A fearless creativity lies at the center of Fay Victor’s artistic life. The vocalist, composer, and lyricist lays claim to an expansive sonic territory, which she explored with humility and self-assurance on Friday, January 24 at Hawks & Reed in Greenfield, as Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares’ 8th season rolled on.
Joined by guitarist Joe Morris and drummer Reggie Nicholson, Victor’s 90-minute set was a meditation on uncompromised, unencumbered improvising. “It’s been ages since I’ve played that long a set being so unaware of the time,” Victor told me the next day. “Felt some Zen moments last night for sure!”
Victor’s SoundNoiseFUNK visited the Valley after spending a couple of days at Dartmouth College, where Taylor Ho Bynum hosted. Soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome, a regular member of the ensemble, was unable to make these gigs. Thankfully, we had a chance to hear Newsome play a solo concert last month in Holyoke.
SoundNoiseFUNK has been a unit for a couple of years and the rapport shows. “Every night is completely different,” Morris said afterwards. But what I imagine doesn’t change is their real-time pursuit of communion, as well as their willingness to embrace the unknown. Without a chart in sight, the trio dove in, three independent minds feeling each other out, much like the early rounds of a party chat, poking around until you settle on a subject to delve into.
It wasn’t until half way through the program that Victor sung a lyric. Her wordless vocals, produced from all parts of her instrument, challenged our assumptions of what a “jazz singer” is. The way she abstracted sound and interacted with her bandmates allowed me to hear her, not as a singer with the band, but as another member of the band. At one point, I saw her left hand fingering an imaginary saxophone.
Her original lyrics were simple, but moving and out of the ordinary. Her piece about the state of the world and the destruction of our environment had the refrain, “No atmosphere, no air,” which she hissed and twisted in many directions. We are all Eric Garner, I thought to myself.
Her song, “Creative Folks!” was a joyous manifesto for life affirming action. “Keep creating/Creating is connection/The contact feels like love/Remembering what is true in all of us/We need each other/We are the last revolutionaries.” Victor repeated the words until they dissolved into pure sound.
Joe Morris and Victor have a special connection. Their interaction was alive, brisling with risk and have-your-back support. He is one of today’s most creative guitarists. At times, he used electronic effects to create dense washes of sound that Victor would parachute through. Other times they skittered hand in hand in abstract conversation. Morris has lived in New Haven and Boston for much of his life, and has produced hundreds of concerts and recordings over his 40-year career. He has educated generations of students at New England Conservatory, played guitar (and bass) at the highest levels, and enlivened the music scene wherever he has been. He is a New England treasure.
I was so glad to have my first in-person visit with Reggie Nicholson. I knew him through the spectacular recordings he made with Amina Claudine Myers and Henry Threadgill in the 1980s, and Ernest Dawkins and Myra Melford in the 1990s. Like fellow Chicago drummer Hamid Drake, Nicholson’s playing was relaxed, and constantly advanced the conversation; both smile a lot. He played at just the right volume, with just the right amount of groove and openness. Nicholson recently retired from a career teaching music at Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, where he lives. Hopefully he’ll be on the road more in the coming years, including western Massachusetts. I heard him tell someone he was mentored by one of my favorites: Hal Russell. I need to ask him about that.
The story goes that Fay Victor was a more conventional jazz singer in New York, struggling to gain her footing, when she decided to move to Amsterdam in 1996. Seven years later, after working with Misha Mengleberg, Wolter Wierbos and other European iconoclasts, she returned to New York with an expanded approach to singing. She calls it “freesong.” I have to ask her about that transformation, too.