Vision Toward Essence is a solo concert by pianist/composer/improviser Muhal Richard Abrams. It was recorded at the Guelph Jazz Festival in Canada on September 11, 1998. The performance is made up of three continuous improvisations, and runs for just under an hour. Abrams is a master pianist to be sure; his technique is sure-footed, deft, and technically awe-inspiring at times. While his role has been one of teacher and mentor for over 40 years, it's perhaps too easy to forget his real gift as a musician. From Henry Threadgill to Anthony Braxton, from the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Wadada Leo Smith, from Chico Freedman to Amina Claudine Myers, and from Nicole Mitchell to Jeff Parker, Abrams, and his collaborators -- Fred Anderson included -- began something in Chicago that continues to this day. His example and no-nonsense approach have given him a real entry in the jazz history book, but his work as an instrumentalist and composer is not as easily recognized for its true worth. Abrams is a poet on the keys, a magician capable of summoning the most erudite, sophisticated, melodic, and harmonic fragments in the bat of an eye without having to rely on pure fire and attack. His conception of counterpoint as a device for extended improvisation is a trademark. Listening to Vision Toward Essence is an example of a pianist whose musical strengths are not only undiminished by time, just further nurtured by it. The drama, elegance, and power of this performance are not to be overstated; Abrams' elliptical forays into middle and high register song are balanced by the grounded middle one. There he relies on a rhythmic sense that melody itself dictates and is accented, underscored, and emphasized in the lower one with flurries of chords and quick runs that rumble and shake the listener's spine. By turns elegiac, ponderous, intense, airy, speculative, and declarative, Vision Toward Essence is perhaps the realization of both. This is indeed one of the most important records ever released by this great man.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek