George Coleman - Amsterdam After Dark

Album review. The great jazz sax player George Coleman on the top of his game in an impressive live date from 1978

Timeless Jazz Legacy

Recording date: December 29th 1978 at Sound Ideas Studio, New York City

Re-release date: October 29th 2010

Availabilty: CD, MP3 download

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 George Coleman  - Amsterdam After Dark cover

George Coleman came out on the wrong end of a misunderstanding with Tony Williams, according to Miles Davis' autobiography*. The young and gifted drummer in the second great Miles Davis Quintet considered George Coleman's tenor sax playing too conventional for the new music that the band was making:

'Tony Williams never liked the way George played …because George played almost everything perfectly….. he liked saxophone players who made mistakes, like being out of key. But George just played the chords. He was a hell of a musician but Tony didn't like him. Tony wanted somebody who was reaching for different kinds of things like Ornette Coleman…. George could play free if he wanted to; he just didn't want to.'

George Coleman was replaced in the Miles Davis set up by Wayne Shorter and one of the great jazz musicians was largely lost from sight for a large portion of his career.

'Amsterdam After Dark', recorded over a decade later, documents forcefully just what jazz had been in danger of missing – a top flight musician who, while he stayed 'inside' the mainstream hard bop tradition, was full of insight and inventiveness. And a has that smoky tone – no-one has been able to coax such subtle voice-like sounds out of the instrument before or since. The good news is that the album is studio recorded (and now remastered) and brings out George Coleman's wonderful playing to the full.

The band is essentially the line up of the excellent 'Eastern Rebellion' band with Hilton Ruiz replacing Cedar Walton on piano and is thus - George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Hilton Ruiz (piano), Sam Jones (bass), Billy Higgins (drums). That these musicians have played together a little and know each other's moves is a definite understatement.

It is an excellent programme played by one of the best jazz musicians in the mainstream hard bop tradition at the peak of his powers.

'New Arrival' - latin influenced bop with great soloing from George Coleman and excellent drumming from Billy Higgins - 'Lo-Joe" – upbeat, fast and hustling, let down only by some loose piano playing - and 'Apache Dance' – angular, tense, with shifting time signatures and dazzling tenor sax runs - are superb realisations of mature, confident hard bop.

Yet just as brilliant is the quieter, more relaxed side of the music developed in 'Autumn In New York' – a killer ballad played with soulful intensity – 'Blondie's Waltz' – what is says, a beautifully played waltz – and the title track – soulful hard bop played with openness, mellowness and cutting edge style by a quartet at the top of its game.

The confidence of record labels in re-releases of the best jazz of the past that might have been overlooked seems to have stalled of late in favour of new releases and the re-treading of well-known material that it is expected to sell. This series from Timeless Jazz Legacy (there are parallel releases from Bill Evans, Benny Golson, George Adams and Lou Donaldson) is a welcome reversal of that trend.

George Coleman's 'Amsterdam After Dark' is a great jazz album, hitherto largely overlooked, and one of the best albums in the series.

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* "Miles - The autobiography" Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe

George Coleman at Wikipedia

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