Theo Jorgensmann Quartet,
To Ornette-Hybrid Identity
(Hat Hut, 2002)

German clarinetist Theo Jorgensmann's latest album is a tribute to alto player Ornette Coleman, one of the most influential jazzmen of the last 50 years. Coleman is such an original that tracks from his first release in the late 1950s still sound fresh today. He was one of the first to play outside the bounds of conventional harmony and use constantly churning drum and bass lines that often seem in competition with the front line. Avant garde musicians, especially those interested in free jazz, have incorporated elements of his music into their own. If no one else sounds quite the same it's because about as many people understand his concept of "harmolodics" as understand Ed Witten's latest take on the merger of relativity and quantum theory. Fortunately, you don't have to understand harmolodics to dig Coleman's playing. Unlike many of his partial imitators, he can write catchy melodies and swing with the best.

Jorgensmann's debt to Coleman is at times apparent, but he isn't trying to imitate him. His influences are many. He has a warm, fluent sound and an improvisational style that runs the gamut from Buddy DeFranco to Don Byron. On first hearing his quartet can sound "difficult." Drummer Klaus Kugel has an aggressive, busy style with lots of off-beat accents. Bassist Christian Ramond is equally assertive, sometimes pushing hard with fast sequences of notes that make a rugged underpinning for the main soloist. Jorgensmann and vibist Christopher Dell often improvise together and blend beautifully in mood, but with a harmonic and rhythmic freedom that will be challenging to many ears. Dell has a particularly quirky sense of harmony that adds odd accents to the clarinetist's often more conventional lines.

The quartet, though far from the mainstream, is one of the easier introductions to free jazz. Clarinet and vibraphone provide more delicate and varied textures than are usual for the style. It's especially a relief not to have to put up with one of those awful, self-indulgent, 20-minute squeak-scream-honk tenor solos. From the mysterious impressionism of Poeme to the far-out sounding "On Safe Roads," the musicians are under control. Jorgensmann isn't after the emotional intensity or rhythmic drive of Ornette Coleman. He demands as much from the head as the heart, but it's definitely worth the effort for those who like free jazz or have been nibbling at its edges.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 23 August 2003