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2008 Copenhagen Jazz Festival

AAJ Staff By

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The concert ended rather abruptly, and unfortunately at a time when both were musically playing off each other, an unfortunate rarity for this concert. Bley reached inside the piano to pluck at its strings, but in doing so pushed the piano forward. Evidently the tuner, or whoever was last to touch the piano before Bley, neglected to lock its wheels! The pianist exclaimed something to the effect of: ''The piano is f*cking moving! Tuner—next time you f*cking tune a piano, don't forget to f*cking lock the wheels!!!'' And with this came the end of the concert, one that proved to have few high points. Before the pianist left, though, he slowly made his way centerstage and proceeded to share a rather humorous Mingus story (his one-time boss) which culminated in Mingus pushing the Village Vanguard's piano down the club's stairs. Bley said proudly— "Legend has it, it made a GRRR-GREAT sound." Fortunately he decided not to demonstrate, and instead walked offstage.



Other top billings were publicized as "Giant Jazz," taking place at the Royal Danish Theatre on Kongens Nytorv (Cassandra Wilson, Jimmy Scott, Ornette Coleman), Copenhagen Opera (Wayne Shorter's Quartet & Imani Winds) and Glassalen in historic Tivoli (Saxophone Summit, Charles Lloyd, David Murray's Black Saint Quartet, Brad Mehldau's Trio). At the Old Stage of the Royal Danish Theatre, Ornette Coleman brought a slight variation of the group with which he's been performing (though not the variation strangely and inaccurately publicized and advertised featuring bassists Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga). Having recently dropped electric bassist Charnett Moffett from his in-essence one-time three-bass lineup, more space and balance revealed itself in the already dense music, certainly a move in the right direction.

The only minor detail to work on with continuing to fine tune this group would be getting the appropriate mic-ing for the pulsating drumming of Denardo Coleman in the mix, which has characteristically been sub-par in most every venue I've heard him play with Ornette. One can definitely get a good sense of his beat and time, but there's a lack of dynamics and depth to his playing and certainly to no fault of his own. Compass-like on stage with two candelabras on white clothed tables bookending Falanga who was flanked stage right, bass piccolo guitarist Al McDowell stage left, Denardo up on a high platform—with the leader front and center— Coleman's blues came across unobstructed and pristine.

Falanga obviously carries on a tradition that former Ornette bassist David Izenson provided in the '60s, bringing those classic At the Golden Circle volumes full circle so to speak. The arco master's classical background is evident and has been exploited by the bandleader who still manages to maintain breakneck tempos even at age 78. With Falanga and McDowell, Ornette and son performed a lengthy set, including music from his most recent release, the highly acclaimed Sound Grammar ("Jordan" and "Sleep Talking" and two of his classics "Song X" and "Turnaround," the former also from Coleman's 1985 collaboration with guitarist Pat Metheny, the latter first recorded on Coleman's quintessential Tomorrow is the Question from nearly 50 years ago). Falanga and McDowell empathetically alternated echoing lines off the leader's (McDowell eyeing Ornette like a hawk throughout), and the foursome were perhaps heard no better than during the shortest but perhaps most succinct performance that evening—the ever- satisfying and expected encore of "Lonely Woman."



Wayne Shorter's Quartet, with and without the wind quintet Imani Winds (consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn and bassoon), played the ultra-modern Copenhagen Opera. Danilo Perez (piano), John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums) round out arguably the greatest small group playing today, while the curious collaboration with the New York-based classical group brought the heights of Shorter's music down to earth. Imani Winds opened the concert, performing a few selections including Shorter's chamber piece "Terra Incognita" and Astor Piazolla's "Libre Tango." At times Monica Ellis (bassoon) would carry the tuba role, the forerunner of the acoustic bass in early jazz bands of course, while Toyin Spellman-Diaz (oboe) supplied a second clarinet part in the more "jazzier" parts of their repertoire.

However, when Shorter's group took to the stage and Imani Winds (temporarily) departed, what ensued was an improv-heavy set (featuring the extensive "Zero Gravity" that took up the bulk of the quartet's performance and the Celtic ballad "She Moves Through the Fair" from his Alegria) that left most listeners silent in absolute astonishment, save for the ending uproar of applause and shouts for more. Shorter, so much caught up in the moment during his quartet's set, would noticeably and momentarily pick up either his tenor or soprano, then switch back as if the moment had passed. Now if that isn't being and playing in the moment, I'm not sure what is! There seemed to be no specific direction but every direction the band could and did go. The group was and continues to be so in tune with one another, it's on par with what is commonly associated—if I may make a perhaps not so outlandish comparison—with the classic John Coltrane Quartet. Perez in particular continues to prove an ideal foil for Shorter (as such was Tyner for Coltrane), providing rhythmic sparks at every given corner and Patitucci and Blade additionally never rested on their laurels. It was musical creation of the highest order.

What makes Shorter's group and its concept so unique, though, is the function and significance of how they individually—and more importantly as a unit—manipulate space, which became ever more the precious commodity in the collaborative context with Imani Winds. The aspect of spontaneity, another key element to Shorter's quartet, needed a shot in the arm with Imani, as composition overtook and to a large extent replaced improvisation. Shorter actually had a seat as if a sixth member of the Imani Winds and read sheet music of the pieces which included his own "Pegasus" and "Prometheus Unbound," playing rather tamely in comparison to his performance at the helm of his own small ensemble.

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