CD: Ornette Coleman/ Pat Metheny, Song X

(Nonesuch)

Two decades ago, some 15 years after he had started on his journey to being one of the biggest-selling jazz-fusion crossover stars in the business, guitarist Pat Metheny made Song X with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, the unclassifiable visionary of the first wave of free-improvised jazz. As that rare kind of jazz player with both the enthusiasm and the knack for conceiving melody in something like pop-song hooks, Metheny seemed an unlikely candidate to hit it off with Coleman's skewed tunes and indifference to linear musical narratives or vertical harmony, not to mention his cavalier creativity with pitch. But Metheny - a gifted improviser - slotted into Coleman's band without a blink.

Much of the music on the original Song X was uncompromisingly wild, particularly the 13-minute collective atonal jam on Endangered Species. But the rumour was that the 1985 album (which had had to be recorded and edited within days, with no time to fix glitches) had left even more fiercely creative material on the cutting-room floor. With this expanded 20th anniversary edition, the story turns out to be fascinatingly different. Six new tracks, their minor mistakes rectified, now open the album, with the original tunes filling out the second half.

If the old disc sounded like Coleman's music with Metheny guesting, the guitarist's breezy accessibility plays a bigger role in this one. Metheny sounds as if he had been listening to Sonny Rollins on Police People. The calypso-driven The Good Life retains that vibe and adds some Metheny electronic samples, while Word From Bird is headlong unison bebop, stinging wonderful solos from both leaders. The Veil is a lovely Ornette melody of swooning, falling lines suddenly rushing to resolutions, shot through with plenty of blues.

You may think the later studio-tech additions sully the purity of the "previously unreleased tracks" concept, but the group sounds like such a coherent unit (with Charlie Haden on bass and Denardo Coleman and Jack DeJohnette on drums) that it's only the faintest of distractions. And Metheny's raunchy R&B guitar comping behind Coleman's abrasive free-violin diversions on Mob Job is worth the price of the disc on its own.

Contributor

John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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