Things kicked off tonight with a gala honoring the great Wilmer Wise, probably the only trumpet player in history to perform with both Pablo Casals and Weather Report.
Tomorrow night (Thursday, 14 Jan) at 9 PM at the Abrons Arts Center, Wilmer Wise will perform Ornette Coleman's "The Sacred Mind of Johnny Dolphin." This piece is a serious Ornette rarity -- the work has never been recorded, and the last public performance happened 23 years ago. Wise -- who played on the work's 1974 premiere -- will be joined by the one and only Lew Soloff -- who played the 1987 revival -- on piccolo trumpet. The rest of the ensemble consists of Warren I. Smith on timpani, Gerald Cleaver on drum set, and a string quartet consisting of Meg Okura and Scott Tixier, violins; Judith Insell, viola; and Wil Martina, cello -- all under the wtachful eye of Maestro Taylor Ho Bynum. It has been fascinating hearing the rehearsals for this work over the past couple of days -- the piece really does not sound like anything else Ornette ever wrote. (If it was ever recorded, it would make a devious blindfold test!)
You may be wondering where I figure into all of this. Well, to round out the program, FONT honcho Dave Douglas asked me and two of my Pulse brethren, Joe Phillips and JC Sanford, to contribute arrangements of Ornette's music for this unusual (to say the least!) ensemble. Well, the combination of strings, drum set, and timpani immediately made me think of Skies Of America, Ornette's 1972 recording with the London Symphony Orchestra. The music on this recording is deeply mysterious and evocative, despite the difficult circumstances surrounding its recording -- the LSO were not exactly true believers in Ornette's "harmolodic" concepts, which had them all playing from the same part regardless of clef or transposition, creating an immense, shimmering block of parallel sonorities. I've always especially loved the opening theme (the "title track," so to speak, though the track divisions and titles were added by the record company after the fact). It's one of Ornette's most heart-rendingly beautiful melodies and I could not resist the opportunity to arrange it for this group. I spent part of this summer working as a copyist for Christian Wolff, who writes a lot of music where the choice of clef is left up to the performer's discretion, and the affinity between his approach and Ornette's managed to insert itself into this arrangement in various ways.
I am really excited about the other music on this concert as well -- Joe Phillips has created a thorough re-imagining of "Kathelin Gray" (from Song X), and JC Sanford has recast the classic Ornette tune "Peace" (from The Shape of Jazz to Come, of course) as a virtuosic tour-de-force for Lew Soloff. Tickets are $15 ($12 for students), and include admission for the entire evening, including Anti-Social Music at 6:30 PM (premieres by Pat Muchmore, Andrea La Rose, Bradley Kemp and David Durst), and the Urban Brass Quintet and the New York Trumpet Ensemble performing the music of Charles Wuorinen at 7:30 PM. Tickets online or at the door.