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Ornette Coleman at the SF Jazz Festival

Despite a snowstorm that threatened to shut down the government, an enthusiastic audience turned out on a frigid Friday night to see the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Sextet perform its portrait of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. Such tributes can be problematic: Adderley was not only a popular crossover musician, he was also an extraordinarily accomplished and charismatic player, and the only way such a tribute can work is if you have a compelling soloist and articulate host to bring out the spirit and context of Adderley’s music. Fortunately, the SJMS can call on saxophonist and Howard University Music Professor Charlie Young to fill those very big shoes. Young shared insightful, personal and sometimes funny stories about Adderley that gave everyone a flavor of the rotund man behind the recordings. But it was the music that people came to hear and the Sextet didn’t disappoint.

Young and his colleagues began the program with one of Adderley’s earliest works, “A Little Taste,” from his 1955 Savoy session. The tricky theme was expertly played, and Young and trumpeter Tom Williams both came out swinging. A couple of tunes from Adderley’s tenure with Miles Davis followed. “All Blues” found tenor saxophonist Luis Hernandez taking his time, building tension and generating heat à la Warne Marsh by playing slightly behind the beat. Drummer Steve Williams kicked off “Two Bass Hit,” and the solos segued as Young began his by incorporating the final phrase played by Hernandez.

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