Miles, Ornette, Cecil

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Miles, Ornette, Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel
Hardcover; 288 pages
ISBN: 0415967147

The music and personalities of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor inspired taxis and tropism. Each is endearing, maddening, mercurial, confounding, innovative and timeless. Howard Mandel has written Miles, Ornette, Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz using previously published interviews and articles, as well as personal recollections, to present compelling portraits of these prominent members of what he calls the "avant-garde."

The segment on Miles Davis is primarily an analysis and defense of his fusion period and its place in jazz history. Instead of decrying Miles' electric experimentations, Mandel feels that not releasing works such as Pangaea at the time of their completion was a lost opportunity all around. He also suggests that Miles' fusion genius was as much the result of Teo Macero's skill as an editor.

The section on alto saxman Coleman has a biblical bent to it, with witnesses such as Don Cherry and Dewey Redman sharing their opinions on harmolodics, Coleman's concept of solo improvisation within a group context.

Where some people might find Cecil Taylor's piano playing (and personality) unendurable, Mandel argues that Taylor's type of iconoclasm is important and natural to the growth of jazz—a statement that could also be made on behalf of Davis and Coleman.

Mandel is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic writer whose detailed analyses of these men's works will demand re-evaluation of the classics he cites. (The book could have used a more rigorous editor, though. Sidney Poitier's name is misspelled "Sydney" and Jon Hendricks' name, misspelled "Hendrix," is followed with the note "no relation to Jimi.") The spirit of Miles, Ornette, Cecil may be best summed up by this sentence: "Going beyond what's been established is no more disrespectful than ignoring what may yet be gained by exploring the possibilities."

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