on the occasions of their birth dates and anniversaries of key events in their careers.
Jazz innovator Ornette Coleman turned eighty-four this month. Fifty-five years ago, in 1959, he came to New York and turned the music world upside down with his avant-garde recordings and historic stint at the Five Spot, which was attended by such luminaries as Leonard Bernstein, the Modern Jazz Quartert, and Lionel Hampton, who responded favorably, and Miles Davis and Roy Eldridge, who dismissed him as "jive" and irrelevant. A half century later, the decision of history is that while personal tastes about his playing still vary considerably, Ornette Coleman expanded the jazz idiom more than anyone except perhaps Louis Armstrong. Today, having early survived considerable vituperation and abuse, Coleman is an acknowledged jazz master and pioneer.
In this concert, Ornette Coleman's son and outstanding drummer, Denardo Coleman
, assembled two stellar bands for remarkable juxtaposed incarnations of Coleman's compositions and innovations.
The Painted Bride website provided a brief background for the concert: "More than 50 years after Ornette Coleman changed the course of music with The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959), the avant-garde patriarch remains an elusive genius whose work defies neat categories. While he coined the term "free jazz" with his classic 1960 double quartet album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (Atlantic, 1961), he's a composer of expansive ambition whose tunes have become essential touchstones in the jazz canon... And though he's known as one of the most sophisticated and controversial innovators in jazz, his music is equally steeped in the raw looseness of the blues."
Regarding the two ensembles, the Painted Bride states, ..." The Denardo Coleman Group is led by the great saxophonist's son who, in 1966 at the age of ten, recorded on Ornette's The Empty Foxhole (Blue Note, 1967) with Charlie Haden
, both members of Ornette's current quartet. MacDowell, who has performed frequently with Ornette since 1976 and was a member of the Prime Time band, is a seasoned veteran of Ornette's 'harmolodic' approach.
"In the mid 1970s, Jamaaladeen Tacuma's creatively free and funky approach caught the eye and ear of Ornette. He became part of Coleman's electric band, Prime Time, and performed on historic recordings of Dancing in Your Head (Horizon, 1977), Body Meta (Artists House, 1978), and Of Human Feelings (Antilles, 1982). Over the years, Tacuma has collaborated with a diverse and talented roster of artists, including guitarists Jeff Beck
. Tacuma's most recent release, For the Love of Ornette (Jam All Productions, 2010) revisits his collaboration with Ornette, who performs on the recording." [album information inserted by All About Jazz Eds.]
The phrases "free jazz" and "harmolodics" forever associated with Coleman describe everything and nothing. The truth is that Coleman is a musical innovator whose impact has been to liberate jazz from all-too-rigidly held strictures and shibboleths of melody, harmony, form, sound, and structure. He and those influenced by him changed the face of the music forever. Appropriately, at this concert, neither band attempted to reproduce Coleman's "approach," which, in any case, might be impossible, as it depended so much on the particular context in which he worked. Rather, each group functioned as its own unified jazz "engine," using Coleman's original compositions and several of Tacuma's to generate powerful, high energy interpretations that incorporated Coleman's ideas in the context of the jazz legacy in all its variety and complexity. This was not sterotypical "free jazz" as much as it was sheer artistry combined with raw power one rarely hears in jazz ensembles.
Thus, the approaches of both groups were surprisingly rooted in jazz standard format, something Ornette Coleman himself did less frequently as his career progressed. For the most part, the melody for each piece was stated clearly, and the underpinnings were the bebop and hard bop idioms, which made the music accessible and reflected Coleman's own extensions of Charlie Parker
's innovations. However, both groups possessed the full capacity to take the standard format well beyond its usual parameters. There were few solo choruses as suchnearly all the improvising occurred at the group level in a contrapuntal manner. (Group improvising was advanced considerably by Coleman's ensemble work over the years.) Chord structures were dropped in favor of shifting tonal centers, and atonality sometimes ensued. Rhythmic patterns were independently and interdependently manipulated and juxtaposed by the various musicians. In both groups, coordination and coherence, along with rich emotional expression, established beauty and electricity from multi-layered colorations, the way a great painter creates unity out of layers of brush strokes. As a result, Ornette Coleman was honored and his innovations employed, but this concert stood on its own musical merit.
Denardo Coleman's group conveyed a sense of dialogue among tribal "elders," with the drummer as the authoritative chieftain. (He has developed his own form of "swing" which is uniquely lithe and weighty at the same time.) Tony Falanga developed brilliant acoustic bass phrases that, unlike bassists who fade into the rhythm section, stood out loudly and clearly in the crowd by virtue of his ingenuity and percussive insistence, while Al Macdowell's electric bass, half- way across the stage as if in another world, produced slower lyrical waves of "harmolodic" ideas. Charlie Elerbee was off to the other side with his steel-stringed guitar, emitting diverse commentaries (shorter phrases with metallic irritability) somewhat outside the mix. Tenor saxophonist Antoine Roney
represented a mainstream "post-Coltrane" influence, staying close to the hard bop tradition while exploring new possibilities within it. Each musician voiced his own idiom, but their diverse styles were held together by Denardo Coleman's unrelenting yet highly expressive drumming.
The group played an all-Ornette Coleman program. The tune, "Call to Duty," from the live album Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar, 2006), got the concert started in an energetic manner. The subsequent numbers, like "Broadway Blues," were familiar to Coleman aficionados, and by the time the group got to "Dancing in Your Head," the tunes would have been familiar to anyone in the audience. (Despite his avant-garde status, Coleman is one of the most prolific contributors of jazz standards). For an encore, the group performed the melancholy ballad, "Lonely Woman," which, having been sung by many vocalists, has made its way into the American Songbook. The ensemble effect here was stunningthe group literally created a symphonic suite of great magnitude and depth that amply demonstrated how "free jazz" is free in spirit, but not in structure and implication. Throughout the set, the Denardo Coleman group was highly coordinated and methodical despite their stylistic divergences. The audience, like this reviewer, appeared absorbed in the phenomenon of brilliant co- creation, and gave the group a standing ovation.
Jamaaladeen Tacuma's eclectic ensemble embodied a challenging and fascinating Hegelian synthesis of the antithetical opposites of cocktail lounge jazz and heavy metal, the latter driven by Tacuma's hard rock electric bass rumble and drummer G. Calvin Weston's solidified use of the full drum set as well as a Chinese gong that declamated crucial shifts in the musical landscape. Austrian reed player Wolfgang Puschnig
made a wonderfully contrasting pair, with the former engaging in multi-instrumental virtuosity (including the use of the Korean hojak, a reed-like trumpet), often suggesting the influence of the late great Michael Brecker, and Shachter carefully choosing his phrasing before lyrically ascending into higher states, with a nod perhaps to Sonny Rollins
is a miracle of a pianist who used every keyboard convention and invention available to enhance the expressiveness of the whole group.
Tacuma emulated both Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor in bringing on poet Wadud Ahmad for a short but sweet homage to Coleman which left one wishing for more. Their set concluded with vocalist Asha Puthli, a musical treasure from India, who softly and beautifully rendered an ethereal Ornette Coleman ballad "What Reason Could I Give?" which she recorded more than forty years ago on Coleman's album, Science Fiction (Columbia, 1971). Several tunes"For the Love of Ornette," "East Wind Oriental," and "Drum and Space"were from Tacuma's album For the Love of Ornette, which featured Coleman himself as well as Puschig and Uzeki from the current group.
The tripartite series "Still the New Thing" is sponsored by the Painted Bride Arts Center, the Ars Nova Workshop, and the Warriors of the Wondeful Sound. The series concludes on April 19th with a concert in honor of Sun Ra featuring two big bands, the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound and the Sun Ra Arkestra.
Set Lists: (All songs composed by Ornette Coleman except where noted):
Denardo Coleman Group: Call To Duty; Sleep Talk; The Sphinx; Peace; Blues Connotation; Broadway Blues; Turnaround; Dancing In Your Head; Song X; Encore: Lonely Woman
Jamaaladeen Tacuma Band: For The Love of Ornette (Tacuma); East Wind Oriental (Tacuma); Drum & Space; Tacuma Song (Tacuma); What Reason Could I Give?; Times Square.
Personnel: Denardo Coleman Group: Denardo Coleman, drums; Al Macdowell, electric bass ; Tony Falanga, acoustic bass; Charlie Ellerbee, guitar; Antoine Roney, tenor saxophone.
Jamaaladeen Tacuma Band: Jamaaladeen Tacuma, electric bass guitar; Wolfgang Puschnig, alto saxophone, flute, hojak; Ben Schachter, tenor saxophone; Yoichi Uzeki, piano, keyboards; G. Calvin Weston, drums; Wadud Ahmad, spoken word vocals; Asha Puthli vocals.