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Various Artists: Celebrate Ornette (Song X)

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Various Artists: "Celebrate Ornette"
Various Artists: "Celebrate Ornette"
Ornette Coleman (photo by Jimmy Katz)
Ornette Coleman (photo by Jimmy Katz)

I attended “Celebrate Ornette,” the June 2014 all-star tribute concert that makes this outstanding new box set an essential piece for Coleman devotees. I recall that it threatened to and eventually did rain in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park that night; I remember thinking it was under-attended for an event so obviously historic; I remember that I got up from my seat at one point to watch from the back of the crowd, where every musician who’s attempted to play jazz in New York in the last 30 years was hanging, chatting and listening. What I don’t recall is the kind of technology that could have yielded the very fine DVD included here—a clean, tight program with smartly filmed concert footage, meaningful talking-head segues and onscreen musician IDs that help the viewer make sense of the crowded stage. Where were those cameras? How did engineers manage to capture this sharp audio—included on two CDs and three LPs—with all those lineup changes and horn players bending the mic stands?

In any case, this documentation is a godsend. It includes Coleman’s final public performance, which came as somewhat of a surprise. It was up in the air as to whether Coleman would play at his fete, but he keens and wails through “Ramblin’” and “OC Turnaround,” alongside tap-dancer Savion Glover, saxophonists David Murray and, on the former tune, Henry Threadgill, and a house band of harmolodic alumni led by Coleman’s son, drummer Denardo (who produced the gig and this box). Coleman’s playing, given its just space and consideration by the ensemble, is proof as to how unmistakable his blues-soaked language and tone are. He repeats a few phrases, riffs and siren calls as if trying to push through a stutter, and in select fleeting moments we get the best Coleman had to offer.

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