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Dream on

February 7, 2019
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Some time in 1980, I guess it was, I was excited about a forthcoming gig. Old and New Dreams were booked to play the old Hammersmith Odeon: that is, four great Ornette Coleman alumni who got together to play some of the man’s tunes, and some of their own. In love with Coleman’s music, I’d had never heard him play in a setting like his original quartet (Prime Time a couple of years earlier at Bracknell had been interesting, but not so beguiling).

Now, a chance beckoned to hear Edward Blackwell, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry and Dewey Redman, each of them steeped in Coleman’s music and a toweringly creative player in their own right. As I recall saying to someone on the way in to the gig, I’d have been happy to hear any one of them. Together, they had something rare. A rapport which, true to the Coleman’s principles, allowed for a loose-yet-seemingly-telepathic ensemble that gave everyone room for individual beauties of expression. 

I heard all four multiple times in years after – even hearing Haden and Cherry with Coleman on different occasions – but don’t think any of them ever performed better. In truth, I recall little of the actual gig. But four decades on I still listen often to the four official recordings, one from the same tour, and treasure the several live bootlegs that are out there. And they still sound totally fresh and alive to me. Few bands have ever made music that felt so consistently right. Here’s one of their loveliest moments.


The band broke up (Redman wanted to play more of his own music). And, in time, each of the four left us. I still listen out for bands with a similar approach, or who revisit their tunes, but, really, I was resigned to not hearing their like again.

Why tell all this? Because, gloriously, musicians do have descendents, artistically and, sometimes, biologically. And Joshua Redman, a fine saxophonist himself approached his late 40s feeling ready to deal with the music of my all-time favourite group. The quartet he formed to do that is a perfect foursome for the task. Joining Redman on tenor, also his father’s horn, are Ron Miles, who studied with Coleman and can sound more than a little like Cherry, bassist Scott Colley, who studied with Haden, and the ideal drummer, the prodigious Brian Blade, a Louisiana native like Blackwell.

The results are remarkable. Live, and on their CD from last year, they conjure all the qualities of the original quartet. The music is deeply jazz-rooted, but fresh, full of in-the-moment inspiration but grounded by beautiful tunes. And, although they began playing sets mainly given over to Old and New Dreams’ repertoire, they have now settled on a substantially new book. In short, they honour the originals as a jazz group ought, by making new music that, to my ear, is uncannily close to the feel and spirit of Dreams – the melodic appeal, the rhythmic virtuosity, the emotional heft, and delight in each other’s sound all dovetailing together. Musical miracles are easier to come by than the regular kind. But still, this is one.

Hence the bruises I can almost still feel from kicking myself for deciding not to travel to Manchester in 2017 for what was, by all accounts, one of the gigs of the year. Hence the high expectation of a night in a couple of weeks at the Barbican. It’s 2019, and I’m rather excited about a forthcoming gig*.

The difference this time is that I can feed my anticipation on youtube. Does that make a difference? Who cares? I’m just so delighted that my life has included both these groups, in whatever form I can experience them.


(NB –  you’re right, this post has nothing whatever to do with jazz in Bristol. Still, imagine hearing this lot, or their forebears, at St George’s. Just a dream…)

  • Added, 20 Feb. It was a great one, as these reviews record.

Arts Desk


And a couple more – Telegraph (5 stars)

FT – “joyous, enchanting” – and he’s right about people whistling on their way out the door, me included…

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