Chris Pasin
Chris Pasin

By J Hunter
Photograph by Rudy Lu

There will always be backlash, no matter what the situation; you can’t please everybody, and you will piss off somebody. This is especially true in jazz, where part of its fan base includes some of the most rigid people on the planet. When I first heard Hudson Valley trumpeter Chris Pasin’s latest Planet Arts album Ornettiquette, I could also hear the outrage it would cause: “WHAT? Pasin’s recorded a tribute to Ornette Coleman – AND Don Cherry? WHY?? Chris was in BUDDY RICH’S big band! He plays with MICHAEL BENEDICT & BOPITUDE! HOW COULD HE DO THIS TO US???” And so on, and so on, and scooby doobie do…

The sad fact is that there are still people who believe Ornette Coleman is the Antichrist – or, at the very least, an early sign of the End Times. During the concert series that marked the tenor-playing provocateur’s NYC debut, an audience member got up at the end of the set and punched Coleman in the face. Some folks just don’t like to be grabbed by the comfort zone, just like some folks prefer that their favorite artists “stay in their lane!” But if musicians always stayed in the same bag, Duke Ellington would never have gotten off the A Train, Miles Davis would have spent forty years re-birthing The Cool, and John Coltrane would never have become the screaming terror of Stanley Crouch’s dreams.

Resume points aside, Chris Pain is about a lot more than bebop. Check out Random Acts of Kindness, his second disc as a leader. There’s some truly freakish fusion on that date, and if all you knew about Pasin was his work with Benedict and Buddy, you’d have failed if I’d played Kindness for you in a Blindfold Test. For me, Ornettiquette is a logical extension of Kindness, just like Davis’ iconic release Bitches Brew was a logical extension of Filles de Kilimanjaro. And it’s not like Pasin discovered Coleman’s monumental sound just the other day: Chris has been into Ornette since he was a teenager, so this music has been brewing inside his head for a while now.

If you want to know how serious an effort this is, just look at the people Pasin recruited for this project: Pianist Karl Berger and vocalist Ingrid Sersto were Coleman co-conspirators way back in the day, founding the Creative Music Studio with Ornette; altoist Adam Siegel and bassist Michael Bisio have been change agents all on their own, and were part of the heavenly reboot of Coleman’s signature tune “Lonely Woman” contained on Tani Tabbal’s killer release Mixed Motion. Throw in longtime Pasin drummer Harvey Sorgen, and Ornettiquette is as serious as a heart attack – and after listening to the blistering takes on this disc, you just might be a candidate for one.

Chris took a few minutes off from his prep for Saturday’s (November 10) drop party at the Sanctuary for Independent Media to talk about this project:

Q: So you’ve moved from a collection of Christmas songs (2017’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside”) to an appreciation of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Bit of a contrast in material, wouldn’t you say?

A: No doubt. When I was contemplating which project to do first, producer Patricia Dalton Fennell suggested that the holiday album would be popular and get lots of airplay, which it did, climbing very quickly in just a couple of weeks to No. 45 on the chart by Christmas Day. I agreed that this might help a more esoteric project like Ornettiquette get noticed when it came out, as reviewers and DJs already had a positive experience. And both albums have good music!

Q: When did you first experience Ornette’s music, and what kind of jazz were you listening to up until then?

A: I first started becoming aware of Ornette in high school, having been exposed more to straight ahead jazz, and older jazz like Louis Armstrong and swing.

Q: What is it about the pairing of Coleman and Cherry that intrigues you?

A: Actually Ornette is often the more melodic improviser, and Don Cherry pushes the envelope of what he can do on the trumpet. Their chemistry is telepathic.

Q: What made you decide the time was right to do this project?

A: I had started playing with various assemblages of musicians this repertoire three years ago. At first it was just to play the music, and the number of selections grew to include a couple of my own, which were inspired by it. Having played the music for that long, and having experienced the unique abilities of the musicians who recorded this, I became convinced that this was the right group to bring this music alive.

Q: Along with the Ornette material and Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts,” you’ve included two of your own compositions: “OCDC” and “PTU.” What are the stories behind these pieces, and how do they relate to Coleman and Cherry?

A: “OCDC” I actually wrote in the car on the way home from hearing a concert my friend and great bassist Cameron Brown played of Ornette’s music in 2014. I was inspired by Ornette’s melodic gift, and the tune materialized organically. “PTU” was my favorite of a number of tunes I came up with later, as I was immersing myself in much of their music. The title is kind of a wink at someone. (Laughs)

Q: You’ve got two longtime Coleman co-conspirators on this disc in Karl Berger and Ingrid Sersto. How did you hook up with them, and what was their reaction when you presented this project to them?

A: Amazingly, I had met Karl at a one of Michael Bisio’s wonderful concerts he presents at the Lace Mill in Kingston, where he and Karl had played some of Karl’s music as a duo. Karl had invited concertgoers to email him for lead sheets of the tunes, which I did. And put his address on my local list. Last fall I was playing with a group with John Esposito, and he and Ingrid graced us with their presence, and sat in with us as well. I mentioned to Karl that I was hoping to record this music, and wondered if he might be interested. He was!

Q: You’re also working with Adam Siegel and Michael Bisio, who’ve been pushing the outside of the musical envelope on their own and with Tani Tabbal. What made you pick Adam and Michael for this project, and what’s it been like working with them?

A: I’ve played with both Michael and Adam for a while, in different contexts. We always had a rapport musically. They are both fluent, creative and sensitive musicians. I had also seen them at the Sanctuary with Tani, which certainly didn’t hurt my consideration of them for inclusion in this project!

Q: If you could tell anybody one thing about Coleman’s music that they might not know, what would it be?

A: My answer to that one would certainly be non-verbal! The great thing about listening to music like this, is that something new reveals itself each time you hear it!

Chris Pasin and his band will perform “Ornettiquette” at 7pm Saturday (November 10) at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy. Tickets are on sale now, priced at $20. GO HERE to enter to win FREE TICKETS to the concert…

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