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Ornette Coleman at the SF Jazz Festival

John Scofield

John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Dave Holland and Al Foster-ScoLoHoFo-glided onto the Iridium’s stage with humbleness to accompany their collective greatness.

Lovano launched into “Oh!,” the title track to the band’s new Blue Note CD, on opening night with the tune’s distinctive middle-register introduction. Lovano soloed powerfully on the tune, even though the tension in his face seemed greater than the tension in his playing. His climaxes didn’t climax, but his tone-full and strong-opened like a tulip and snapped like a claw. He ran up and down scales like an athlete does stairs, shouting only when Foster’s shrill drums and Scofield’s piercing guitar clamored for it.

After Lovano finished his solo, he nodded, then scooted behind the drum set as Scofield sent sharp-edged chords into the air. The guitarist knocked Foster into high gear and Holland into a trot. Holland sailed across the bass with ease, accenting his playing with double-note plucks. Even when Holland’s abstract, he’s exact, but never predictable. He plucked with confident fingers that, at times, stretched out and led his arm and entire body across the fretboard, creating a visual imbalance that shows why live jazz is also great theater (Iridium is on Broadway, after all).

Scofield then introduced “Bittersweet” with the slow groove you’ll hear not only on Oh! but also on Scofield’s “Green Tea” from A Go Go. Lick for lick? You bet. But the ballad was tenderized by Lovano’s solo on a miniature saxophone, which looked like a toothpick against his broad chest. Lovano dipped down to build energy and stood to release it, always with a beet-red expression.

“Faces,” “Oh I See” and “Brandyn” followed each other seamlessly during the second set, marked by Scofield’s punchiness and Holland’s “A Love Supreme” quotations-the evening’s only predictable moment. Lovano, in line with his bandmates, quoted “My Funny Valentine” and “Summer Time” in the same breath, taking trivia experts to task and standards-ignorant patrons to school. Foster’s mallets made no fuss. Scofield’s tart chords sounded alternately like a full-orchestra’s tantrum and a sweetheart’s whisper. Foster’s “Salt Peanuts” reference-transposed to the snare drum-jabbed audience members in the ribs, producing friendly laughter and knowing smiles.

Overall, the group’s OhMyGodLookAtUs celebrity did not cramp its music.

Originally Published