Music

In the shadow of jazz great Ornette Coleman

Tribute band forges its own path as a straight ahead 'free jazz' band

By Tamra Testerman
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 1/2/20

Jazz musician Ornette Coleman inspired generations of musicians to push the boundaries of modern jazz and fly free. Coleman made it look easy and invented the term "free jazz" for his album of the same name, and in 2007 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the album "Sound Grammar."

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Music

In the shadow of jazz great Ornette Coleman

Tribute band forges its own path as a straight ahead 'free jazz' band

Posted

Jazz musician Ornette Coleman inspired generations of musicians to push the boundaries of modern jazz and fly free. Coleman made it look easy and invented the term "free jazz" for his album of the same name, and in 2007 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the album "Sound Grammar."

Orn Etc. is an Ornette Coleman tribute band formed by bassist Noah Baumeister and drummer Dave Wayne. Wayne said, "Coleman was a genius who had ideas and concepts that the rest of us are working hard to understand and incorporate into our practice. One must evolve as a person and as a musician to get close to what those who came before us could originate."

The band will take the stage Friday (Jan. 3), 7 p.m., at the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, 20 ABC Mesa Road off U.S. 64 west.

Wayne agreed to an interview detailing the history of the band, its philosophy and what to expect if you go to the show. Here are the edited highlights.

How did Orn Etc. evolve to the current lineup?

Noah Baumeister and I ran into each other somewhere about five years ago. One of my bands had shared a bill with his excellent rock band Man Hurls Hedgehog years ago and he liked us … he mentioned that he was interested in doing a jazz project like John Zorn's "Spy vs. Spy."

Being a huge fan of John Zorn, I was intrigued, but also at a loss because there weren't many musicians interested in playing high-energy avant-garde jazz compositions in Santa Fe or anywhere else in New Mexico. The only guy I could think of who was available was Dan Pearlman, the cornetist, who accepted the offer. He knew a lot of tunes cold, so he was a perfect choice and we just ran with the Ornette Coleman tribute band idea.

Noah did not want a chordal instrument (guitar or piano) and the only saxophonists we knew who were up to the task were too busy or had moved away. Around the same time, I ran into Lee Steck at work. I knew Lee was a great drummer, but when I mentioned our quandary to him he said, "I've been playing vibes." Noah was OK with a vibraphonist and when we started playing as a quartet, it just worked.

I think Lee felt he'd gotten in over his head, but always rose to the occasion. We did some free gigs with other musicians sitting in, including the great saxophonist and composer Chris Jonas. We started to do paying gigs around Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

We'd been doing that for maybe a year or two when Chris could join us full time. By then, we'd started playing our own compositions. Everyone in the band writes tunes. We still do some covers, but our focus is our original music.

Alex Murzyn arrived in Santa Fe from the San Francisco Bay Area about a year ago. We knew about him beforehand - he has quite a reputation. Like Chris, he sat in a few times and agreed to join us. He is a patient and kind person, and ace musician, and brings much to the table as a soloist. We love Alex's soulful sound and amazing agility. He can also play other reeds, the flute and bass clarinet so he has expanded the band's sonic palette by an order of magnitude.

What makes a song that stands the test of time - how do you know when what you've written is working?

From my personal point of view, a good tune should roll off one's hands just like a good sentence. Good composing has a palpable "flow." As a drummer, I can feel when a tune is working, and when it isn't. I've pulled my own tunes out of our repertoire for "repairs" for these reasons. I suspect the other guys would say the same thing.

A wonderful side effect of internet platforms such as YouTube and Instagram has been the remanifestation of music as a physical activity in a visceral sense. It's easy to get too "brainy" when composing music. Overthinking it and such. Seeing others play music live and in videos and taking lessons reinforces the mind-body connection that makes musical chemistry possible and vital.

What is it about Coleman's work that inspires and continues to inform the musical direction of this band?

Like John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Parker, Frank Zappa, Prince, Béla Bartók and so many others, Ornette was a genius who had ideas and concepts that the rest of us are working hard to understand and incorporate into our practice. … Ornette was someone with whom Noah, Dan and I were all able to vibe with, and our initial avoidance of chord changes made it easier for Lee to develop his own personal sound on the vibes in this band.

It's also a lot easier to start a band and maintain it with a tight focus. In terms of continuation, I think the spirit of Ornette continues to inform our musical decisions. Chris has an obvious affinity with Ornette and his music and via his work with Anthony Braxton, Cecil Taylor and William Parker, he can help us all extend our musical practice into realms that we could have only imagined just a few years ago.

What can our readers expect if they show up for the show?

High-quality modern jazz that is unfamiliar but also familiar. A diversity of sounds. True musical expression that honors the jazz tradition while traveling to other places. A happy coexistence of the expected and the unexpected.

Anything else you'd like to add?

We have recorded a CD called "These Times" - recorded before Alex joined us - [it] comprises all-original compositions. We're very proud of it, and you can get a copy from us at the show.

Tickets are $7 in advance and $10 day of show. For more information, call (575) 758-1900 or visit taosmesabrewing.com.

Update, Monday Jan. 6: Here is a short video clip from the performance.

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