Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Celebrate Ornette [Song X, 2017]
"The Deluxe 5 Disc Gatefold" version at ornettecoleman.com comprises three CDs, two DVDs, a poster, an informative 26-page booklet, and a 10-page program from Ornette Coleman's memorial service. It will set you back $100. The $275 version adds 180-gram vinyl and a program signed by Denardo Coleman. Either way that's real moolah for most of us. The memorial performances--by Pharoah Sanders, Henry Threadgill-Jason Moran, Geri Allen-Ravi Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, and Jack DeJohnette-Savion Glover, among others--were presumably more compelling in their contextualized moment than on their CD, although I couldn't get through enough of the DVD to make sure. And I admit that my rave for the two-CD farewell concert, performed free at Prospect Park a year before Ornette died in 2015, reflects my memory of being transported by it in person. Nevertheless, I say it's an amazement. Ornette himself, frail and failing mentally--he would never play in public again--performs as free as it gets for 20 minutes at the outset, hesitantly at first but with heartbreaking lyricism nonetheless as Antoine Roney gently steers him into the beloved "Ramblin'." Throughout the jazz is stunning--Henry Threadgill at his omnivorous, unflappable, legible best, Ravi Coltrane channeling his dad right, Geri Allen flexing her muscles, Blood Ulmer returning to his harmolodic roots. With kudos to Flea and the Master Musicians of Joujouka, the non-jazz is less so, but nonetheless enriches Coleman's pervasive commitment to felt innovation. And throughout the glue and guiding genius is his son Denardo, miraculously evolved into one of the greatest drummers in jazz history. And even if you're not convinced by the CDs, don't skip the Prospect Park DVD, a different version of the same event that's one of the few music films I've ever been moved to share with people I don't live with. Overpriced? Maybe. But a document I treasure. So if you can afford it . . . A-