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Celebrating Ornette Coleman at the Painted Bride Art Center

Victor L. Schermer By

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Thus, the approaches of both groups were surprisingly rooted in jazz standard format, something Ornette Coleman himself did less frequently as his career progressed. For the most part, the melody for each piece was stated clearly, and the underpinnings were the bebop and hard bop idioms, which made the music accessible and reflected Coleman's own extensions of Charlie Parker's innovations. However, both groups possessed the full capacity to take the standard format well beyond its usual parameters. There were few solo choruses as such—nearly all the improvising occurred at the group level in a contrapuntal manner. (Group improvising was advanced considerably by Coleman's ensemble work over the years.) Chord structures were dropped in favor of shifting tonal centers, and atonality sometimes ensued. Rhythmic patterns were independently and interdependently manipulated and juxtaposed by the various musicians. In both groups, coordination and coherence, along with rich emotional expression, established beauty and electricity from multi-layered colorations, the way a great painter creates unity out of layers of brush strokes. As a result, Ornette Coleman was honored and his innovations employed, but this concert stood on its own musical merit.

Denardo Coleman's group conveyed a sense of dialogue among tribal "elders," with the drummer as the authoritative chieftain. (He has developed his own form of "swing" which is uniquely lithe and weighty at the same time.) Tony Falanga developed brilliant acoustic bass phrases that, unlike bassists who fade into the rhythm section, stood out loudly and clearly in the crowd by virtue of his ingenuity and percussive insistence, while Al Macdowell's electric bass, half- way across the stage as if in another world, produced slower lyrical waves of "harmolodic" ideas. Charlie Elerbee was off to the other side with his steel-stringed guitar, emitting diverse commentaries (shorter phrases with metallic irritability) somewhat outside the mix. Tenor saxophonist Antoine Roney represented a mainstream "post-Coltrane" influence, staying close to the hard bop tradition while exploring new possibilities within it. Each musician voiced his own idiom, but their diverse styles were held together by Denardo Coleman's unrelenting yet highly expressive drumming.

The group played an all-Ornette Coleman program. The tune, "Call to Duty," from the live album Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar, 2006), got the concert started in an energetic manner. The subsequent numbers, like "Broadway Blues," were familiar to Coleman aficionados, and by the time the group got to "Dancing in Your Head," the tunes would have been familiar to anyone in the audience. (Despite his avant-garde status, Coleman is one of the most prolific contributors of jazz standards). For an encore, the group performed the melancholy ballad, "Lonely Woman," which, having been sung by many vocalists, has made its way into the American Songbook. The ensemble effect here was stunning—the group literally created a symphonic suite of great magnitude and depth that amply demonstrated how "free jazz" is free in spirit, but not in structure and implication. Throughout the set, the Denardo Coleman group was highly coordinated and methodical despite their stylistic divergences. The audience, like this reviewer, appeared absorbed in the phenomenon of brilliant co- creation, and gave the group a standing ovation.

Jamaaladeen Tacuma's eclectic ensemble embodied a challenging and fascinating Hegelian synthesis of the antithetical opposites of cocktail lounge jazz and heavy metal, the latter driven by Tacuma's hard rock electric bass rumble and drummer G. Calvin Weston's solidified use of the full drum set as well as a Chinese gong that declamated crucial shifts in the musical landscape. Austrian reed player Wolfgang Puschnig and Philadelphia-originating tenor saxophonist Ben Schachter made a wonderfully contrasting pair, with the former engaging in multi-instrumental virtuosity (including the use of the Korean hojak, a reed-like trumpet), often suggesting the influence of the late great Michael Brecker, and Shachter carefully choosing his phrasing before lyrically ascending into higher states, with a nod perhaps to Sonny Rollins. Pianist Yoichi Uzeki is a miracle of a pianist who used every keyboard convention and invention available to enhance the expressiveness of the whole group.

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