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George Coleman: A Master Speaks

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George Coleman by Lena Adasheva
George Coleman by Lena Adasheva
Somehow A Master Speaks seems a most appropriate title for George Coleman’s performance at the Smoke Club, wonderfully captured on disc. This is not merely because of the NEA Master connection but quite simply because Coleman is a master in every sense of the word. The big, gentle bark of his tenor saxophone is the epitomé of gladiatorial grandeur. The tone is plush and informed by a gravitas that has long since passed for most tenor players of his or the next generation. His articulation is absolutely marvellous and portrays how a human being perceives reality at any given time. Of the tenor players still living, only Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Archie Shepp can play with such a deep sense of meaning; so in tune with life.

George Coleman A Master SpeaksGeorge Coleman’s approach to this repertoire is inimitable. He makes his interpretations here beautifully intense and as personal as possible, yet featuring new ideas and openness toward new horizons at all times. In the crowded field of tenor saxophonists of his generation, George Coleman dared to be different and he does so again here. If you prefer your standards in bold primary colours, this is not for you, but Coleman has ideas that penetrate beyond the surface of the canvas to touch facets of emotion that are obviously personal to him and which bring to this moveable feast of music a special perspective. It is almost as if he has discovered a secret door from where he gains entry into the heart of the pieces turning it inside out. In taking nothing for granted and in searching out the elements of subtlety in the sometimes maverick writing of, say, Jimmy Van Heusen’s ‘Darn That Dream,’ Coleman has something in common with Archie Shepp, whose interpretation of standards provokes intimate thoughts of the narrative of songs.

George Coleman also possesses a key to the ostensible winsomeness of composition and seems to describe the playing of his own work as the desire for infinite euphoria that takes us to the brink of self-destruction. Eyebrows may be raised, however, about the interminable speed and tempo of these performances, which is sometimes in danger of robbing the songs of their pulse, but Coleman is finely tuned to character and colours of his own as well as others’ works. He inspires the rest of his band to seek similar avenues of discovery where their searching temperaments and ability to respond to the mix of volatility and suspended animation shows a particular affinity with the writers’ language. How beautiful to listen to this song after song – from the aching duet with Mike LeDonne (‘These Foolish Things’) to the conversation with guitarist Peter Bernstein in ‘Blues for B.B.’ and then, of course, there is his ongoing percussion discussion with his son George Coleman Jr. and with that other great master – Bob Cranshaw, whose return to the acoustic bass is heartily welcomed.

These are performances like no other. Not on any other label; not on Smoke Sessions records wither. What a glorious disc this is.

Track List: Invitation; The Shadow of your Smile; Blues for B. B. Blondie’s Waltz; You’ll Never Know What You Mean To Me; Darn That Dream; Sonny’s Playground; These Foolish Things; Time To Get Down.

Personnel: George Coleman: tenor saxophone; Mike LeDonne: piano; Bob Cranshaw: bass; George Coleman Jr: drums; Peter Bernstein: guitar (3).

Label: Smoke Sessions
SSR-1603
Release date: April 2016
Running time: 1:06:41
Buy album on: amazon

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