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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Welcome to Straight No Chaser, the Award-winning Podcast hosted by Jeffrey Siegel

Jan 9, 2013

Last year, the Jazz Standard presented a new interpretation of John Coltrane’s Ascension that knocked out audiences and critics alike. Click here to listen to a conversation with participant Donny McCaslin on the project. On January 16th, the Standard continues this tradition and  presents an all–star tribute to Ornette Coleman and his influential work Free Jazz.

In the spring of 1961, the alto saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman (who had “roused more controversy in the jazz world than any musician since Charlie Parker,” according to John S. Wilson in The New York Times) assembled a “double quartet” at the Atlantic Records studio in midtown Manhattan, to record Free Jazz – an album that astonished the music world with its radical spirit and improvisational audacity. “Aside from a predetermined order of featured soloists and several brief transition signals cued by Coleman, the entire piece was created spontaneously, right on the spot,” Steve Huey later wrote at “…Jazz had long prided itself on reflecting American freedom and democracy and, with Free Jazz, Coleman simply took those ideals to the next level. A staggering achievement.”

Eight outstanding – and brave – musicians will form a double quartet to pay tribute to Coleman that evening. The band will include Vincent Herring on alto saxophone; Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone; Jeremy Pelt and Tim Hagans on trumpet; Ben Allison and Lonnie Plaxico on bass; and Billy Drummond and Matt Wilson on drums. Pelt, Herring, Drummond, Allison and Wilson all participated in the Ascension show last year. Further information on the date is available here.

Ben Allison spoke at length with me about Coleman, Free Jazz, and what both have come to mean to him as a musician. At the age of 25 he led a movement to encourage new works and innovation in jazz writing, and formed the Jazz Composers Collective, a New York City nonprofit organization, serving as that organization's Artistic Director and as a Composer-in-Residence. The group just finished a 20th anniversary event at the Standard.

Now in his mid-forties, he is well established as a both a composer and band-leader, fronting groups including the Ben Allison Band, Peace Pipe, the Ben Allison Quartet, Medicine Wheel, the Kush Trio, Man Size Safe, and the Herbie Nichols Project (with pianist Frank Kimbrough.  His latest project is a trio to play the music of Jim Hall, with Ted Nash (saxophones) and Steve Cardenas (guitar).

Click here to listen to Podcast 328, which features my conversation with Allison and musical accompaniment including:

Ornette Coleman – “Beauty is a Rare Thing” from This is Our Music. One of the first record albums Ben ever purchased – and the first jazz album – was this Ornette Coleman project, recorded in 1960. The cover of the album is a photo of a cooler than cool quartet, radical in its day for outwardly promoting a mixed race group – Coleman on saxophone, Don Cherry on pocket trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums.

Ornette Coleman – Edit from the title track of Free Jazz. Seven months after This is Our Music, Coleman dropped the big one – a double quartet, one in each stereo channel, playing the first album long improvisational recording, broken up only by the need to turn the record over. More than fifty years later,  we must not underestimate how innovative, and how difficult, it must have seemed in its time, to say nothing of how influential it became for a generation of musicians. The band members are now all legends – Coleman on saxophone, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, Cherry on pocket trumpet, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Haden and Scott LaFaro on bass, and Blackwell and Billy Higgins on drums.

Ben Allison – “Jackie-ing” from Action/Refraction. For his tenth CD as a leader, Ben recorded an album of many of his favorite tunes, including this Thelonious Monk tune. The band is Allison on bass; Michael Blake on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Jason Lindner on Prophet 08 analog synthesizer and piano; Steve Cardenas on guitar and Rudy Royston on drums.

Ben Allison – “Fred” from Think Free. A strong track from a strong album released in 2009. The lineup is unusual for an Allison recording – Ben on bass; Jenny Scheinman on violin and Shane Endsley on trumpet; plus old compadres Cardenas on guitar and Royston on drums.