Any reason to celebrate the late, great Ornette Coleman will always be a good one. On the occasion of the master saxophonist, composer, and harmolodic theorist’s 91st birthday in May 2019, another bracing, individualistic alto player, Puerto Rico native Miguel Zenón, gathered his freest, jazziest friends (tenor saxophonist Ariel Bringuez, bassist Demian Cabaud, drummer Jordi Rossy); booked a residency at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Switzerland; and wailed on a handful of Coleman classics. This digital-only (for now) release is living proof that Coleman’s spirit carries on in the most imaginative and expressionistic of ways.
Freedom is a state of being as opposed to a sound, and Zenón, with his diaphanous tone and eloquent playfulness, could easily pass for a third-generation Ornette without even trying. Resting on those laurels, however, would be too easy. So the young saxophonist and his multinational crew (of Cuban, Argentinian, and Catalan descent) relied on first-take, best-take practices for the rapids-riding askew blues of “The Tribes of New York” and its breathless bop-swapping (and warmly humorous) solos. “Giggin’” is a joyful dance oddly choreographed in the middle of a staged musical, a zig-zagging meeting between two reedsmen and their bubbling-over bassist buddy. Zenón and his chatty ensemble twist the dark blues of “Street Woman” (done here as a medley with “Toy Dance”) from bold to pastel, while honking and hinting at pure vocalese (wait for it, and the altoist hits on “Cloudburst” several times). A short, sweet, all-hands-on-deck-at-once “Free” comes off as one fast-talking conversation between the quartet on top of another, even faster one, all with hammily screwball comic timing and occasional blasts of disgust and mistrust.
Not since John Zorn’s Spy Vs. Spy has any artist—let alone another saxophonist—captured the drama, magic, and mirthfulness of Ornette Coleman without aping him. That is, until Zenón & Co.’s Law Years. Impressive.