Intrepid saxophonist and recovering jazz journalist Chris Kelsey went to his longtime friend, renowned author-educator-pianist Dr. Lewis Porter, with the idea of recording some of Ornette Coleman's music. That's how Free
came to be, plain and simple. But nothing is really that
simple. Kelsey and Porter worked through this material for a year, allowing the music to have ample time to settle into the mind and soul, and then they recorded these seldom-performed pieces in March of 2015. The album then saw release a few months later, mere days after Coleman's passing. That timing gives this record a bit of added weight and meaning, but better to separate it from the circumstances of its arrival. Free
needs no help in selling itself.
Kelsey and Porter are a well-matched pair that truly understands the ins-and-outs of Coleman's music. And it's not just in the way they interpret his compositions and mix the shaman-like, sharp-witted, and intentionally shambolic into a single package. It's about the way they imbue the material with life and spirit. Coleman's compositions don't exist flat on a page. They live, feel, and experience, reflecting the human condition in the way they evolve. This album clearly shows that these two seasoned travelers get that better than most.
The album opens with the tuneful "Music Always" and the more ornery "Brings Goodness," two pieces connected through name that originally appear in said sequence on To Whom Who Keeps A Record
(Warner Pioneer, 1975)a collection of unreleased material from Coleman's 1959 and 1960 sessions for Atlantic Records. This is the first of several multi-piece nods to specific albums. While not lined up in order, there's also a pair of piecesa tense-meets-playful "Check Out Time" and the hurdling-turned-woozy-turned-curious "Airborne"that point to Love Call
(Blue Note, 1968), and a trio of compositions referencing Change Of The Century
(Atlantic, 1960)a gallivanting-cum-ruminating "Free," a fidgety "Face Of The Bass," and a questioning "Forerunner." All speak to individuality yet remain bonded in spirit. The songs themselves, and the way these interpreters handle them, play strongly into the use of opposing forces, such as bifurcation and convergence, pointing to a yin-and-yang constructional philosophy at the core of much of Coleman's work.
Chris Kelsey and Dr. Lewis Porter have created something truly remarkable with Free
. They balance erudition and abandon while satisfying a craving for intelligent music dusted with mirth and mayhem. This album perfectly feeds into expectations while simultaneously defying them. The title hints at a second volume, and that would certainly be welcome. If it comes to pass, I'm sure it'll be a doozy like this one.