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December 2005

Pat Metheny and Ornette Coleman
Song X: Twentieth Anniversary
Nonesuch Records

When this collaboration was released 20 years ago, it was a shock to the warm, melodic sensibilities of Pat Metheny fans. In its day, Song X provoked controversy and also won several record-of-the-year awards.

It is in fact an Ornette Coleman album. All 14 tunes are his, and in this meeting of dissimilar minds, it is Metheny who comes over to Coleman's side, not vice versa. Yet Metheny's rich, complex guitar sonorities provide new textures and dimensions to a Coleman ensemble. Coleman, clearly stimulated, nails everything he goes for, in his best banshee bray that incites both panic and euphoria.

It is exhilarating to hear the two of them maneuver, in exacerbated unisons, jagged Coleman lines like "Video Games" and "Long Time No See." Metheny's own solos float away, free. "Endangered Species" is a 13-minute freak-out that risks alienating Metheny's fan base forever. It is pure hell and pandemonium, but it is not chaos. Within the din, Coleman and Metheny cue one another with streaking motifs and lightning responses.

This Twentieth Anniversary edition of Song X includes six previously unissued tracks--placed before the original album cuts--and remixed, remastered sound. If this new version is sonically superior, two-dimensional and congealed and airless as it is, then the original mix was ugly indeed.

Originally published in December 2005
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