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Album Review

In early 2009, Anthony Coleman recorded an album of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, reinterpreting early jazz in a manner guided by his own personal relationship with musical history. Back in the '90s, Coleman had traversed the turf of that tradition a bit more adventurously with his group the Selfhaters in performance at New York clubs like Roulette and the Knitting Factory. What made it onto their first album was a pair of eccentrically stylized exercises in morphological revision, as "The Mooche" and "You Don't Know What Love Is" became darker, weirder, and more enigmatic than the composers and original interpreters would ever have imagined or perhaps even condoned. Achievements of that nature, a longstanding alliance with John Zorn and the creation of notated compositions under the combined influences of Schoenberg, Webern, Feldman, Stravinsky, and Varèse have earned Coleman a reputation as an avant-garde "radical Jewish" musician. Freakish provides deeper clues and is strongly recommended for unbiased intelligent inquiry regarding who Coleman really is, what he's been studying all his life, and what he feels the need to accomplish or express.

African-American music from the dawn of the 20th century — especially that of Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton — reinvented itself many years later, cropping up with protean persistence in the works of modern creative musicians like Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, and Henry Threadgill. For examples from these individuals, see the Braxton-Abrams duet album from 1976; the Air Trio's Air Lore of 1979, and the Braxton-Stewart Gillmor Duo's 14 Compositions (Traditional) 1996. Coleman's Freakish, by comparison, holds comparatively close to the traditional weave of Morton's magnificent oeuvre, employing just the right blend of poetic license and personal vision. As of 2009, it was the most straightforward, traditional, and easily digestible album in Coleman's entire discography, occupying a special niche within John Zorn's provocative Tzadik catalog. This little project would have delighted Coleman's childhood mentor Jaki Byard.

Regarding the title track, which the pianist interprets twice: Ferdinand Morton recorded two takes of "Freakish" for the Victor label in Chicago on July 8, 1929. Morton's title refers to unconventional rhythmic patterns, which periodically assert themselves by convoluting the flow in ways that bring to mind Bix Beiderbecke's "In a Mist" and Coleman Hawkins' "Queer Notions." Exercising a breathtaking dramatic command comparable to that of Martial Solal, Coleman summons an entire tradition of deliberately de-centered navigation by expanding and contracting pace and flow to emphasize each riffle and eddy in the currents of Morton's enduring melodies. The selections span Jelly's entire recording career, as "King Porter Stomp" (July 1923) was one of his first records and "Mama's Got a Baby" (January 1940) was among the very last. Coleman's readings of "The Crave," "The Pearls," "Frog-I-More," and "Mr. Jelly Lord" are so intelligently and creatively delivered that anyone with the slightest interest in 20th century music really ought to consider making time for this recital.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Accomplished keys player and composer Anthony Coleman has gained recognition as an inspired player and talented standout of the avant-garde and klezmer-oriented jazz coming out of N.Y.C.'s downtown throughout the '80s and '90s. Coleman has performed and recorded with just about every musician involved in this downtown scene, including John Zorn, guitarist Elliott Sharp, David Moss, renowned trumpeter Dave Douglas, premier accordion player Guy Klucevsek, David Shea, former Captain Beefheart bandmember...
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