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My Summer in Italy

Ornette Coleman’s first Chicago concert in at least 15 years opened with a chorus of bowed bass to introduce a sorrowing alto sax song that was much like his 1968 tune “New York.” As a fast tempo appeared and Coleman began pouring out endless cascades of melody, quite the opposite of sorrow began to emerge: not just happiness but utter joy. And while the rest of the evening’s music touched on many kinds and degrees of feeling, including melancholy and hardness, the joy of music and of creation proved to be his message.

Coleman’s previous live appearance in Chicago was with Prime Time, a free-fusion collective-improvisation show that, apart from his own playing, led to mixed emotions. Certainly his soloing tonight was different from his more broken lines with Prime Time and from the severity of his brilliant Naked Lunch (1992). Most of the nine songs were new; one with a sad, long-toned melody, ending in an abrupt, hard-boiled tag, was especially notable. The most appealing element was the consistent beauty of his alto sax tone: full, pure, rounded, singing. It was an ideal tone for projecting the kinds of expressive nuances that lent subtlety of feeling to his lines-tones bent fractionally flat or sharp, for shading, or rare passages in which his sound acquired hard or harsh edges. Interestingly, early in the concert he played a white-lacquered alto-metal, not plastic-but it sounded just like the gold alto that he used for most of the concert.

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