LIVE: Chris Pasin’s Ornettiquette @ Sanctuary for Independent Media, 11/10/18
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Ornette Coleman’s music is not for the squeamish – and by “squeamish,” I mean anyone who wants their jazz to stick to the tried and true, far away from the margins, the grey areas and anywhere else that isn’t rigidly defined by the oft-repeated catechism, “Satch invented it; Duke perfected it. That settles it.” Fortunately, the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy has become a rocking venue for the kind of jazz that eschews labels, pigeonholes and any paths that only run straight and narrow. As such, this was the perfect place for trumpeter Chris Pasin to hold the Greater Nippertown drop party for his latest album release on Catskill’s Planet Arts label, Ornettiquette.
A project that’s been in the making for some time, Ornettiquette is a serious tribute to the music of Coleman and his trumpeter/musical wingman Don Cherry, and you knew Pasin was serious when he brought Ornette’s longtime friends Karl Berger and Ingrid Sersto into the studio with him, along with Hudson Valley free-thinkers Adam Siegel and Michael Bisio. That seriousness extended to the Sanctuary show when Pasin brought everyone on the disc with him to Troy, including badass drummer Harvey Sorgen. One audience member expressed mild outrage that Berger and Sersto didn’t draw more of a crowd. “People forget, I guess,” he grumbled. But plenty of people showed up after that moment, and Pasin and his partners had all abd sundry alternating between gobsmacked and howling for the 75-minute set.
Things started on a properly ethereal note, as Bisio bowed thick bass lines while Berger played ex tempore on an ancient set of vibes, and Sersto declared, “The night and day will pass away, but love will always… stay.” That was the opening to Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts,” which went from floating tone poem to big-time up-tempo blaster in nothing flat. Pasin took the lead, hitting clear crisp notes with the dragster power we’re all used to, but doing it to make a point rather than make a splash. Berger was literally dancing back and forth as he soloed, while Sersto vocalized here and there, and Sorgen dropped bombs where appropriate. Siegel slid into the spotlight next, sticking to the low end of his alto sax as he built and built and built his solo with a dazzling mix of power and structure, all of it sticking near the edge but never going over.
That’s the thing that was impressed upon us as the sextet worked through Coleman classics like “Jayne” and “Tomorrow Is The Question”: While you’ll probably never hear music like this at Lincoln Center or on the Jazz Cruise, Coleman’s overall sound is actually pretty approachable. The “traditional form” isn’t thrown completely out the window for the sake of making the audience’s synapses stand on end. “Jayne” and the show-closing “The Blessing” are pretty straight boppers at their core, and “Tomorrow” was another uptempo thriller that had Pasin and Siegel flying in harmonic formation while Berger added sparks and flourishes. Yes, there’s chaos – sometimes just on the fringes, like Berger’s mildly anarchic piano on “The Blessing”, sometimes right in your face like when Bisio made his bass sound like a pissed-off mutant hornet on “Tomorrow” – but it’s organized chaos, which is not an oxymoron.
In his interview with me, Pasin said that in the Coleman/Cherry partnership, it was Coleman who was the more melodic improviser, while Cherry pushed the envelope of what he could do with the trumpet. Siegel definitely took the improviser role to heart, showing the depth and breadth of an imagination we’ve seen grow to a towering height over the last decade. While he kept the pedal to the metal for most of the wild trio date he played with Bisio and Tani Tabbal at Sanctuary a couple of years back, Siegel picked his spots on this night, choosing mesmerizing melodies over sonic shredding. (He saved the latter approach for Pasin’s own Ornette tribute “OCDC,” and Siegel almost literally brought the house down!)
Berger is primarily known as a pianist, and his work on that instrument here was stellar, particularly on Coleman’s blues flirtation “Just for You.” But it was as interesting to listen to Berger play vibes as it was to watch him. The lines and comps he created were right up there with anything done by Stefon Harris or Joe Locke, and the instrument’s glowing sound added an otherworldly layer to the proceedings.
As a vocalist, Sersto doesn’t scat to take stage or get noticed; it’s all site-specific, adding an element where an element is needed. If anything, her singing style was the only real outlier when it came to jazz, reminding you more of Lotte Lenya than Lena Horne. It was Sersto’s spoken-word work that really hit home, reading Coleman’s own riddle-laced poetry throughout the evening and adding an extra splash of sadness to Ornette’s iconic composition “Lonely Woman” by repeatedly following up on the sung lyric “I am a lonely woman…” with the plaintive admission, “I don’t want to be.”
In almost all things, Pasin was big and bold and breathtaking and… pretty much right down the middle. But that was genius, because Chris would set up the framework for each piece, and then his partners would bash that framework into new and exciting shapes. Now that avant-garde is a fact of life, we can look at this construction and deconstruction and nod with approval; that said, you can see how Coleman’s approach must have been horrifying to any jazzer brought up on Benny Goodman or Charlie Parker.
The poetry Sersto read during “The Blessing” focused on “Freedom from oppression/Freedom from mindless publicity.” Bottom line, Coleman didn’t just want you to think about what you were hearing, but he wanted the musicians to think about what they were playing, as well, and forget about the noise that’s generated by the hard-core traditionalists and bloviating scribes who care more about headlines than they do about the Head. While everyone Chris Pasin brought to Troy definitely played their asses off, they also put thought and passion on the same level, and both the music and the evening were better and wilder for it, even if they did spend time in those grey areas where the squeamish dare not tread.
UPCOMING: Chris Pasin’s Ornettiquette heads downstate a bit for their next performance at The Falcon in Marlboro at 8pm on Sunday (December 2). Admission by donation.
GO HERE to see more of Rudy Lu’s photographs of this concert…
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