Gary Schwartz: Lettingo Live: The Music and Influence of Ornette Coleman – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

What do guitarists Gary Schwartz, Pat Metheny, James “Blood” Ulmer, Bern Nix, Derek Bailey, Dom Minasi, Vernon Reid, and to an extent Jim Hall amongst others, have in common? Why, Ornette Coleman of course! Each of these heavy improvisers – at one time in their musical lives – have been influenced by the harmolodic free jazz concepts brought about by alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman in the late 50’s. And while some have maintained the mantle of free improvisation – Minasi, Bailey, Ulmer, Nix et al – others like Metheny, Hall and Schwartz, with varying degrees, have borrowed from the lexicon of Coleman’s tutelage to push their musical voices foreward.

For Metheny, Song X, an expressive tribute and collaboration alongside Ornette himself, situated Ornette’s influence smack dab in the middle of Metheny’s playing and compositional output which had revealed itself every so often throughout Metheny’s range of recordings prior to Song X.

Montreal’s own Gary Schwartz has also found his own way of paying tribute to Ornette’s influence by releasing the idiomatic CD Lettingo Live: The Music and Influence of Ornette Coleman. Lettingo Live, recorded in 2011 to a very enthusiastic and appreciative audience, is the perfect outlet for Gary’s unique brand of improvising and composing.

Of the seven tunes, four are Ornette tunes (“Lonely Woman”, “Broken Shadows”, “School Work”, “Law Years”) with two penned by Gary (“Whatd’ysay?”, “Between The Lines”) and one original by keyboardist David Ryshpan (“Hivemind”).

Now, if the terms free jazz or free improvised music send you running for the hills, let me calm you down a bit by saying that while there are many moments where the players get to explore the boundaries – both in and out – of what Gary has laid out for them compositionally, they do so with great taste and respect for the art-form, and more importantly, the music.

This is not a free blowing session for the sake of musical “experimentation”, but rather an organized approach to a set of tunes and arrangements that have been crafted to bring out the best in both the players, as well as, the tunes themselves.

Yes…there is a lot of free blowing by Gary and others, but at deliberately charted moments where the music is truly enhanced by the singular voice or voices of whoever is improvising at that moment in time. This is one of the many things that I enjoyed about this CD. Regardless of who is blowing, Gary included, it’s the tunes that matter most, end of story! This is what makes this CD so enjoyable to listen to…in my humble opinion.

And speaking of enjoyable, Gary’s guitar playing is outstanding as he displays a keen understanding of what it takes to be musical in a free form setting. The blues, a bit of overdriven wang bar, a little controlled feedback and some R & B flavor alongside long, flowing lines are all mixed in with some haunting volume swells for dramatic, and once again, deliberate effect throughout the melodic passages. “School Work” and “Lonely Woman” immediately comes to mind and sets the stage for what to expect from Gary as an improvising guitar player .

The rest of the eleven players follow Gary’s lead throughout the CD, playing some very tight and concise charts that would give most big bands a run for their money! Tunes like Gary’s “Whatd’ysay?” and Ornette’s “Law Years” and “School Work” have some quite loud and vigorous sections that make me think of Stan Kenton’s band back in the day! Obvious thanks go out to Gary, Alex Côté (tenor and soprano sax) and David Ryshpan for proving that you can indeed have a structured musical foundation and still improvise freely.

And speaking of a musical foundation, the spine and backbone of this project are the uniquely talented young local players chosen by Gary for this special project. Like all great leaders, Gary has chosen players who have not only brought a high standard of musical aptitude to the table, but more importantly, a keen sense of direction and musical empathy that, without such qualities, this project may never have been put forth. This is definitely their project as much as it is Gary’s!

If you are a fan of Ornette Coleman and/or Gary Schwartz, or you just like your music with an adventurous hipness, then check out Lettingo Live: The Music and Influence of Ornette Coleman. You just may be surprised how great free sounds.

You can grab your own copy of Lettingo Live: The Music and Influence of Ornette Coleman here!

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