George Coleman isn’t just the answer to the trivial pursuit question “Who were the tenor saxophonists in Miles Davis’ Band after John Coltrane and but before Wayne Shorter.” The correct answers; Hank Mobley, Sam Rivers, and George Coleman, if not achieving Miles Davis super-stardom all went on to significant careers. Miles suggested that Coleman left his sixties group because of tension. Davis said he played too perfect and that his bandmates were looking for more freedom and, one can suspect, a looser sound. My take is that George Coleman, like his Memphis jazz brother Harold Mabern, played with a blues/swing the aggressive young lions Herbie Hancock and Tony Williams were trying to eschew, for hipness sake. Like Mobley (now deceased) and more recently Rivers, Coleman has a gang of loyal devotees to his music.
Coleman has been part of many significant groups (Lionel Hampton, Elvin Jones, Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith, Chet Baker, Max Roach, and Cedar Walton and recordings (Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, and Miles Davis’ Four And More, My Funny Valentine, & Live at Antibes ). His output as a leader has been sparse (for such a great talent), with his last release being the Telarc recording I Could Write A Book: The Music Of Richard Rodgers (1998). His Octet, which has been around in some form or an other since 1973, has criminally been recorded only a few times. The Two And Four recording company rights a wrong in the debut release by Coleman’s Octet.
The disc opens with Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” the octet laying such a driving blues groove you barely notice Coleman doesn’t take a solo until nearly four minutes into the song. It’s that Memphis sound that hooks you from the get-go. Harold Mabern’s piano swings so hard throughout, there is not much that could go wrong here. Percussionist Daniel Sadowick augments the octet of two tenors, alto, and baritone saxophones, trumpet, piano bass and drums. His hand drumming along with master bassist Ray Drummond, George’s son on drums and the aforementioned Mabern, are a rhythm section with a blues predilection. Their take on the standard “Tenderly,” arranged by Ned Otter, is a rapid paced reworking which sheds every ounce of sentimentality for passionate swing. This is an octet that thinks it’s a quartet. They regard changes most little big bands would never attempt and apply generous space rarely heard in octet recordings. Highlights include trumpeter Jim Rotondi’s solo on “Portrait Of Jenny,” Coleman’s “Pretty Blues” with full-horn front split off into a call-and response, and Frank Foster’s composition “Simone” with the coltrane-esqe solo by Ned Otter.
Maybe Miles Davis was right; George Coleman’s playing is too perfect. Not perfect, as in the criticism of Wynton Marsalis’ unemotional playing. But perfect in the sense of Dizzy Gillespie’s always playing the correct note at the right time. Coleman’s timing is faultless, and no one could ever say his horn is indifferent. This Memphis tenor has a large blues sound with enough passion to get your ass dancing.
Track List:Isn’t She Lovely; Conservation; Portrait of Jennie; Simone; Tenderly; Follow Me; Pretty Blues.