Monday, September 24, 2012

Todd Bishop Group: little played little bird

Origin Arts
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: little played little bird

Little Bird” was a nickname given to Ornette Coleman, an American-born saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer who was one of the major innovators of the free jazz movement of the 1960s. 

Why the “little played” in the album title? Because, as often is the case with artists ahead of their time, Coleman was a polarizing talent; the kindest descriptor would be “unorthodox.” Some listeners became immediate fans; others were outspokenly critical. That latter group included Miles Davis, who initially declared that Coleman was “all screwed up inside”; Roy Eldridge, who said, “I think he’s jivin’, baby”; and one reviewer, who described Coleman’s group style as “nobody solos, everybody solos.”

Other musicians felt he played out of tune; and he had difficulty finding like-minded musicians to jam with. But as time passed, Coleman’s fan base increased and he found work in jazz clubs and concerts, and as a composer for film soundtracks. He’s still performing today, and has become more respected, playing with many name artists and securing contracts with prime studios such as Atlantic, Blue Note and Origin. In 1969, he was inducted into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame.

Drummer Todd Bishop is a fan, and this album includes nine Coleman compositions. So, as stated in the liner notes, “Little played = an album of Ornette Coleman tunes that you don’t hear, because nobody plays them.” 

Bishop’s quartet includes Richard Cole and Tim Willcox on reeds (the former on bass clarinet and baritone, the latter on tenor and soprano saxes), Bill Athens on bass, Weber Iago on piano and Wurlitzer, and Bishop on drums.

What about the music? Well, it’s sure different than anything you’ve heard before, kind of amalgam of R&B, bop, and free jazz, usually played at slow tempos. Coleman tends to ignore basic harmony and progressions; as one reviewer put it, “He has a penchant for playing in the cracks.” 

Although Coleman isn’t a favorite of mine, I’ve heard a lot of his music over the years, and the Todd Bishop Group provides a faithful reproduction of both the music and style. This is an excellent album to help listeners decide where they stand, relative to Coleman’s place in the jazz world.  

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