It's unfathomable that when Ornette Coleman came on the scene, his music was flat-out incomprehensible to a significant number of jazz fans. And what's worse, the man himself was thought to be a heretic. But with Coleman's headlining of the JVC Jazz Festival in 2006, there is no doubt that he is one of the few giants still standing.
Whether due to market dynamics, popular opinion, corporate myopia or the artist's own stubbornness, there has been a shortage of Ornette recordings in recent years. His working band has been together for some time now but has thus far committed nothing to disc.
Fortunately, the recording crunch can be alleviated by excellent repertory work like Milanese drummer Tiziano Tononi's sextet recording Peace Warriors. This sort of project is usually called a "tribute, but the band simply plays Ornette's compositions with as much passionate skill as they can, allowing the richness and variety of the master's songbook to carry the water. Ornette may have given free jazz its name, but these pieces demonstrate how carefully composed his music is.
The acoustic setting of the mournful "A Girl Named Rainbow manages to approximate the reverb sound of electric Prime Time. On "Feet Music Tononi's loose martial drumming sets the mood as Danielle Cavallanti's tenor smoothes out some of the high-strung tension associated with Ornette's alto. Tononi's band touches on other icons as well: Sun Ra vocals surface on "And Now We Interrupt for a Commercial, echoes of the twin-horn attack of Albert Ayler and Charles Tyler roll in on "Faithful, and Mingus' ghostly overdubbing influences the dreamlike "Empty Foxhole, before it settles into a dirge. Tononi's crew manages it all with style and verve on this great recording.
And Now We Interrupt for a Commercial/Broadway Blues; Sadness; Happy House; Faithful; Feet Music; The Empty Foxhole; A Girl Named Rainbow/School Work; Peace Warriors/Africa Is the Mirror of All Colours; Ode to the Master Drummers of Harmolodia.
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