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Ornette Coleman at the SF Jazz Festival

When last we saw Ornette Coleman at the San Francisco Jazz Festival, he stirred up the stuff of infamy. It was 1994, and Coleman’s “Tone Dialing” program presented a full menu of sets from both Coleman’s acoustic quartet music and his poly-everything electric band Prime Time. In-between those performances came a ritualistic body-piercing act. Some felt compelled to flee to the lobby when the impaling began. Musically, though, a fine, potent memory still lingers.

On November 7, as the pinnacle of the 20th anniversary SF Jazz Fest, Coleman returned to town, this time in the more uptown, elegant setting of Davies Symphony Hall. No flesh was pierced, and little electricity used (apart from bassist Charnett Moffett’s electro-acoustic ventures). Emerging in a sky blue suit on the stage normally occupied by the San Francisco Symphony, Coleman launched into a healthy two-hour set of acoustic trio music, 10 songs written especially for this concert. That the concert was one of only two Coleman played this year added to an air of expectancy from one of the last great iconoclastic jazz heroes of our time.

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