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Joe Lovano Super Sonix Trio Celebrate Ornette

Performance at Celebrating Ornette Festival at the Jazz Gallery on Sept. 26, 2010

Ornette Coleman

A three-night celebration of Ornette Coleman, produced by noted photographer Jimmy Katz, culminated with a scintillating performance by a new trio led by sax great Joe Lovano and featuring the stellar rhythm tandem of bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Joey Baron. Premiering a new seven-movement suite of compositions written in the spirit of Coleman’s idiosyncratic music, Lovano’s Super Sonix Trio enthralled a packed house at the intimate Jazz Gallery with a stunning set marked by uncanny listening and uncommon empathy among the three kindred spirits.

Opening with Lovano’s “Etterno” (Ornette spelled backwards), the trio shifted nimbly from the meticulously crafted head, which had Baron and Brown glued to the charts, to an adventurous free section that had them closing their eyes and letting their intuition take over. Baron is especially effective in these freewheeling rubato scenarios. With remarkably keen instincts and sharply honed skills on the kit, he is able to propel the music forward with a surging pulse while simultaneously offering fractured fills and engaging in animated conversation with Lovano in the moment. Few other drummers are as adept at ‘leaping off the cliff’ and creating spontaneously as Baron is.

Lovano’s “Super Sonix Suite for Ornette” opened with his keening tones on tenor sax accompanied only by Brown’s woody bass tones. Following a dramatic passage of unaccompanied tenor, Baron entered with sensitive brushwork as Lovano blew plaintive tones alluding to Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.” This segued smoothly to a loping midtempo bluesy movement that turned on a dime from a Texas roadhouse romp to a rapid-fire jam fueled by Baron’s crisply swinging pulse on the ride cymbal. The third movement had Lovano moving to aulochrome (his custom-made double soprano instrument) and delivering dissonant blasts against Brown’s staccato bass line. Baron summoned up an earthy N’awlins street beat vibe on this oddly affecting ‘out’ number.

The fourth movement opened with a highly expressive, unaccompanied bass solo by Brown. Baron eventually entered with rubato brushwork and coloristic cymbal accents as Lovano grabbed his mezzo soprano horn. The dramatic use of silence on this movement gave huge authority to every note and nuance by the highly interactive trio. (Baron’s dropping bombs on his humungous-toned 22″ bass drum was particularly effective in cutting through the silence). As this piece picked up energy and Lovano switched to tenor, Baron unleashed a show-stopping drum solo that paid tribute to quick-handed old school drum kings like Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa as it propelled the music forward.

A melancholy theme with Lovano on soprano and Brown doubling his line on bass had Baron dipping into a Sunny Murray-esque free drumming mode. At some point, Lovano switched to tenor and blew a lyrical theme reminiscent of Ornette’s lovely “Kathelin Gray,” with Baron supplying sensitive accompaniment on brushes. This peaceful number resolved to a beautiful ending with a single bowed bass note by Brown.

The sixth movement was a bit of frantic cat-and-mouse between Lovano on aulochrome and Baron responding immediately on drums. Baron’s eruption on the kit here was reminiscent of his adrenalized work on John Zorn’s Ornette Coleman project from the late 80s, Spy vs. Spy. His over-the-top intensity on this cartoonish theme caused audience and band members alike to laugh out loud after the conclusion of this kinetic movement.

The final movement opened with a bluesy, loping swing groove featuring Lovano on taragato (a wooden Hungarian woodwind instrument with a distinctive tone). Baron’s relaxed ride cymbal pulse here was strictly old school, a la his mentor Donald Bailey. As the movement progressed, Lovano switched to tenor and floated in halftime in signature Ornette fashion over Baron’s burning swing pulse with brushes. Lovano climbed into the altissimo range on this segment before the piece segued to a delicate three-way conversation where all the participants were truly on equal footing.

For a rousing set-closer, the Super Sonix Trio turned in a blazing rendition of Coleman’s “Law Years,” with Lovano wailing on tenor over the driving, urgently swinging pulse laid down by Baron and Brown. When it was over, the leader’s shirt was soaked thru with sweat, a testament to how hard he worked throughout his impassioned suite.

For an encore, Lovano’s wife, vocalist Judi L\Silvano, joined the trio on stage for a bracing improvisation on the saxophonist’s “Junipers Garden.” And they closed with a haunting rendition of Coleman’s classic “Lonely Woman.”

Katz recorded the event (as well as all the sets of music over the course of the three days) and donated the master tapes to the musicians. The other groups performing at the Ornette Coleman celebration included the Mark Turner Quartet, Kevin Hays Quartet, Nasheet Waits and Equality, Johnathan Blake Trio and Joel Frahm Trio.

Originally Published