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Celebrating Ornette Coleman at the Painted Bride Art Center

Celebrating Ornette Coleman at the Painted Bride Art Center
Victor L. Schermer By

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Denardo Coleman Group and Jamaaladeen Tacuma Band
The Painted Bride Art Center
Philadelphia, PA
March 21, 2014

This concert was the second in a series curated by saxophonist, band leader, and composer/arranger Bobby Zankel entitled "Still the New Thing" honoring three icons of avant- garde jazz: Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and Sun Ra 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, and legendary electric bassist and former member of Coleman's groups, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, 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. Denardo has gone on to record and produce many of Ornette's recordings as well as collaborating extensively with the poet Jayne Cortez. The Coleman Group also includes bassists Tony Falanga and Al Macdowell, 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, Carlos Santana, Marc Ribot, and James Blood Ulmer. He has also performed and recorded with saxophonists Pharoah Sanders, Grover Washington Jr., Odean Pope, and James Carter. 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.

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