Following Ornette Coleman’s 84th birthday in March 2014, drummer Denardo Coleman decided to honor his dad with an all-star concert celebration. The elder Ornette Coleman had been in poor health, and his son realized that the jazz innovator’s playing days were limited. When the day of the concert came — June 12 of that year — Ornette performed two of his major compositions, “Ramblin’” and “Turnaround,” but for the most part just enjoyed the remarkable musicians who gathered to celebrate his legacy in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Participants reflected the vast reach of Coleman’s influence, encompassing jazz heavyweights Henry Threadgill and David Murray, rock stars Patti Smith and Flea and the Morocco-based Master Musicians of Jajouka. Ornette Coleman died a year later, almost to the day.
Fortunately, the concert was filmed and recorded for posterity, as was the memorial service at Riverside Church in New York City. Titled Celebrate Ornette, the results have been collected in a box set encompassing three CDs, four 128-gram vinyl records and two DVDs. An accompanying book features essays from Denardo Coleman and Ornette disciple James Blood Ulmer, among others, as well as plenty of photos of the iconic saxophonist.
Denardo served as producer, selecting 24 performances from the concert and the memorial. He also led the house band, the funky jazz quintet Denardo Vibe,who play on about half the concert tracks. Highlights include Threadgill, Murray and Flea’s read of “Broadway Blues”; Geri Allen, Joe Lovano and Wallace Roney Jr.’s take on “The Sphinx”; Ulmer and Ravi Coltrane’s “Peace” (reprised at the memorial by Allen and Coltrane as a duet); a couple of tracks by poetess Smith; and moving solo turns by Pharoah Sanders and Cecil Taylor at the memorial.
A labor of love, Celebrate Ornette contains fresh, affectionate takes on Coleman’s songbook, and terrific visuals, from the DVDs to the photos to extras such as a program from the memorial. The premium set can be ordered at Ornettecoleman.com for $275, as can a five-disc set (three CDs and two DVDs) for $100. — Bob Weinberg