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By Scott Yanow
Back to the Land marks an exciting moment for Ornette Coleman fans. Tenor-saxophonist Ohad Talmor discovered that his late mentor Lee Konitz’s collection included three DAT tapes from rehearsals that took place in May 1998. Coleman, Konitz, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins were trying out new music by Coleman that they would play at the upcoming Umbria Jazz Festival. That quartet was only together for the one concert — the songs were probably never performed again and they were not even published. Talmor transcribed the 10 pieces, tried them out with his trio, and this double-album is the result.
Talmor, bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Eric McPherson are the nucleus of the group on Back to the Land. Also making appearances on some selections are either David Virelles or Leo Genovese on piano, vibraphonist Joel Ross, Grégoire Maret (who plays harmonica on the final number on the second disc) and three trumpeters (Adam O’Farrill, Russ Johnson and Shane Endsley).
While some of the performances, particularly on the second disc of the set, are quite brief, others are much more substantial, and a few could pass for something Coleman might have written for his early classic quartet. Among the more memorable pieces are the playful melodies of “Trio Variations on Tune 11” and “Mushi Mushi,” the occasional sweet ballads (particularly “Kathlyn Grey” and “Quintet Variations on Tune 10”), a boppish “Dewey’s Tune” (one of two pieces by Dewey Redman, Talmor’s first teacher) and the surprisingly mournful “New York.”
Talmor at times sounds a little like Konitz while also hinting strongly at Coleman. He certainly grasps the latter’s free jazz/harmolodic concepts and continually stretches himself, expressing a wide range of emotions and never playing the predictable. Tordini and McPherson are subtle and quietly creative throughout while the guests add to the set’s colors and variety.
The discovery and release of Back to the Land is as if Coleman had left us one final batch of his highly original music to savor.