Fans of alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman have had to sit through a long wait since the free jazz pioneer's last recording, Sound Grammar (Sound Grammar Records, 2006), a marvelous set that garnered the artist a Pulitzer Prize. Those fans are still waiting, though the iconic jazz man has teased them with his bits and pieces (non-album length) of his distinctive playing on bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma's For the Love of Ornette (Jam All Productions, 2011) and saxophone legend Sonny Rollins' Road Shows, Vol. 2 (Doxie Records, 2011).
So for now it's up to other players to shine the light on Coleman's compositions: Jamaaladeen, saxophonist Dave Liebman?with one of his finest recordings, Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Jazzwerksatt, 2010)?and now, the Todd Bishop Group, with Little Played Little Bird.
Drummer Bishop, whose 69 Aannee Erotique (Origin, 2009) celebrated the music of the late French pop songster Serge Gainsbourg?and landed on several top ten lists for the year?now turns his eye on some of the tunes by Coleman that are not often covered by other artists. Like Liebman's tribute, Bishop's group eschews Ornette's main instrument, the alto saxophone. The Bishop Group goes with two players, Tim Willcox and Richard Cole, who share the reed duties on bass clarinet, baritone, tenor and soprano saxophones. Bishop also incorporates, as did Liebman, a chording instrument, which is a rarity on Coleman recordings. With Liebman, it was Vic Juris' wild and wooly and sometimes stratospheric guitar. Bishop's inspired choice is Brazilian pianist Weber Iago who, on the set's opener, "Mother of the Veil" shimmers and broods, and slips into deep introspection on his solo slot between the sweetly wandering reeds.
Little Played Little Bird sounds unlike any set that Coleman has ever put together, despite the temptation to compare it to his Hidden Man and Sound Museum Three Women?simultaneously-released on his Harmolodic Records label in 1996?mostly because these overlooked gems in Coleman's discography included pianist Geri Allen. In terms of sound, Cole's baritone sax?fierce and growling on "Enfant"?recalls tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman's work during his Blue Note Records years with Coleman. Aside from that, the vision here is purely the Todd Bishop Group's.
For those with passing knowledge of the saxophonist/composer's sound, this wouldn't, on a blind listen, be recognizable as Coleman's music. For his ardent fans, the melodies are there, laid down with a compellingly original harmonic and rhythmic approach, with bassist Bill Athens?who is essential to the music's unqualified success?laying down a viscous and pulsating murk that flows through Bishop's idiosyncratic steam hiss cymbal sizzles and off-kilter but-tight drum work on this immaculate exploration of Ornette Coleman's music.