Unlike Ellington celebrations, tributes to Ornette Coleman are a relative rarity. The disparity is interesting considering that many in creative improvised music circles regard Coleman’s radical innovations as of parallel importance to those of the Duke. McPhee and Duval go a long way towards rectifying this gap on this disc. Recorded live at the Knitting Factory during a series of concerts McPhee was commissioned to perform, each of the pieces in this concert is dedicated to individual members of Coleman’s small combos. The opening “Dance of the Reasons Why,” the longest of the tunes, is for Dewey Redman. McPhee’s curvaceous improvisations on alto recall the dry, dulcet tone of the tenor man with supernatural accuracy. On “Beyond the Truth/Lies,” a piece for Charlie Haden, Duval’s improvisations on Hutchins bass, a smaller, specially constructed variant of the double bass which a emits a resounding string sound just below the cello range, are positively ear-bending. He crafts a delicate pizzicato solo that perfectly echoes Haden’s legendary corpulence on the strings and McPhee’s dance with the melody, again on alto, is no less breathtaking in its brilliance.
McPhee swaps sax for trumpet on “Moffet’s Motif” slurring rueful phrases while Duval generates percussive patters on the wooden body of his bass. “Old Eyes” salutes the Coleman himself in an opening alto solo that brings tears to the eyes with its blatant beauty. “Caught In the Moment,” which is for David Izenzon, is curious in that Duval sticks to pizzicato, avoiding his bow and the arco technique for which Izenzon was so renowned. The bassist unsheathes his bow briefly on “And Then Red,” for Scott LaFaro, a tune is steeped with tactile melancholy. The concluding “Celebration” celebrates Don Cherry in a solo coda for pocket trumpet. McPhee’s lucent lines on the brass instrument that Cherry first made his leaps forward on in Coleman’s original quartet make for a fitting end to this priceless disc. In his liners McPhee makes the point that so often tributes are made after their recipient has passed. Taking the lead he shows us that rather than waiting for their absence, we should honor such mentors with thanks while they are still among us.