Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Miel Music)

Miguel Zenón / Ariel Bringuez / Demian Cabaud / Jordi Rossy

Released March 12, 2021

Arts Fuse 2021 Jazz Critics Poll Top 30 New Album




I remember hearing Ornette Coleman’s music for the first time late in my teenage years, while still living in Puerto Rico. I had just fallen in love with Jazz around that time, and even though my access to music or information in general was limited (this was the pre-internet mid-90s), I was always hungry for knowledge. So, when a friend played me a tape of The Shape of Jazz to Come and I heard the first couple of notes to Ornette’s “Lonely Woman,” I didn’t know what to think. I just kind of stood there, mesmerized and in shock, trying to figure it out.
What was this music? Even within my limited knowledge I could tell it displayed many of the rhythmic intricacies I heard in Be-Bop and some of the pedal point-type harmony I found in the music of Coltrane and Miles. And yet it was entirely different than anything I had heard before. So, I listened some more, then found other albums of his and listened to those as well.
Before I knew it, I was hooked on Ornette for good.
Even though the term “Free Jazz” is often used in reference to Ornette and his music (I guess in allusion to the fact that his work didn’t necessarily rely on set harmonic progressions as platforms for improvisation), his music is far from chaotic or unhinged. There is freedom there, and lots of it. But there’s also a deep sense of cohesiveness and structure. And,
above all, melody: beautiful and inspired melodic lines that serve as springboards for everyone involved.

I actually interacted with Ornette a few times. He was always nice and supportive (he heard me play on a couple of those occasions), very approachable and open to conversation. Our interactions went pretty much the same way every time:
Me: “Mr. Coleman, I’m not sure if you remember me—my name is Miguel, and I’m an alto saxophonist and one of your biggest fans.”
Ornette: “Nice to see you Miguel. Have you ever thought about what would happen if you played A and Eb at the same time?”
I remember walking away from those encounters totally starstruck and thinking to myself that this amazing musician, who had inspired me for so long, was still going strong.
His music is everlasting, and I believe that we should all consider ourselves lucky to live during a time when we could all experience Ornette’s work, from afar and up close.

About the Music

This music was recorded at the Bird’s Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Switzerland in May of 2019. I was invited to put together a residency at the club, in collaboration with Jazz Campus and the Swiss Jazz Orchestra. When thinking about ideas for the residency, it occurred to me that it might be
a fun experiment to put together a band of European-based musicians, all with connections to me in one way or another, but not necessarily connected to each other. They all agreed to be on board, and the instrumentation of the ensemble organically brought up the idea of using the music of Ornette Coleman as the sole focus of our concert. I sent over a list of some of my Ornette favorites, we ran them at soundcheck, and then went for it at the concert.
Even considering the fact that we had never played together as a band before that night, the results were both surprising and predictable. The chemistry and good vibes on the bandstand were palpable, and clearly translated into the music. We were all just having fun, inspired by the energy from the crowd and the special feel of the occasion. And Ornette’s music proved to be the perfect platform for this kind of engagement: the kind of music that opens the door to endless possibilities for interaction and pushes you to hit the ground running.
I’m Puerto Rican, Ariel is Cuban, Demian is Argentinian, and Jordi is Catalan. The fact that we are all from different parts of the globe and all Spanish speakers raises another important point: Jazz music knows no boundaries or labels; it is as inclusive now as it has ever been, and that makes me feel very good.
As I listen to the music we played that night, it almost feels like a different time. A time when we weren’t afraid to be close to each other. A time when we could still play in a packed room, with the audience right in front of us, and just feed off their energy. A time that will come back soon enough. And when it does, we’ll be ready to do it all over again.
Enjoy the music,
Miguel Zenón 

Track Listing:

1. The Tribes Of New York 10:29

2. Free 04:49

3. Law Years 11:11

4. Giggin’ 10:35

5. Broken Shadows 06:36

6. Dee Dee 04:41

7. Toy Dance/ Street Woman 09:50

All Compositions by Ornette Coleman


Miguel Zenón: alto saxophone
Ariel Bringuez: tenor saxophone
Demian Cabaud: bass
Jordi Rossy: drums

Recorded live May 28th, 2019, at The Bird’s Eye Jazz Club, Basel, Switzerland
Mixed by Danilo Pichardo and Miguel Zenón
Mastered by Danilo Pichardo
Graphic Design by Abdiel Flores, WIGO Design
Produced by Miguel Zenón


How do you hear Ornette Coleman’s music? As an unlikely but logical extension of bebop vocabulary? As “free” chaos untethered from harmony? As a tributary of the great stream of Texas saxophonists? As jazz’s purest melodism?
The music of Coleman, who would have turned 91 years on March 9 2021, was all of those things and many more. Why shouldn’t a body of work that presents so many points of entry be as ubiquitous on record as that of Thelonious Monk, who was as iconoclastic and inscrutable a figure at the beginning of the 1950s as Coleman was at the decade’s end? The jazz world, it seems, hasn’t quite caught up with the change of the (last) century.
Thankfully, Miguel Zenon has, and Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman is proof. After a recent string of releases which deeply examined Zenón’s Puerto Rican heritage, it is an abrupt departure. But Law Years forcefully argues for Coleman as an equally vital part of Zenón’s musical heritage and for Coleman’s position as a jazz composer.
With tenor saxophonist Ariel Bringuez, bassist Demian Cabaud and drummer Jordi Rossy, the band mirrors the other “Ornette quartet” with tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins or Edward Blackwell on drums. It is a lithe, athletic unit which attacks the up-tempo material with brio and urgent forward motion. Give credit to Rossy, a Catalan whose linear, cymbal-based style is more Higgins than Blackwell. Cabaud, from Argentina, is no Charlie Haden (who is?), but he is solid in a difficult role. Bringuez, a Cuban, is a pattern player who occasionally reaches back to pre-bop traditions for some of his licks. He uses romantic little flourishes from Cuban soñeros in the way that Sonny Rollins, whose tone Bringuez’ resembles, drops nuggets of calypso into his improvisations.
This is ensemble music, tangled, occasionally quarrelsome and conversational. Still, Zenón emerges as Law Years’ most compelling voice. For all its humanity and connections to singing—something he shares with Coleman—Zenón’s saxophone voice is hyperarticulate in a way that Coleman is not; still, both altoists are recognizably speaking bebop, albeit in different dialects. Ultimately, Zenón’s mercuriality and daring are magnetic, and “Law Years” comes off as a passionately committed statement of purpose. “This is our music,” it says. “Listen and be amazed.”

John Chacona (All About Jazz)