How do you hear Ornette Coleman's music? As an unlikely but logical extension of bebop vocabulary? As "free" chaos untethered from harmony? As a tributary of the great stream of Texas saxophonists? As jazz's purest melodism?
The music of Coleman, who would have turned 91 years on March 9 2021, was all of those things and many more. Why shouldn't a body of work that presents so many points of entry be as ubiquitous on record as that of Thelonious Monk, who was as iconoclastic and inscrutable a figure at the beginning of the 1950s as Coleman was at the decade's end? The jazz world, it seems, hasn't quite caught up with the change of the (last) century.
Thankfully, Miguel Zenon has, and Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman is proof. After a recent string of releases which deeply examined Zenón's Puerto Rican heritage, it is an abrupt departure. But Law Years forcefully argues for Coleman as an equally vital part of Zenón's musical heritage and for Coleman's position as a jazz composer.
With tenor saxophonist Ariel Bringuez, bassist Demian Cabaud and drummer Jordi Rossy, the band mirrors the other "Ornette quartet" with tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins or Edward Blackwell on drums. It is a lithe, athletic unit which attacks the up-tempo material with brio and urgent forward motion. Give credit to Rossy, a Catalan whose linear, cymbal-based style is more Higgins than Blackwell. Cabaud, from Argentina, is no Charlie Haden (who is?), but he is solid in a difficult role. Bringuez, a Cuban, is a pattern player who occasionally reaches back to pre-bop traditions for some of his licks. He uses romantic little flourishes from Cuban soñeros in the way that Sonny Rollins, whose tone Bringuez' resembles, drops nuggets of calypso into his improvisations.
This is ensemble music, tangled, occasionally quarrelsome and conversational. Still, Zenón emerges as Law Years' most compelling voice. For all its humanity and connections to singingsomething he shares with ColemanZenón's saxophone voice is hyperarticulate in a way that Coleman is not; still, both altoists are recognizably speaking bebop, albeit in different dialects. Ultimately, Zenón's mercuriality and daring are magnetic, and "Law Years" comes off as a passionately committed statement of purpose. "This is our music," it says. "Listen and be amazed."
Tribes of New York; Free; Law Years; Giggin'; Broken Shadows; Dee Dee; Toy Dance/Street Woman
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