20/20 Visionaries

After being housed in a church basement, a rehab center, and the Knitting Factory, the Vision Festival—now in its seventh year and ranging over 16 nights and 60 performances—found an appropriate home in a Lower East Side community youth center and the basement of CBGB. This avant-jazz gathering (May 23 through June 8) is a truly alternative community. Unlike supposed “alt-rock,” the VF family is distinct from its mainstream counterpart, creating uncommercial experiments that majors don’t want to know about. And where else are you going to find a collective where poets sell merchandise, pianists distribute flyers, and bassists serve sandwiches?

This year, the organizers decided to shun sympathetic rockers (past performers have included Yo La Tengo and Cat Power), group the dance programs at the end, and use CB’s Lounge (host of its own biweekly jazz series), which had difficulty accommodating some of the larger ensembles and crowds. The song-and-dance combinations at the Center were an embarrassment of riches: Jean-Laurent Sasportes’s lovely, pathetic characters emoting to master bassist-chef Peter Kowald, Miriam Parker’s yearning gestures in response to Charles Gayle’s saxophone, Christine Coppola and Mat Maneri’s ambitious multimedia Greek mythology, and the comic psychodramas of K.J. Holmes with trumpeter Roy Campbell.

Most encouraging for this scene bellwether is that the seasoned groups (none of them more than a decade old) were matched by the younger ensembles. Relative old-timers included Bill Cole’s roaring Untempered Ensemble, William Parker’s majestic Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, the Gold Sparkle Band with its greasy r&b, and the delightfully hyperventilating Daves—all in top form. No less inspiring were newer projects like poet Oluyemi Thomas’s wailing trio, Matthew Shipp’s austere String Trio, the hard-swinging Freedom Land (with CB’s organizer Dee Pop), and Sonny Simmons’s gloriously flailing Cosmosamatics.

Thematically, the fest was “A Vision Against Violence” (just like last year), and September 11 informed many of the artists’ works. What came across was a stubborn perseverance, ranging from Jade Sharma’s crazed poems to Oluyemi Thomas’s snapshots of a battered city to political organizer Omowale Clay’s conspiracy speeches to Joseph Jarman’s opening Buddhist invocation. Many of the stirring instrumental performances were dedicated to the victims of the attacks, alternating meditative passages with wild, passionate blasts of sound—in all, a better balm than Mr. Bush’s scare tactics. The VF embraces peace as a spiritual goal, and even if we reach a relative state of political calm, they’ll still have the right idea. —Jason Gross

Law and Disorder

“It all comes down to money and pussy,” declared jazz poet Hattie Gossett during one of the Vision Festival’s more articulate moments. So far as the festival itself is concerned, however—and since I’m a newbie, you’ll have to correct me if I’m mistaken—it all comes down to police and thieves: The outlaw festival needs its Jazz at Lincoln Center alter ego just as much as a nuanced neocon like Wynton Marsalis needs the energy-ripping bravado of a William Parker. And vice versa, of course.

Yet it came as something of a shock to discover how retro the Vision Fest, for all its purported future macking, actually was. As I walked in on May 24, poet Steve Dalachinsky was declaiming, “I’ll acknowledge that there’s hope if you play me another solo, John Coltrane!” over Matthew Shipp’s tynering piano. And as I walked out 17 sets later on June 7, festival co-director Patricia Nicholson was connecting the dots between Jackie Chan and a classic Jules Feiffer dance-to-whatever cartoon accompanied by the good old-fashioned modernism of Joseph Jarman, Billy Bang, and Cooper-Moore.

Browsing was the order of the festival, I found. Much of it—including sets by guitarist Joe Morris’s quartet, multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore’s confusing Uncle Remus-inspired project, saxophonist Paul Dunmall’s trio, and many more—had the feeling of a spontaneous (or unrehearsed), timeless Now that listeners could slip into and out of at random. The music was often performed at a sort of Pentecostal fever pitch punctuated by bass and drum solos—Vision Fest being all about that old-time religion.

The holy spirits of the late Don Cherry and early Ornette Coleman hovered over the festival’s first week. For many, the brightest moment arrived with the May 24 return of saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc’s Muntu (with Parker, trumpeter Roy Campbell, and drummer Rashid Bakr). Twenty years since their last recording, Muntu were a positively incandescent refraction of Coleman’s classic quartet. “I dreamed I lost my excellent pocket trumpet,” recited Jayne Cortez during an evening-long tribute to Cherry two nights later. She fronted a band led by drummer Denardo Coleman, who provided musical themes in his father’s key. Leading a quartet, former Cherry/Coleman cohort Dewey Redman sent a cool breeze through the Center, an underventilated gymnasium.

Liberationist free-blowing is a gas, until it isn’t. Impressions of unearned intensity, or the feeling of being subjected to someone’s endless rap, would send me outside for a breath of fresh air. I’d often make a new and wonderful discovery upon my return, such as Parker’s Raining of the Moon material, as sung by the otherworldly Leena Conquest, which felt refreshingly structured and rehearsed. Perhaps Parker isn’t so much an outlaw as a double agent. —Richard Gehr

Monterrey Pop

After building a funky, knee-slapping romp flush with vinyl scratches, cowbells, disco sirens, a polkafied accordion, and some any-language gibberish, Monterrey’s Kinky hit the Translate button for a catchy chorus: “Welcome to my world.”

Off the quintet’s self-titled debut album, “Cornman” is emblematic of Kinky’s kitschy musical universe, populated by borderland kids who wash down their cabrito and carne asada with a blue Slurpee from the local 7-Eleven. Close to the gringolandia, the mountain-region city of Monterrey has yielded so many varied bands in the last few years (vallenato ragamuffins El Gran Silencio, space-rockers Zurdok, lounge-popsters Plastilina Mosh) that it’s usurped Mexico City as the nation’s alternative-music capital. The sample-sopped Kinky blurred any geographical boundaries at the Knitting Factory on May 24, whipping up dancefloor rhythms that pointed the compass to Manhattan Buddha bars, Parisian house parties, and a Monterrey bedroom laptop. On several songs, singer Gilberto Cerezo filtered his already soothing vocals for a sexy Mr. Roboto whir. P-Funk basslines rumbled from the hands of Stetson-topped Cesar Pliego, who stomped a leg high throughout the show as if leading a norteño square dance.

Dancers who learned their groove toting glow sticks or following the clave at the salsateca had no trouble keeping up. And on the brassy, move-by-numbers “Ejercicio #16,” the group sampled instructions from a TV fitness program for a bouncy workout that complemented the electro-toxic, Donna Summer-like “Noche de Toxinas (Internacional).” Earlier, Kinky launched into Rowlands-Simmons block-rockin’ beats over a sensual samba, while all Cerezo would say was, “All we want is more and more.” Even after two encores, the insatiable audience kept saying the same with sweaty cheers. —Enrique Lavin

Dee Dee Ramone, 1952-2002

The last time I spoke to Dee Dee Ramone—in March, just before the Ramones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—he reminded me of one of the first conversations we ever had. “We were talking about metaphors,” he said with a laugh, recalling an interview from over 25 years ago in which he was trying hard to explain the meaning of some of the songs he wrote. “Take ‘Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,’ ” he told me back then. “It isn’t really a song about getting high. The next line is ‘Now I wanna have somethin’ to do.’ See, it’s about being a kid and being bored.” The glue sniffing, then, was really a metaphor? “I guess so,” he said, and then broke into one of his goofy bug-eyed stares—as if his head had started to hurt from too much brain drain.

Coming as it did, barely a year after Joey’s death, and just months after (sure, who cares, but at least it happened) the Rock Hall nod, Dee Dee Ramone’s demise at his Hollywood home on June 5 from a drug overdose was shocking more in its timing than in its reality. Given a history of drug, alcohol, and glue/Carbona/you-name-it abuse dating back to his years growing up as an army brat in Germany—not to mention the street crime and 53rd-and-Third male hustling he got into once he moved to New York in the late ’60s—the fact that Douglas Glenn Colvin somehow managed to get to age 50 was nearly as remarkable an achievement as his Pantheon-worthy position as the punk of all time in the punk rock band of all time. Like Dennis Wilson, the only Beach Boy who actually surfed, Dee Dee was the Ramones’ resident gut check, and remained that symbol even after his departure from the group in 1989: You could take Dee Dee out of the Ramones, but you could never take the Ramones out of Dee Dee. As he wrote in the title track from 1984’s Too Tough to Die: “I tell no tales/I do not lie . . . halo round my head/Too tough to die.” Those last four words were tattooed on Dee Dee Ramone’s arm, atop a picture of a horned, pitchfork-wielding devil. A fitting metaphor for a blessed demon. Rest easy, animal boy. —Billy Altman

Tantric Disco

Vladislav Delay likes to indulge. Although just 26, in the last five years the Finnish producer has adopted no less than five cryptic aliases—his own name (a pseudonym itself), Uusitalo, Sistol, Conoco, and Luomo—for his subtly varied interpretations of house music, so deep and aquatic it often sounds submerged. It was Vocalcity, Delay’s 2000 album as Luomo, that produced the biggest waves, with its six oceanic tracks of fuck-house dub disco, and it was Luomo that the stylish crowd at Fun came to witness on May 30.

Fans, in turn, indulged Delay, who looked model-esque in a tank top over his frail frame and a Nordic-blond bob as he swigged from a bottle of red wine throughout his three-hour set. Its first hour overlapped with a performance by Delay’s wife, Berliner Antye Greie-Fuchs (a/k/a AGF), who alternately incanted in German over scary ambient beats and made googly eyes at her fop. The newlyweds’ flirtations contrasted with the video projections, which immersed them in granular, ominous textures, and this spectacle only exacerbated the expectation for Luomo tracks. When the dirty, slinky bass line of Vocalcity’s Tantric “Synkro” finally sneaked into the mix, the release was almost sexual. It was also premature.

Luomo is often purely deep bass, which presented a problem for Fun’s sound system, which lost its low-end speakers early on and crackled obnoxiously all night. Delay never stopped shaking his head in frustration—for $12, the situation was unacceptable to fans, too—but he still managed to shake some gems out of his laptop. Several tracks from the next Luomo album, due next year, made their New York debut, all of which maintained the trademark perpetual tension-build without climax while adding more overt disco references. As local DJ Casio took over the decks, Delay and Greie-Fuchs engaged in an extended lip-lock in the corner, the long wait finally over and the champion satisfied at last. —Eric Demby