Old and New Dreams, a jazz band formed some 40 years ago, comprised former creative partners of Ornette Coleman who came together to celebrate and extend his legacy. “And now here we are, celebrating their celebration,” said saxophonist Joshua Redman (son of founding OND member Dewey Redman, who died in 2006) on Thursday night, introducing his quartet Still Dreaming at the Howard Theatre. “Feels very postmodern, doesn’t it?”
It certainly did, not least in the sense that Coleman’s revolution was a step beyond what had been called “modern jazz” (i.e., bebop). And Still Dreaming immersed itself deeply in Coleman’s legacy, both directly and indirectly. But it never felt recycled — in fact, it was consistently riveting.
Still Dreaming features the same instrumentation as the original OND: tenor sax (Redman), cornet (Ron Miles), bass (Scott Colley) and drums (Brian Blade). The first two tunes, Redman’s “Still Dreaming” and Colley’s “New Year,” both strongly hinted at the patron saint of free jazz. The former suspiciously echoed Coleman’s theme “Lonely Woman,” especially in Colley’s thrumming bass, before changing course into a Bach-like melody. The latter employed a favorite Coleman device of Redman, Miles and Colley trading two-bar phrases with Blade, then gunning the free-improv motor on the bridge.
The evening wasn’t all Ornette allusions. The band played tunes by three of the four Old and New Dreams members, including drummer Ed Blackwell’s “Togo” (on which Redman and Miles played riffs over cascades of polyrhythm from Blade — whose pyrotechnic ability and palpable thrill at playing threatened to steal the show) and the elder Redman’s “Walls and Bridges” (highlighted by a sputtering, squabbling counterpoint between sax and cornet that was a joy to watch). They also did a few other Redman originals, the most interesting being “Facts”: a slinky, mysterious number that found Blade beating a light march underneath sinister collective improvisation from the horns and Colley.
Even so, the spirit of Ornette Coleman loomed over the entire affair, as it did with Still Dreaming’s progenitors. They finally acknowledged this with the set’s peak, a performance of Coleman’s “Ramblin’” (which was actually part of a medley with bassist Charlie Haden’s “Song for Che”). Colley and Miles both worked out on a quote from the folk song “Old Joe Clark,” as Haden had done in Coleman’s 1959 recording of the song. Redman, on the other hand, took a pressure-cooker approach, simmering at first but gradually increasing momentum as Blade prodded him onward to a detonation point. Redman kept rising and rising, but never got to a massive explosion, just a quick burst at the end of his solo, putting an exclamation point on it — and on the evening.