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Tenor Sax George Coleman Shines On Newly Released Live Record, 'In Baltimore'

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our jazz critic, Kevin Whitehead, has a review of a newly issued 1971 live recording by tenor saxophonist George Coleman. Kevin says recent recordings demonstrate that Coleman, who's in his mid-80s, continues to be a tasty and economical soloist. When Coleman was in his 30s, Kevin says Coleman could be equally elegant and full of fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE GEORGE COLEMAN QUINTET'S "JOY SPRING")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: George Coleman on Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring," recorded on a Sunday in 1971 at Baltimore's Left Bank Jazz Society. Coleman was a bit of a favorite at the Left Bank's weekly concerts, appearing a few times. He hadn't yet recorded under his own name, but folks knew his work with Max Roach, Miles Davis and Elvin Jones. Left Bank concerts provided much of my own early jazz education, and I can attest that fans there were serious, enthusiastic and discriminating. If you wanted to play, say, a tenor sax test piece like "Body and Soul," fine, but put your own stamp on it, like George Coleman.

(SOUNDBITE OF GEORGE COLEMAN'S "BODY AND SOUL")

WHITEHEAD: Memphis-born, George Coleman's style runs both cool and hot. He can be all graceful composure, and then the volcano erupts. A Coleman solo might reference the busy turbulence John Coltrane had brought to tenor saxophone, but then he'll dig into vocalized blues licks, recalling a Memphis jug band harmonica. And he'll make it all sound like a natural fit.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE GEORGE COLEMAN QUINTET'S "SANDU")

WHITEHEAD: George Coleman's "In Baltimore" skims 45 minutes of cream from his May 1971 sets at the big, hospitable Famous Ballroom, where the atmosphere was typically lively. The set's revelation is the quintet's little-known trumpet player, Danny Moore. He mostly played in big bands and revels in this opportunity to shine. His ear-popping solos, like the leader's, mix the complex and earthy. Sometimes Moore sounds on the brink of chaos, sometimes like he's singing a blues where you can practically make out the words.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE GEORGE COLEMAN QUINTET'S "JOY SPRING")

WHITEHEAD: Trumpeter Danny Moore. This gig was a homecoming for New York pianist Albert Dailey and drummer Harold White, both originally from Baltimore, joined here by ace bassist Larry Ridley. They are all solid swingers, but never on autopilot. With a soloist like George Coleman, who dances all around the beat, a rhythm trio has to know when to prod and when to let them ride.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE GEORGE COLEMAN QUINTET'S "AFTERNOON IN PARIS")

WHITEHEAD: This 1971 quintet seems to have been a one-shot group. But George Coleman remembered trumpeter Danny Moore when the saxophonist formed an octet a few years later. With that band, George Coleman finally started recording as a leader. Listening to "In Baltimore," it's hard to believe that hadn't happened years earlier. By 1971, George Coleman was so obviously ready for the big time.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE GEORGE COLEMAN QUINTET'S "AFTERNOON IN PARIS")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of the book "Play The Way You Feel: The Essential Guide To Jazz Stories On Film." He reviewed "In Baltimore," the newly issued 1971 live recording by tenor saxophonist George Coleman.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll hear from Angela Bassett. She's the voice of one of the main characters in the new Disney Pixar animated film, "Soul." In "Black Panther," she played the Queen Mother, the mother of Chadwick Boseman's character, T'Challa. I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE PARKER'S "WHITE CHRISTMAS")

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavey-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE PARKER'S "WHITE CHRISTMAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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