Miguel Zenón Dances in Your Head

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LAW YEARS: THE MUSIC OF ORNETTE COLEMAN / COLEMAN: The Tribes of New York. Free. Law Years. Giggin’. Broken Shadows. Dee Dee. Toy Dance / Miguel Zenón, a-sax; Ariel Bringuez, t-sax; Demian Cabaud, bs; Jordi Rossy, dm / Miel Music, no number (live: Bird’s Eye Jazz Club, Basel, May 28, 2019)

Alto saxist-composer Miguel Zenón, whose music I’ve praised often in the past, here gives us a taste of his Ornette Coleman style. And tasty it is; in the written intro to the opening track, The Tribes of New York, he sounds about as much like Ornette as anyone I’ve ever heard in my life.

His solo, which is the first up, combines elements of Coleman with bebop licks. Here Zenón plays with a somewhat smoother “glide” in his style than Coleman did, but by and large he’s still locked into the Coleman style, particularly at the ends of phrases. In one bridge passage, he sounds so much like Coleman that even I was taken aback a little.

More interestingly, bassist Demian Cabaud and drummer Jordi Rossy fracture the rhythm in a way that recalls Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, and when tenor saxist Ariel Bringuez joins Zenón just before the four-minute mark, they joyfully explore Ornette-isms in their dual playing before Bringuez takes off on his own. Playing in a staccato style, Bringuez sounds even more like Coleman harmonically than Zenón did, and in his second chorus he, too throws some fast bop licks into the mix. Then, a surprise: a bass solo. Haden rarely got the chance to play all by his lonesome on Ornette’s original recordings, but here Cabaud stretches out in a most spectacular way, taking some huge risks in his second chorus yet somehow managing to sound fully coherent.

The band is clearly having fun with this music, and on Free the sax duo virtually explodes with brilliant ideas often played in counterpoint to each other. I found it interesting that although they are inspired by Ornette, they don’t simply copy his ideas, but come up with their own while still maintaining his style…yet on occasion, there are some overblown high notes, something that Ornette rarely if ever did himself. The build and build on the excitement of the piece, at one point with drummer Jordi Rossy just playing sticks on the edge of his snare drum before the rhythm section falls away to allow Zenón and Bringuez to play a coda, accented at the end with drum bombs.

One could easily write such detailed descriptions of each and every track, but I think it would spoil the fun of discovery for the listener. And, being the music of Ornette Coleman, there aren’t many ballads here (just one, Broken Shadows, but it’s an inventive one) to interrupt their musical joy in playing his music. There’s just so much going on here that the auditory experience eclipses all attempts at written descriptions. Yet I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring attention again to Cabaud’s bass solos; they’re just so stunningly original and brilliant that they took my breath away. Not that Cabaud outshines the saxophonists, but that he is an improviser of equal stature, and that in itself is phenomenal. The best bassist Coleman ever had, in my opinion, was Jamaladeen Tecuma, but Tecuma played electric bass and his style was quite different from that of Haden or Cabaud. Cabaud plays with a somewhat light tone, but his audacious and inventive solos simply stun you.

Law Years is more of a pick-me-up during these days of Covid-19 (which, happily, is starting to wane in severity and will soon be assimilated into our system the same as any other flu) than all of those CDs of soft, slow, drippy music aimed at “calming” us. Pick it up, jump in and join the jive, cats!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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