Wednesday, October 20, 2010

George Coleman

George Coleman (sax; b. 1935)

The illustrious career of George Coleman includes seminal recordings with greats such as Booker Little, Harold Mabern, Miles Davis (the albums My Funny Valentine and Seven Steps To Heaven), Chet Baker and Herbie Hancock (the legendary album Maiden Voyage). It is almost travesty that he doesn't get the recognition he deserves. Early in his career he spent time on Blues and Soul scene in bands with B.B. King and Ray Charles. The Memphis born native has also recorded under his own leadership with legends; Billy Higgins, Hilton Ruiz and fellow Memphis native, Harold Mabern.

Coleman is sound is big and powerful but with very smooth concentrated undertones of beauty. The musicians he surrounds himself with are always excellent additions to his lyrical structure and his interpretations of standards. One of the surprising things that is always the case with under appreciated artists like George Coleman is his short discography. He has recorded so much as a sideman that he owns albums are few and far between. So I recommend that if you see even just one record by George Coleman--pick it up. Two records that would definitely recommend that give a good picture of George Coleman's style are live recordings from Ronnie Scott's Club in London.

Playing Changes (Ronnie Scott Jazz House Records; 1988) is a magnificent live recording original recorded in 1979 and not released until '88. Coleman is working with one of his most consistent quartets including the aforementioned Higgins (drums), Ruiz (piano) and Ray Drummond (bass). Playing Changes includes three lengthy tracks but it is sheer masterclass. Coleman was in strong form during this period. He had just finished recording material with Charles Mingus in addition to sessions with Charles Earland. The opener "Laura", a Johnny Mercer standard is a lovely moment of nightclub jazz. The majority of the piece leans on the strength of Ruiz and Higgins with Coleman and Drummond adding the nice full-bodied exterior touches. Coleman's own number, "Ceora" delivers some lovely phrasing and harmonic structures that really demonstrate why he can be bold and beautiful inside the same piece.

Blues Inside Out (Ronnie Scott Jazz House Records; 1997) was a return performance to the world famous jazz club in 1995. This time he with a set of now famous British performers including Peter King (sax), Julian Joseph (piano) as well as Mark Taylor (drums) and Dave Green (bass). King's voice and Joseph mastery add a little more bite and to the is session. It's a long evening. All six tracks are over 10 minutes each. The quartet sizzles with pieces from Miles Davis ("Tune Up") and Sonny Rollins ("Oleo") as well Coleman's own "Blues Inside Out" and "Venus Fly Trap (Waltz)". "Venus Fly Trap" is delivers a lovely melody and some flawless musicianship from the big tenor man. "Blues Inside Out" while set in a blues mode is a real firecracker of a tune that should convince anyone of the greatness George Coleman possess.

The unfortunate part of the story is that both Playing Changes and Blues Inside Out are very hard to find. I have seen them as twofer on Amazon. They are also available for download. Either way there definitely worth a purchase.

Sometimes jazz fans (myself included) forget that sometimes people don't necessarily need to be turned on to the major artists like Coltrane, Mingus, Ellington, Brubeck, etc to enjoy jazz. Sometimes its the lesser known ones that can really have a greater impact on people. If you have a chance and really want to be turned on to some great heat, George Coleman is great place to start.

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