Catenary Oath presents a 2018 solo recital by pianist and composer Anthony Coleman, recorded at Jordan Hall in the New England Conservatory in Boston where he also teaches. The album, available as a limited edition LP or digitally, contains a mix of originals and standards all given deeply personalized interpretations by the pianist. Coleman's profile has lessened since the 1990s when he was a regular on the downtown scene alongside John Zorn, Dave Douglas and Marc Ribot, but he still possesses a substantive discography of some 18 leadership dates as well as abundant sideman credits.
The well-paced program alternates the forceful with the impressionistic, starting with the restless "For Roscoe Mitchell," one of the high points of the set. Appropriate to the dedicatee, Coleman combines dramatic gestures with streams of clipped notes which come to an emphatic rest. But even on the freer pieces like this, Coleman keeps a harmonic foundation in mind. That's also the case on "Funeral Xylophone Music," whose percussive attack recalls Max Roach's "Driva Man." There's nothing funereal about the chiming drama which he unleashes. The opening collision of rattling glissandos and subsequent scuttles between jangly clusters on "For Mark Andre" implies another dedicatee of uncompromising tastes.
But at other times, on cuts like the introverted gauzy title track and "Verveine," where the compact flourishes decay into silence, the session suggests a solitary late night reverie. Of the standards, "Something To Live For" is rendered in a teasingly playful fashion, spacious and honeyed with barely a twist of lemon, while "Just Friends" gradually discards dark glasses and false moustache to emerge blinking into the light. Coleman reserves the most straightforward reading for the end as an uplifting near swinging rendition of Duke Ellington's "I'm Beginning To See The Light" finishes the set with a warm embrace.
By contrasting modernist musings with abstract ballads and sideways glances at the tradition, Catenary Oath offers a satisfyingly rounded portrait of Coleman as performer.
For Roscoe Mitchell; Something To Live For; Funeral Xylophone Music; Verveine; Catenary Oath; Her Cerotic Dip; Just Friends; For Mark Andre; I'm Beginning To See The Light.
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