Most jazz-funk fusion has combined the worst aspects of each form: the aimless indulgent solos of jazz and funk's simplistic harmonies and rhythms. Last night at the Wolf Trap Jazz Festival, Ornette Coleman and his Prime Time Band fashioned a startingly new form of jazz-funk: the driving rhythms and condensed structure of funk with the restless, radical inventions of jazz. The result could transform jazz. The result could transform jazz as much as Coleman's free jazz did 20 years ago.
Coleman was backed not by one electric guitar-bass-drums- trio, but by two. His band pounded out a dense storm of sound that raged around a central dance beat.The beat was hard to hear because each musician tried to pack in as many extra beats and notes as possible around the central groove. Coleman himself blew lyrical alto sax notes like an unsinkable sailboat on a boiling sea.
The John Abercrombie Quartert tried a different sort of fusion: jazz and European art music. Rather than thicken the music, they tried to make it more spacious. They succeeded by weaving silences and soft passages with their strong melodic lines. George Mraz's Mingus-molded bass lines and Richie Beirach's impressionist piano progressions were as prominant as Abercrombie's quick, darting guitar notes.
Algerian-born, Paris-based Martial Solal showed off his facility for Art Tatum-derived piano runs. Festival director John Lewis and fellow be-bop veteran Hank Jones dueted on grand pianos. Their light, graceful touches glided through Lewis' fluid melodies.
The japanese-raised, Los Angeles-based Toshiko Akiyoshi sparked her big band with her driving piano sytle and Ellingtonian compositions. Like Ellington, she arranged to bring out the personal assets of each of her 15 musicians. The band's biggest asset was the saxophone and flute playing of her American husband and co-leader, Lew Tabackin.