Leon Anderson and the FAMU Jazz Faculty Present the Music of Ornette Coleman Live At B Sharps Jazz Café.
Steven Lewis, Contributing Writer
On Friday, April 22 2010, in a step away from its more typical straight-ahead fare, B Sharp’s Jazz Café presented an evening dedicated to the compositions of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy. The featured band was a quartet made up of mainly Florida A&M Jazz Studies professors (Longineau Parsons on cornet and pocket trumpet, Diron Holloway on alto sax, and Bryan Hall on bass) with Florida State University jazz department’s Leon Anderson on drums. They put on a frequently exhilarating (if under-rehearsed) show.
The band, though excellent as a whole, didn’t sound totally comfortable. Part of the problem may have been that they were reading off of lead sheets. Coleman’s compositions, more so than those of other modern jazz composers, are rooted in the oral tradition of black folk music; everything would have sounded more natural had it been learned directly from the recordings. The quartet came closest to sounding like an authentic Ornette Coleman group on “Peace” and especially “Lonely Woman”, where Holloway was finally able to approximate some of the human cry in Coleman’s alto sax tone.
Holloway was the unofficial leader of the group; he transcribed the opening ensemble sections of some of the tunes off of recordings and wrote his own loose arrangements of others. Holloway has a prodigious technique and a sweet tone. His wild playing sounds more boppish than Ornette’s ever did; at times, as in his solo on “Bird Food” he sounded as if he was playing the Charlie Parker Omnibook backwards. In his solos on Eric Dolphy’s “GW” and “245”, he proved himself to be a more accurate imitator of Dolphy than Coleman; he has the technique required to pull off Dolphy’s rapid licks and managed to echo his plaintive tone, especially on the melody statements.
The rhythm section was attentive and swinging, though it sounded little like the Billy Higgins-Charlie Haden team from the classic Coleman Atlantic sessions. Anderson’s muscular drumming meshed well with Hall’s skittering bass lines. Anderson is a powerful, sometimes terrifying accompanist; his playing behind Parsons’ solo on “Bird Food” sounded first like a typewriter and then like a machine gun.
Parsons’ mischievous cornet playing stole the show. Once warmed up, he sounded as if he was reliving his days with David Murray on the New York loft scene. His small tone stretched into long, convoluted lines that curled in on themselves. He was most comfortable playing the blues; on Coleman’s “Blues Connotation”, he played a long solo that alternated sprinting runs with slow, strutting sections in which he swung his hips. He played from his gut on Eric Dolphy’s blues “245”, shouting like a county preacher.
The sole standard of the night was “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise”. Parsons wandered around in the changes for a while before Holloway ripped everything up, taking the tune back into avant-garde territory.
The last tune of the night was a rollicking reading of “When Will The Blues Leave?” Holloway constructed a solo entirely of Dolphy shrieks and bop clichés twisted into odd shapes; Parsons played a demented solo on pocket trumpet, cackling like a goblin over Anderson’s ferocious drum set accompaniment.