Two decades on, Metheny and Coleman's only collaboration gets a wash and brush up.
Peter Marsh 2005-09-08
On the face of it, Song X was the result of an unlikely collaboration and the cause of much headscratching at the time. What was the big-haired king of airbrushed jazz-lite (Metheny)doing with the iconoclastic avant garde legend (Coleman)?
It wasn't that tricky a question to answer really. Metheny had made no secret of his admiration for Ornette and had already seized the chance to work with Coleman alumni on some of his tougher side projects (notably the superb 80/81). But while the guitarist's motivation to work with his hero was clear enough, Ornette's involvement was harder to fathom. But there again he's never been an easy one to predict.
Song X certainly turned out to be a diversion from Coleman's interests at the time, which were centred around a funkier, electric approach to his 'harmolodic' concepts. The inclusion of bassist Charlie Haden ensured a jazzier, more acoustic feel, as did the addition of Jack DeJohnette alongside regular Ornette drummer Denardo Coleman (whose contributions are minimal at best and irritating at worst).
But the album wasn't a comfortable listen; any casual Metheny fans were likely to get a bit of a shock when they dimmed the lights and broke out the Martinis ready to listen to this one. The title track and the 13 minute "Endangered Species" are furious, boiling affairs that can leave even the most attentive listener exhausted.
Throughout, Metheny's guitar (often fitted with a strangely saxophone-like sound) battles it out with Ornette's alto in an edgy exchange of riffs, tumbling bop phrases and squeals. Though the achingly lovely "Kathelin Gray" and the airy, swinging "Trigonometry" provided a bit of respite, the original release of the album was a bit of a bruiser to say the least...
For this re-issue Metheny has unearthed six previously unreleased tunes (all Coleman originals, of course). He's put them at the front of the album too, which might be a bit of a statement. They certainly liven up what was previously (for me, anyway) a bit of a curate's egg; the band sound breezy, relaxed and their negotiation of Ornette's eccentric, catchy heads is immaculate. The inclusion of these extra tasty slices of astringent post-bop makes this an essential purchase. Reissue of the year, so far.