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which has consisted of percussion and stringed instruments of various types. Coleman himself has recorded on alto sax, tenor sax, trumpet, and violin, but his plastic alto has always been his primary, trademark outlet for expressing his keening, piercing, tender, and endlessly surprising notes and phrases. Standing or sitting on a stool, he plays without any attempt at showmanship or crowd-pleasing antics-0 rnette Coleman is a totally serious artist. Throughout his Austin concert he sported a hat somewhat reminiscent of the porkpie worn by the great tenor saxophonist Lester Young; he was dressed to the nines in a pale blue suit, a striped shirt, and a purple tie. On meeting him backstage afterwards, I was struck by how short he was in comparison with my image of himfrom photographs and even live on stageas a tall, imposing figure. It was symbolically satisfying to discover that he was a giant not in stature but simply in terms of his art. At one point in the performance, Coleman’s white plastic sax fell to the floor from its stand. As he reached for it he almost knocked over his trumpet. It appeared a tense moment for the audience, but Coleman calmly rearranged his horns, changed the reed on his sax, and continued with the tune in progress, not even retuning the instrument but obviously adjusting the notes by his impeccable ear. This demonstrated what comes through on his recordings: He not only hears sounds peculiar to himself but can play them on any instrument he happens to pick up. Early in his career, Coleman was criticized for being a fake, for not being able to play his horn properly. But looking back it is clear that from the first he had mastered his instrument for his own purposes. Today his mastery is perhaps even greater, as he begins and ends any piece flawlessly, leaping to high, affective notes that are perfectly attuned and penetrating in their emotive power. Even if his sound is not the smoothly flowing, scalarand chordal-based aerobatics of bebop genius Charlie “Bird” Parker, Coleman’s wideranging sound-production is completely appropriate to his equally intellectual approach. If he does not swing in the same way that Bird did, Coleman can certainly create that sine qua non of jazz, even on a seemingly unlikely selection such as “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” which he included on his 1996 CD, Sound Museum. \(I was somewhat disappointed to find that the quartet that had recorded this notable album was not the group that would appear in Austin. That particular Coleman aggregate had featured the incredible female pianist, Geri Allen, as well as bassist Charnett Moffett, son of drummer Charles Moffett, Coleman’s fellow Fort Worthian and a crucial member of the leader’s well-traveled trio of the midThe title “Sound Museum” should not suggest to listeners that either in 1996 or in 2004 did Coleman offer updated material, since the tunes recorded or performed in person are all vitally alive. “City Living,” for example, evokes a sense of rush-hour traffic, of the tension and stress but also the stimulation of the urban experience, and therefore is still very much a contemporary fact of life. “Monsieur Allard” is a catchy number that shows off the dexterity of all four members of the quartet, and “What Reason” is a touching tune that features the prodigious talent of Charnett Moffett \(whose name is a combination of his father’s and Coleman’s first that I purchased after the concert were entirely new to me, and at the time of Coleman’s Austin appearance I was told that all the material to be performed was new. But even though this turned out not to be true, Coleman did not repeat any of his masterworks, such as his now frequently covered “Lonely Woman” or “Peace,” or one of my personal favorites, “Congeniality,” all from his pace-setting 1959 album, The Shape of Jazz to Come. “Women of the Veil” was on the Austin program but at a slower tempo and with extended solo space for Coleman’s sax, which made it more meaningful than the CD rendition. Even if the tunes aren’t new, Coleman is not resting on his laurels but writing and playing with impressive energy, drive, and technical facility. And always he manifests his harmolodic theory of harmony and melody liberated from clef and keyo jubilate! Although Coleman has composed a number of tunes that allude to bebop \(such as his 1959 “Bird Food” from his album his 1960 “The Legend of Bebop,” his 1978 “Word for Bird,” and his 1983 “Harmolodic on his precursors for his repertoire. He did record in 1960 his own version of “Embraceable You,” the Gershwin tune that Parker interpreted in his definitive bebop style of 1947. But Coleman’s version of this standard could not be more different, with the Gershwin melody and chords hardly recognizable, whereas Parker keeps them constantly in mind. Coleman remarked of his version of “Embraceable You” that his group \(he standards are played and with as much spontaneity as we could!’ Essentially the piece as performed by Coleman is virtually his own, just as every piece on every one of his recordings was composed and arranged by him, with exceptions like the hymn noted above or a piece on his 1995 CD, Tone Dialing, which is based on a Bach Prelude. If Coleman took his cue from bebop, he went with it in his own spontaneous directions, even as he asserts that “Bird would have understood. He would have approved our aspiring to something beyond what we inherited!’ Certainly Coleman has made a different kind of jazz, and he has also created in his 1972 Skies of America the kind of symphonic work that Bird probably yearned to write himself. In Argentine novelist Julio Co rtazar’ s short story, “The Pursuer,” based in part on the life of Charlie Parker, the biographer-narrator reports that Bird incorporated into his jazz solos a song by Connecticut composer Charles Ives entitled “The Cage.” It’s doubtful that Parker knew any works by Ives. That Coleman knew Ives’s highly idiosyncratic music, at least in 1972 continued on page 27 MARCH 18, 2005 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23