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Ornette Coleman at the SF Jazz Festival

Renee Rosnes
Renee Rosnes (photo: Andrew Lepley)

If someone had shouted, “Old school’s in the house!!” at the Kennedy Center, during the second day of the 8th Annual Women in Jazz Festival, they wouldn’t be just talking about pianist Barbara Carroll, who was presented with this year’s Mary Lou Williams Award. After Rene Rosnes’ spirited opening set, the evening belonged to soul-jazz veterans, Gloria Lynne and Gloria Coleman.

Rosnes got the party started with the infectious, “Pas de Trois,” from the titular new CD on True Life with the Drummonds (her drummer-husband Billy and bassist Ray). With its initial waltz time and block chords, sounded a bit too much like a McCoy Tyner composition. Nevertheless, Rosnes demonstrated her melodic inventiveness by unraveling elegantly languid passages on the tune. On Rodgers and Hart’s “Spring Is Here” she and trio members drummer Billy Drummond and bassist Michael McGuirk concocted an enticing Ahmad Jamal-like groove that propelled her imaginative solos. On her own composition “Icelight,” Rosnes displayed more of her daring side, steering her band through rough, intricate rhythms and zigzagging melodies. Rosnes’ emphatic rapport with her drummer-husband was also on fine display; he provided suspenseful accents and gentle polyrhythms that, at times, mirrored her melodies perfectly.

Most festival attendees, however, came to hear Lynne’s soulful crooning, and despite being hampered by various microphone problems, she came with it in true diva fashion. Complemented by a supportive quintet, she delighted the audience with a “back down memory lane” set, highlighted by poignant renditions of “Soul Serenade,” “Blue Afternoon” and her career-defining hit, “Somewhere in the Night.” Still in fine voice, Lynne’s singing harkens back when jazz and R&B shared a closer affinity. She cuts to the chase when it comes to singing, paring her phrasing to the melodic essence of a song, decorating it with more blues shouts than jazzy scatting. Although Roy Merriweather’s overly florid piano accompaniments threatened to become more of a liability than an asset, guitarist Greg Skaff’s bluesy guitar riffs and Michael Flemming’s robust bass lines gave Lynne the perfect blend of swagger and swing. She sent chills with her sultry reading of “I Wish You Love,” and then had the house shimmering with her gritty take on “Watermelon Man.”

Coleman followed suit on the soul-jazz vibe with a rousing organ-trio set. Even though she began her program with a rather frictionless take on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Birk’s Work,” when Coleman dug deep into the blues bag she concocted a gutbucket, blue-collar funk vibe. Looking and sounding very much like an ordained church organist raising hell on the Hammond B-3, Coleman took no prisoners on her own composition, “Dancing on the Moon.” She threw all kinds of edgy smears, hammering riffs and fat, tasty grooves that were propelled by her son, George Coleman Jr. Tenor saxophonist Charles Bowen’s blustery tone and economical playing enlivened her testifying organ blasts, especially on Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.” Coleman also demonstrated her vocal prowess on a riveting reading of “If I Should Lose You,” and a brooding take on “If I Had a Brain,” from The Wizard of Oz, that had it not been for Coleman’s soulful conviction, would have been a cloying mess.

Originally Published