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Album Review

Released in 1985, Song X was Pat Metheny's first recording for the Geffen label. After a prosperous career with ECM, Metheny realized a lifelong dream by collaborating with Ornette Coleman. (He had previously collaborated with both bassist Charlie Haden (an Ornette alumnus), and drummer Jack DeJohnette. A second drummer, Denardo Coleman, was added for this session and adds immeasurably to the rhythmic complexity of the music here.) Coleman had been a major influence on Metheny's ideas about melody and harmony, as well as space. Song X was the first of a number of deviations from the guitarist and composer's trademark sound and direction. The pairing of the two was jagged and startling when it was first issued. The recording sent his traditional fans reeling and wondering if he'd gone off his rocker. The resulting tour sent them streaming out of auditoriums in droves. As Metheny explains in his liner notes, the CD medium at the time was limited to about 48 minutes, and the choices for the final package were made according to those limitations. Twenty years later, CDs held 80 minutes of music, and Metheny not only remastered and remixed the entire disc, he also tacked on six tracks from the original sessions to the beginning of the disc, making the Twentieth Anniversary Edition an almost entirely different offering that becomes revelatory in its new context. The additional cuts were all written by Coleman. His "Police People" opens the set. Haden's bass figure introduces a lovely, celebratory, dual front-line melody which is at once both knotty and euphoric. Metheny takes the first solo, which follows his own lyrical path and makes his sound edgier and his phrasing more complex with more notes in the frame. Coleman immediately follows him, and turns the dialogue toward R&B. Metheny takes the cue and, in a breathtaking gesture, strolls it out on the ledge for him. "The Good Life" takes post-bop and Caribbean-kissed melody and winds them together as Coleman and Metheny engage in gorgeous counterpoint. Denardo's playing angles DeJohnette's and pushes the soloists. "Word from Bird" adeptly showcases the band strutting through tough mutant bop changes based in the blues and offers up another helping of the kind of depth and dimension this band was capable of reaching; the choices on Metheny's original release of Song X didn't reflect his views at all. "Compute" is more complex, denser, and yet utterly full of gorgeous interplay and driven engagement. "The Veil" is almost like a film noir serial piece, all nocturnal and smoky until it gets to the soloing, where contrapuntal exchange becomes the M.O. And then, the original record known as Song X begins — its sound altered somewhat dramatically, its intensity more focused and fervent, and its edges exposed. After the new prelude, the session comes into full view, the attack and agenda become clearer, more focused, more driven to explore not only boundaries but also the insides of harmonic interplay and rhythmic invention. Due to Haden's canny sense of time, both drummers are free to explore and explode in the compositional frame; they go head to head, and dovetail one another in response to the front-line soloing. In sum, this is an entirely new album, one that not only warrants its reissue but also demands an entirely new assessment as to the striking success of this collaboration, and of its own place in the jazz canon.

Biography

Born: 09 March 1930 in Fort Worth, TX

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

One of the most important (and controversial) innovators of the jazz avant-garde, Ornette Coleman gained both loyal followers and lifelong detractors when he seemed to burst on the scene in 1959 fully formed. Although he, and Don Cherry in his original quartet, played opening and closing melodies together, their solos dispensed altogether with chordal improvisation and harmony, instead playing quite freely off of the mood of the theme. Coleman's tone (which purposely wavered in pitch) rattled some...
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