked, with the power-sharing between tension and relaxation kept constantly in flux. The vocabulary Andrews was using leaned toward racial themes, for instance, "Do white racists call other white people racist?" The complete sentences tend to stand out more in memory, extending as they do from the more textural aggregation of short word combos and noun phrases: "You don't trust people and so you try to control them and push them away."
Julie Patton, with sparkly upturned hair that looking like a sentient underwater plant, moved around on stage and interacted directly and with a certain amount of playfulness with Silvers' dancing. She was in top form here, shifting seamlessly between set poetic materials and on-the-spot invention and response. Much of her singing was locked into what Grimes was doing on bass.
Though it's always best to see free jazz players live, it still isn't much to look at. That's where Silvers comes in, really seeming like a band leader as dancer. She kept away from anything show-offy, and, like Andrews, left spaces in where she would stop and just sit in a chair, letting the other members of the group have it for a moment. Silvers is a dancer that you can really see making decisions on stage, and there's a certain feeling of freedom that this creates.
Henry Grimes is an incredible bass player who can play the entire history of the jazz bass in a single performance. His recording career goes back to the late 50s, and he's played with Sonny Rollins, Lennie Tristano, Benny Goodman, Thelonious Monk, etc. etc. Sporting a bright red Olivia Newton John style terrycloth headband, he began the set doubling on violin. His bass playing was the glue that held the group together: supportive, energizing and flexible. Those are, after all the traditional values of the jazz bass and they're values he totally epitomized with this performance.