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From the vaults comes an album that aptly chronicles the kind of club dates that ace jazz musicians such as George Coleman were playing in the spring of 1971. With straight-ahead hard bop relegated to relic status by the larger public, the tenor saxophonist schlepped down to Charm City with four seasoned but unheralded players and blew the roof off the Famous Ballroom on Sunday, May 23.
The five-song, 47-minute set includes two standards (a blazing “I Got Rhythm,” a leisurely “Body and Soul”) and three Clifford Brown tunes. The 36-year-old Coleman, who wouldn’t record his first album as a leader for another six years, shares the spotlight with trumpeter Danny Moore and pianist Albert Dailey (who dazzles, despite playing a substandard instrument). They’re supported by the solid rhythm team of drummer Harold White and bassist Larry Ridley.
Coleman’s playing combines fleet-fingered bop with bar-walking flourishes meant to rouse the crowd, and moments of harmonic derring-do and knotty phrasing that weren’t part of his arsenal when, seven years prior, Tony Williams bullied him out of Miles Davis’s band for being too by-the-book. (This according to Miles, Davis’s autobiography.) Coleman’s extended solo on “Joy Spring” is volcanic and exploratory, marked by chopped-up phrasing, wails and squawks.
Benefiting from excellent sound quality, In Baltimore provides more evidence that, for whatever reasons, Coleman has never gotten his full due as a jazz musician. By the way, he’s still playing his ass off at age 85.