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Ornette Coleman (1930 – 2015)
The saxophonist, composer, and bandleader Ornette Coleman died two weeks ago. Ornette fashioned a new sound in jazz—though controversial and seemingly radical at the time, it is a sound deeply immersed in the blues, and in earlier jazz. Because Ornette found empathetic players to play his music, those first albums from the late 1950s and early 1960s—always with an emphasis on melody and song—still sound fresh today.
The best introduction to his breakthrough achievement is the box set, Beauty is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (Rhino, 6 CDs, $44.98). The set includes his pioneering albums, most featuring his quartet with Don Cherry, trumpet, Charlie Haden, bass, and Billy Higgins, and then Ed Blackwell, on drums: The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959), Change of the Century (1960), This Is Our Music (1961), Free Jazz (1961), Ornette! (1962), and Ornette on Tenor (1962). There are songs from the compilations The Art of the Improvisers, Twins, and the Japan-only To Whom Who Keeps A Record. There are six previously unreleased performances, and two tracks from the Gunther Schuller album, Jazz Abstractions (1961).
In a sad coda, Mr. Schuller, another American original—who embraced jazz in his own classical and “third stream” compositions, who was a jazz historian, and one of Mr. Coleman’s biggest champions—passed away last week.
The last album Ornette released was in 2006. On Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar Records, $18.98), Ornette revisited tunes (such as “Turnaround” and “Song X”) from throughout his career, with a quartet featuring his son, Denardo, on drums, and two bass players (Greg Cohen playing acoustic and Tony Falanga on electric). The following year, Ornette received the Pulitzer Prize in Music for Sound Grammar.
Terry Riley at 80
Composer Terry Riley’s In C, written in 1964, made a profound impact on young listeners and composers, and became one of the foundational pieces in the style that would later be labelled Minimalism. La Monte Young, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass, along with Riley, were all working on parallel and intersecting ideas, and their compositional methods, and their own performances—solo or with their respective ensembles—have had a seismic effect in many genres of music.
Wednesday, June 24, was Terry Riley’s 80th birthday. One of his longest associations is with the Kronos Quartet—they met over 35 years ago, and have commissioned 27 works from him. Kronos has released a new album (and a retrospective box set) in commemoration.
Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector (Nonesuch, $17.98) has new recordings of the title tune, as well as unreleased new songs.
The box-set, One Earth, One People, One Love: Kronos Plays Terry Riley (Nonesuch, 5 CDs, $44.98), includes Salomé Dances for Peace (1989, two discs), Requiem for Adam (2001), and The Cusp of Magic (2008), as well as the new Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector.
English Folk: Richard Thompson and Sam Lee
Richard Thompson, Still (Fantasy, $16.98) – Guitarist, singer and songwriter Richard Thompson can be called the pioneer of English folk-rock, starting with his first band, Fairport Convention, proceeding to his beautiful albums with Linda Thompson, then a long solo career. As eloquent on guitar as he is in his writing and singing, Richard Thompson’s latest includes a few folk-infused acoustic ballads (“She Never Could Resist a Winding Road”), and more of his character-driven songs (and winding electric guitar solos). The album ends in tribute and reverie with “Guitar Heroes” with Thompson singing about—and playing in the styles of—Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, James Burton, and the Shadows.
Sam Lee, Fade in Time (Nest Collective, $12.98) – There’s also a new generation of British singers who are still searching out and learning songs from traditional singers, and carrying them on in fresh arrangements. Sam Lee makes beautiful arrangements of songs (many learned from English Travellers) with a core band of musicians—including fiddle, brass, strings, a women’s choir, fiddle—as well as the koto and shruti box.