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Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine! View and download here in Acrobat: November 2014
Winning Spins By George Kanzler
Famous pairings weave through jazz history, like Lady Day and Prez, and Diz and Bird. Some have even performed just as a duo: the smallest unit that allows for interaction as well as self-expression. These two Winning Spins are combos that include duo performances. Saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Lewis Nash, who have been appearing as a duo for more than a decade, present an album of duo, and two solo, tracks on their new CD. Trumpeter Brian Lynch and pianist Emmet Cohen collaborate on an album that features them in both duo and quartet formats.
Questioned Answer, Brian Lynch and Emmet Cohen (Holistic Music Works), features a modern incarnation of that classic pairing of trumpet and piano first heard on records by Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines in the 1920s. Like those two, Lynch and Cohen play with a rhythm section as well as duo, joined on six of the CD’s nine tracks by bassist Boris Kozlov and master drummer Billy Hart. As a duo, the pair essays three standards, while the quartet plays three tunes from each of the co-leaders.
Two of the duets are dazzlingly adventurous deconstructions of familiar standards that only hint and glance at the underlying melodies. Although they are more than 30 years apart in age, Lynch and Cohen empathize as they stretch the harmonic frames and show a shared understanding of the skeins of melodic lines on Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean” and Sammy Cahn’s “Just In Time.” Lynch’s centered, crisp tone and unassumingly virtuosic command of his horn are matched by Cohen’s crafty, unfurling, often contrapuntal lines, and dramatic chords. “I Wish I Knew” sticks much closer to the score with them creating a classic, lyrical, mainstream ambience.
The quartet selections range from swing-driven, catchy pieces like Lynch’s “Cambios” and the jaunty “Buddy,” where both trumpet and piano develop flowing, logical solos out of a kernel of the melody; to Cohen’s more spacey, mysterious “Dark Passenger” and “Distant Hallow.” On the former, Lynch plays a rising two-note theme over skittering rhythms; and solos sail over vampy patterns, while the latter mixes odd meters and swing as it swirls into brooding improvisations. The loose, spacey, agitated rhythms of today’s post-bop and swing jazz come to the fore on two compelling originals: Cohen’s “Petty Theft” and Lynch’s barn-burning closer, the title tune.
Brian Lynch and Emmet Cohen play music from Questioned Answer in duo Nov. 12 at The Falcon Arts in Marlboro NY.
“PJ Rasmussen interviews Bucky Pizzarelli as part of his Boardwalk Jazz concert series. For 17 weeks, PJ brings jazz legends, Grammy winners, and rising talent to the Jersey Shore. See more videos and upcoming schedule at www.boardwalk-jazz.com.”
George Coleman If Beale Street Could Bop By Eugene Holley Jr.
Seventy-nine-year-old, Memphis-born tenor saxophonist and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master George Coleman’s full-bodied, blues-drenched, sound was the transitional point from John Coltrane to Wayne Shorter in Miles Davis’ 1960s groups and his soulful solos were featured on Herbie Hancock’s classic 1965 Blue Note album, Maiden Voyage.
These days he’s fronting a new quintet including Eric Alexander on tenor sax, bassist Jon Webber, his son George Jr. on drums, and his homeboy, pianist Harold Mabern. “We’ll be playing all kinds of different stuff, different grooves, different tempos, blues,” Coleman says. “That way, I’ll reach all of the audience. That’s the way I like to perform.”
The power-base of Coleman’s quintet comes from his long, five-decade musical partnership with fellow Memphian Mabern. “We have a long-standing relationship,” Mabern fondly recalls. “In Memphis, I gave him some instruction, because I was a little ahead of him. I gave him some pointers on harmony and whatnot. He knows the music. There’s no tune that I know that he doesn’t know.”
Coleman’s holistic knowledge of the jazz and African-American musical spectrum was forged during his youth in his hometown in the 1940s and early 50s. Inspired by Charlie Parker, Coleman taught himself the alto saxophone in 1950, at age 15, and he went on to play with Mabern, trumpeter Booker Little, saxophonists Frank Strozier and Hank Crawford, bassist Jamil Nasser and pianist Phineas Newborn Jr.
“Music in Memphis has always been about the blues. And it was also known for the R&B thing,” he says. “When we were coming up, we were never really acknowledged for our jazz prowess. We had to play the blues. That’s what I played when I went with B.B. King in 1955. However, we had a jazz book in his band that we would play before he would come on.”
He switched to tenor sax before going on the road with King and he played with Jimmy Smith, Lee Morgan, Max Roach and Lionel Hampton in his hometown as well as Chicago and New York. In 1963, at the recommendation of John Coltrane, Miles Davis hired Coleman in his soon-to-be-historic combo featuring the “Young Lions” at the time: pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. Coleman recorded on five Davis LPs on Columbia including Quiet Nights, Seven Steps to Heaven, My Funny Valentine and Four & More.
After just a year with Davis, Coleman did the unthinkable: he quit. His departure from Davis’ band is the stuff of jazz legend. It happened because Hancock, Carter and Williams were under the avant-garde spells of Eric Dolphy, and another Coleman named Ornette.
“What really happened was that the other factions in the band wanted me to play free, because they were neophytes, who were trying to be ultra-hip,” he recalls. “There was one incident at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco; they were constantly on me: Herbie, Ron and Tony. They were very snobbish toward me. They considered me a dinosaur, so to speak: an old-fashioned bebopper. Finally, one night, I said, ‘I’m gonna show these young punks that the stuff they’re trying to play, I can play, too.’ So that particular night, Miles kicked off ‘Walkin‘’ and he and Herbie played their solos. I stepped up to the mike and started playing all kinds of wild stuff, but it was swinging. They couldn’t believe it. I didn’t play that way anymore. I went back to my bebop style of playing. But after that night, I gained some respect from them.”
Since his exit from Davis’ band, Coleman worked and recorded with some of the music’s finest stars including Lionel Hampton, Slide Hampton, Elvin Jones, Shirley Scott, Cedar Walton, Charles McPherson and Ahmad Jamal. He’s only recorded about a dozen albums as a leader, including his 2002 CD, Four Generations of Miles: A Live Tribute to Miles (Chesky). Since the 1970s, he has focused on fronting his own combos. He is also a well-respected educator with teaching stints at Julliard, The New School, Long Island University and Mannes College of Music, as well as private lessons.
“One of my most prominent students was David Sanborn,” Coleman proudly states. “He came to me 30 years ago at my old apartment on 14th Street. He wanted to learn more about harmony, about the changes. He said, ‘Man, since I’ve been working with you, a lot of people have noticed a change in my harmonic concept.’”
Sanborn is one of many musicians inspired by Coleman’s daring and durable artistry, which at the change of the 21st century shows no evidence of stagnating. “I always like to feel that I’m developing through the years,” the saxophonist says.
George Coleman’s New Quintet with pianist Harold Mabern, Eric Alexander on tenor sax, bassist Jon Webber and his son George Jr. on drums performs at Jazz Standard Oct. 30 through Nov. 2.
Coming next: From the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Vocal Competition to “Spiritual Matrix”, follow Roberta Gambarini’s road to the success.