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Vision Festival 2018: 8 acts not to miss at the annual jazz showcase

Written by
Brad Cohan
Vision festival, the avant-garde jazz summit that showcases both godheads and upstarts of the genre, makes its triumphant return to the Brooklyn experimental-music venue Roulette. And what a celebration this 23rd edition is—a feast of cutting-edge sounds, dance, poetry and film that stretches over six days. Read our primer on the acts to know at this year’s festival, which is split fairly evenly between the genre's old guard and its surging new voices.

The legends

Dave Burrell Quintet: James Brandon Lewis, Kidd Jordan, William Parker, Andrew Cyrille 
To call Vision Fest veteran Dave Burrell a jazz icon would be an understatement. Ridiculously ahead of his time since the ’60s, the pianist has left his own shape-shifting mark on jazz and blues over his five decades in the business, assembling a résumé that includes stints in the groups of Marion Brown, Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp. It’s no wonder the hugely influential pianist and composer is this year’s lifetime achievement honoree. Burrell blesses the opening night with three appearances, playing with fellow free-jazz giant and collaborator Shepp and two all-star groups: Burrell’s quintet and Harlem Renaissance. 
See them: Wednesday, May 23 at 9:30pm
Women with an Axe to Grind 
Patricia Nicholson, the mastermind and tireless force behind Vision Festival (she’s also a dancer, choreographer and improviser to boot), teams up with bassist Joëlle Léandre, flutist Nicole Mitchell and violist Melanie Dyer for this dance-meets–free-improv quartet that, judging from its moniker, is suited exactly for these times. In an email, Nicholson elaborated on the project: "Women with an Axe to Grind is not as much about being angry as an insistence on justice and diversity, and a celebration of ourselves, women of strength and compassion."
See them: Thursday, May 24 at 9pm
Seraphic Light: Daniel Carter, Matthew Shipp and William Parker
Individually and collectively, these three titans helped to put NYC avant-garde jazz on the map, and Vision Festival wouldn’t be the force it is today without them. Virtuosic bass man Parker, piano colossus Shipp and hornsmith Carter will surely illuminate the stage with the hypnotic and airy dreamscapes of the trio’s just-dropped album Seraphic Light, an epic set that ebbs and flows with dizzying abandon. Expect an even more heightened feeling of catharsis in person. 
See them: Friday, May 25 at 8:30pm
At 70 years-young, the master craftsman and tireless elder statesman is a hero to veterans and up and comers alike with his frontier-breaking work on piano and homemade instruments. At last year's Vision Fest he showed off his handiwork in myriad groups like Gerald Cleaver's Black Host, William Parker's In Order To Survive and Digital Primitives as he was handed a lifetime achievement award. A free-spirited piano visionary, Cooper-Moore is a joy to take in, his magical ivory tickling infectious as he deconstructs jazz and blues with a free-improvisational spunk that is positively mind-bending. In solo mode, as he is here, his live sets are a euphoric experience.
See them: Monday, May 28 at 7pm


The upstarts

Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl
The music of protean composer and nimble-fingered guitarist Mary Halvorson has been, at times, metal-inspired and inflected with pedal-steel twang. Now, Halvorson has taken another left turn: With Code Girl, she veers toward indie rock on a sublime set of complex yet candied tunes that fuse her expertly crafted jazz leanings with frenetic art-rock stylings. 
See them: Thursday, May 24 at 7pm 
Irreversible Entanglements
Co-led by poet Camae Ayewa (who performs as Moor Mother), this politically charged spoken-word punk-jazz supergroup came together to perform at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event organized in the wake of the slaying of Akai Gurley by the NYPD. Released late last year, their self-titled debut was a fierce beast; playing live, they are just as potent with their singular brand of fire. 
See them: Friday, May 25 at 7pm
Ambrose Akinmusire, Kris Davis and Tyshawn Sorey 
Back in 2015, trumpeter Akinmusire was tapped to cameo on Kendrick Lamar’s landmark To Pimp a Butterfly. Since then, it’s been quite a ride for the ascendant musician: He’s played sideman to luminaries like Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer and Esperanza Spalding, and showcased his bandleader wizardry on recordings for the legendary label Blue Note. Here he forms a trio for the ages with two of today’s most forward-thinking minds in experimental jazz: pianist Kris Davis and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, a MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellow. 
See them: Saturday, May 26 at 9:30pm
Jaimie Branch’s Fly or Die
Red Hook–via-Chicago trumpeter Branch is a rising star. Fly or Die, her space-jazz 2017 debut, made just about every best-of list—and rightfully so. Frenetic, colorful and hard-bopping as heck, the high-flying Branch kills it with trumpet blasts in interstellar overdrive, fiery rhythms, and ecstatic melodies that recall the jazz-rock of an electric Miles Davis. 
See them: Monday, May 28 at 6pm
Vision Festival takes place at Roulette Wednesday, May 23–Monday, May 28 ( $40, festival pass $200–$300.

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