Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman (Avery Fisher Hall, New York; ,738 seats; $ 55 top) Presented by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Performers: (July 8) Ornette Coleman, Denardo Coleman, Dave Bryant, Bradley Jones, Al MacDowell, Chris Rosenberg, Badal Roy, Kenny Wessel, New York Philharmonic, conducted by Kurt Masur; (July 10) Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Wallace Roney, Lauren Kinhan, Chris Walker. Reviewed July 8 and 10, 1997. While it's no secret that Ornette Coleman has long been recognized as one of jazz's prime innovators, the ever-audacious Lincoln Center Festival is bent upon expanding that career summary well beyond jazz. So, with Coleman's participation, the festival is laudably and lavishly trying to cover as many bases as possible in three concerts, the first two of which produced some startling revelations. The first concert --- placed in the festival's prestigious lead-off spot --- was designed to give one of Coleman's longtime problem children, "Skies of America," the first-class performance that it allegedly deserved. The second program reunited the surviving members of the Coleman quartet that shook up the jazz world in 1959. Coming on top of two years of a tremendous product flow from Coleman's new Polygram-distributed Harmolodic label --- seven albums, four of them new --- the 67-year-old saxophonist must be basking happily in this massive wave of attention and respect. For a quarter of a century, most of us have viewed "Skies of America," a 67-minute piece for symphony orchestra and jazz group, through the distorted lens of a stripped-down and poorly recorded version on a now-deleted Columbia LP. Yet the performance at Fisher Hall, with its restored sections for jazz group (performed by Coleman and his free-funk Prime Time octet) and the orchestral portions smoothly played by Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic, definitely made the case for a reassessment of the work. At last, one could sense the shape of the piece, with its interpolated "songs" for jazz group within --- and at times, against --- many of the orchestral stretches. At last, one could perceive the steady bass lines that anchor Coleman's lean, strikingly unorthodox unison writing for orchestra. The orchestra conveys images of cloudy, even smoggy skies in a manner that recalls Charles Ives' dissonant symphonic meditations and Prime Time produced a lot of festive, luminous electric colors that were quite a contrast to the cultured Old World string tone that Masur likes to cultivate. Yet when the two forces came together, we heard chaotic masses of sound with few discernible components; again, the Ives comparison comes to mind. This isn't a masterpiece as the vast canvas is not always filled with consistently arresting material. Moreover, Coleman's alto sax work at first was either scattered or not miked properly (things improved as the piece went on). But as heard here, "Skies of America" indicates that Coleman may one day be viewed as a composer in the tradition of Ives by the serious yet free-thinking way in which he brings European and U.S. influences to an exuberant clash. The second program was nostalgia time for Coleman, and he sounded absolutely marvelous on alto in tandem with his old rhythm colleagues Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins. Coleman's own playing seems to have changed a lot more than the other two since they started recording in 1959; he sounds more rhythmic, more epigrammic, perhaps even mellower than before. Yet the group dynamic between the three (the fourth member Don Cherry died in 1995) remains unchanged, with Higgins' delicately fluid, rapid tapping of the snare drum and cymbals and Haden keeping up a rolling series of steady countermelodic lines on bass. For starters, their music doesn't sound dangerous anymore. One reason may be Coleman's own unquenchable thirst for melody, which he pursued on this night with a lyrical bent that might even be described as ravishing. Secondly, the trio never really burned; the musicians delivered controlled and civilized, parallel monologues that were not aimed at creating group combustion or radical sounds (with the brief indulgent exceptions of Coleman's fractured trumpet licks and crunching attacks on a violin). In the second half, Coleman rolled back one of his more historic innovations a bit by inserting a piano into the group --- manned by the redoubtable Kenny Barron --- and it was fascinating to hear melodically driven Barron trying to fit into the Coleman concept, laying back, adding melodic octaves and microscopic fills while keeping chords at an absolute minimum. Trumpeter Wallace Roney, who used to fill Miles Davis' slot in reunion concerts, was now asked to fill the role of Cherry and he responded gingerly. AU: Richard S. Ginell

With:
Performers: (July 8) Ornette Coleman, Denardo Coleman, Dave Bryant, Bradley Jones, Al MacDowell, Chris Rosenberg, Badal Roy, Kenny Wessel, New York Philharmonic, conducted by Kurt Masur; (July 10) Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Wallace Roney, Lauren Kinhan, Chris Walker.

Ornette Coleman (Avery Fisher Hall, New York; ,738 seats; $ 55 top) Presented by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Performers: (July 8) Ornette Coleman, Denardo Coleman, Dave Bryant, Bradley Jones, Al MacDowell, Chris Rosenberg, Badal Roy, Kenny Wessel, New York Philharmonic, conducted by Kurt Masur; (July 10) Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Wallace Roney, Lauren Kinhan, Chris Walker. Reviewed July 8 and 10, 1997. While it’s no secret that Ornette Coleman has long been recognized as one of jazz’s prime innovators, the ever-audacious Lincoln Center Festival is bent upon expanding that career summary well beyond jazz. So, with Coleman’s participation, the festival is laudably and lavishly trying to cover as many bases as possible in three concerts, the first two of which produced some startling revelations. The first concert — placed in the festival’s prestigious lead-off spot — was designed to give one of Coleman’s longtime problem children, “Skies of America,” the first-class performance that it allegedly deserved. The second program reunited the surviving members of the Coleman quartet that shook up the jazz world in 1959. Coming on top of two years of a tremendous product flow from Coleman’s new Polygram-distributed Harmolodic label — seven albums, four of them new — the 67-year-old saxophonist must be basking happily in this massive wave of attention and respect. For a quarter of a century, most of us have viewed “Skies of America,” a 67-minute piece for symphony orchestra and jazz group, through the distorted lens of a stripped-down and poorly recorded version on a now-deleted Columbia LP. Yet the performance at Fisher Hall, with its restored sections for jazz group (performed by Coleman and his free-funk Prime Time octet) and the orchestral portions smoothly played by Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic, definitely made the case for a reassessment of the work. At last, one could sense the shape of the piece, with its interpolated “songs” for jazz group within — and at times, against — many of the orchestral stretches. At last, one could perceive the steady bass lines that anchor Coleman’s lean, strikingly unorthodox unison writing for orchestra. The orchestra conveys images of cloudy, even smoggy skies in a manner that recalls Charles Ives’ dissonant symphonic meditations and Prime Time produced a lot of festive, luminous electric colors that were quite a contrast to the cultured Old World string tone that Masur likes to cultivate. Yet when the two forces came together, we heard chaotic masses of sound with few discernible components; again, the Ives comparison comes to mind. This isn’t a masterpiece as the vast canvas is not always filled with consistently arresting material. Moreover, Coleman’s alto sax work at first was either scattered or not miked properly (things improved as the piece went on). But as heard here, “Skies of America” indicates that Coleman may one day be viewed as a composer in the tradition of Ives by the serious yet free-thinking way in which he brings European and U.S. influences to an exuberant clash. The second program was nostalgia time for Coleman, and he sounded absolutely marvelous on alto in tandem with his old rhythm colleagues Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins. Coleman’s own playing seems to have changed a lot more than the other two since they started recording in 1959; he sounds more rhythmic, more epigrammic, perhaps even mellower than before. Yet the group dynamic between the three (the fourth member Don Cherry died in 1995) remains unchanged, with Higgins’ delicately fluid, rapid tapping of the snare drum and cymbals and Haden keeping up a rolling series of steady countermelodic lines on bass. For starters, their music doesn’t sound dangerous anymore. One reason may be Coleman’s own unquenchable thirst for melody, which he pursued on this night with a lyrical bent that might even be described as ravishing. Secondly, the trio never really burned; the musicians delivered controlled and civilized, parallel monologues that were not aimed at creating group combustion or radical sounds (with the brief indulgent exceptions of Coleman’s fractured trumpet licks and crunching attacks on a violin). In the second half, Coleman rolled back one of his more historic innovations a bit by inserting a piano into the group — manned by the redoubtable Kenny Barron — and it was fascinating to hear melodically driven Barron trying to fit into the Coleman concept, laying back, adding melodic octaves and microscopic fills while keeping chords at an absolute minimum. Trumpeter Wallace Roney, who used to fill Miles Davis’ slot in reunion concerts, was now asked to fill the role of Cherry and he responded gingerly. AU: Richard S. Ginell

Ornette Coleman

Reviewed July 8 and 10, 1997. Avery Fisher Hall, New York; ,738 seats; $55 top

Production: Presented by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Cast: Performers: (July 8) Ornette Coleman, Denardo Coleman, Dave Bryant, Bradley Jones, Al MacDowell, Chris Rosenberg, Badal Roy, Kenny Wessel, New York Philharmonic, conducted by Kurt Masur; (July 10) Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Wallace Roney, Lauren Kinhan, Chris Walker.

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