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New Century, Same Genius: Ornette Coleman at JVC

Charlie Hunter

During the mid ’90s, Knitting Factory impresario Michael Dorf posed a rhetorical question with his What Is Jazz? festival, which served as a downtown alternative to George Wein’s perennial uptown clambake, the JVC Jazz Festival. A whole host of renegade artists and bands, including John Zorn’s Naked City, the Jazz Passengers, Sonny Sharrock, Thomas Chapin, Defunkt, David S. Ware and others were paraded across the stage of the old Knitting Factory to demonstrate a cutting edge sensibility toward the art of improvising. The upstart label Ropeadope Records adopted that same renegade theme for a recent tour showcasing four artists on its current roster — guitarist Charlie Hunter, drummer Bobby Previte, bassist Christian McBride and DJ Logic.

Previte opened the show with a stunning solo set that had him juggling a universe of sampled sounds on his electronic dDrum kit. By deftly triggering everything from tympani and tubular bells to sitar and spoken word recitations, along with samples of the acoustic drum set itself, Previte played maestro from his drum chair, conducting his “orchestra” with the sheer command of Arturo Toscanini with the New York Philharmonic (or more accurately, Frank Zappa communing with his Synclavier). The endless palette of sounds that he had to draw from in constructing his digital symphony included sub harmonic bass lines, distorted electric guitars, traces of hypnotic gamelan, touches of cathedral bells, Chinese gongs, the sound of bombs going off, samples of kawali singers along with the sounds of rushing water, birds, insects and alien spacecrafts. To add a political edge to the sonic proceedings, Previte included a slowed down loop of George Bush proclaiming: “We have the terrorists on the run. We’re keepin’ ’em on the run,” which he triggered from the dDrum pads.

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