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Couleurs Jazz features The Bad Plus, “Science Fiction” by Ornette Coleman

November 10th, 2015

Teaser Couleurs JAZZ n°11 from Electric News on Vimeo.

Ornette Coleman’s, “Science Fiction”, as interpreted by The Bad Plus

by Brian King

The Bad Plus are well-known for their passion for rediscovery of a variety of musical forms and genres through their own unique brand of reinterpretation, with performances of music by Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Roger Miller, Neil Young, The Bee Gees, Yes, Heart, Pink Floyd, Nirvana – the list goes on and on, easily crossing over from pop culture to the contemporary music concert hall with their version of works by Igor Stravinsky, György Ligeti, and Milton Babbitt. With this, it’s no surprise to see them taking on the ambitious task of reinterpreting the music of Ornette Coleman’s seminal work, Science Fiction. 

The Bad Plus are quick to acknowledge Coleman’s influence on their own musical development, individually and collectively, in which Reid Anderson states, “This record (Science Fiction) probably more than any other record is really DNA of The Bad Plus… we’ve been playing Ornette’s music since the earliest days of this band’s music.“  In the same interview, Ethan Iverson talked about Ornette expressing his appreciation for their version.  Once again, Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King, deliver the kind of hyper-creative, yet undeniably indelible performance we come to expect from The Bad Plus. 
To make all of this possible, the trio enlists the talents of Tim Berne – alto sax, Ron Miles – cornet, and Sam Newsome – soprano sax. Each of them, established leaders with their own projects, share the stage and the music as if they had been playing in this ensemble for years, offering one another the freedom and space to contribute in their own personal way, yet with the strength and conviction of seasoned horn section. And their musical interpretations of these tunes by those who came before them, namely, Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Bobby Bradford, and Ornette, convey the kind of power, and lyric beauty which translates into a musical feast for the ears. 
In referencing the original 1971 recording, which included vocals by Asha Puthli and a recitation by David Henderson, bassist, Reid Anderson stepped up to the plate and delivered a beautifully soulful rendition of “What Reason Could I Give” and “All My Life”. And when it came time to recreate the context for the Henderson recitation on the title track, “Science Fiction”? Once again, it was Reid Anderson with the aid of a laptop and other electronics to produce sonic manipulations of pre-recorded materials in dialogue with drummer, Dave King. To see these two play together, one is reminded how important it is to listen to one another, and in this performance the playing and listening went hand in hand. The original recording with Ornette did not include piano, or any keyboard, paving the way for a curiosity on what Ethan Iverson might bring to the table. And, in typical Iverson fashion, his performance was brilliant, providing just the right amount of material, at any given time. Whether he was supporting the melody, the harmony, or adding a variety of textures, he played as if the parts were originally conceived for this work. In a review of Ornette’s Science Fiction, Steve Huey, from Allmusic, awarded the album 5 stars and stated, “Science Fiction was Ornette’s rebirth, a stunningly inventive and appropriately alien-sounding blast of manic energy…”   
With this recent performance by The Bad Plus with Tim Berne, Ron Miles and Sam Newsome, we have yet another type of rebirth almost 44 years after the original sessions, recorded in September of 1971.
You can watch this concert, in its entirety, as recorded and produced by Jazz à la Villette, Oleo Films, and Sombrero & Co. recorded on September 12, 2015.


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