Recorded live at Baltimore’s Famous Ballroom in May of 1971, this set captures the redoubtable tenor man with a well-oiled ensemble—trumpeter Danny Moore, pianist Albert Dailey, bassist Larry Ridley, and drummer Harold White—playing with such unerring synchronicity that a listener might be excused for assuming that most of the arrangements had been laid out beforehand. Not so, according to Coleman’s testimonial in the liner notes: “[W]e didn’t do much written stuff … it was going to sound like an arrangement, which it was, but it wasn’t written … we just went in and played.”
Coleman and Moore set the tone from the start with their intro to John Lewis’ “Afternoon in Paris,” interweaving in dual improvisation before melding into a unison statement of the theme, which then segues into Coleman’s solo: bright with good humor, dancing gaily through the tune’s harmonic architecture, probing with quick-minded precision yet never sounding academic or dry. Moore expands on the freewheeling mood, interspersing a few smears to add a tinge of hipster irony. Dailey then invokes a more pastoral feel before breaking into a jubilantly swinging main passage, as Ridley and White lay down a tight rhythmic framework.
The ensemble brings similar freshness to such standards as Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring” (featuring a duo workout between Coleman and White) and “Sandu” (on which Moore, rather than attempt to emulate Brown’s technical legerdemain, structures his solo in a circular fashion, returning to a stated theme and exploring fresh harmonic implications with each iteration). Especially notable is “I Got Rhythm,” reimagined as a high-octane, boppified workout. Coleman plunges through the changes with daunting dexterity, nodding only obliquely to the original theme; Dailey leaps into the fun, skittering with joyful abandon; and White contributes a wide-spectrum solo, as melodic as it is percussive. Overall, it’s the set’s most jaw-dropping technical display—yet, as throughout, relaxed, unforced, and devoid of pretension or self-indulgence.