Thursday, December 15, 2005

Arthur and Ornette...

"I love being underground, man.” (Arthur Doyle).

The Arthur Doyle first (for an obscure programmatic reason that may become clearer by the end of this post...). This is Doyle with Sunny Murray recorded in Paris in 2000. Doyle re-appeared (one is almost attempted to say: from an earlier obscurity) over the last few years and is a 'character,' as it were... You can hear traces of what has gone before in his playing – but he has forged his own style – on flute as well as the tenor featured here with Murray's imperiously brilliant drumming. That 'character' speaks to people more than mere technique – there is something very idosyncratic about Doyle even in a business full of oddballs. Self-taught, he carries something of r and b and and black folkways into his work – similar to Ornette maybe, in that respect (and never forget Charlie Parker's immortalised days in the woodshed )– they both come from outside the straight jazz technical circle but Ornette has more strings to his bow (!) and is one of the dominant influences of 20th century music and beyond – like it or not. Doyle is more your second-line maverick – but still an engaging and interesting performer.

He comes in at the beginning with high register work, tentatively trying out broken phrases over the usual Murray rolling drums- those almost parade-ground figures. The line starts to extend over repeated phrases and is punctuated/polarised by high overblowing and gruff lower register work – Ben Webster with a sore throat crossed with some cross r and b sax. Some querulous notes – almost conversational – Doyle is a very 'vocalised' player. Given the fragmentary nature, the probing quality of the alto, it is left to Murray to establish the continuum of the piece – long rolling figures and splashing cymbals interspersed with sporadic thunderous bass drum work. Almost a stretched-out textbook version of bebop drumming in a curious way, as if the tight, jumpy complexities of Max and Klook et al were unrolled over a larger time-scale, freed up from the thirty two bar standard and the blues. Carrying the spatial image further - one wonders how programmatic the title 'Elephants Memories' is? The dreamy quality that ends the piece and the broken-up sax lines almost plodding across the hot savannah of the drums. Too fanciful? Maybe...

More Ornette – people seem to like his stuff more than any others I post so: here's two from a relatively obscure collection 'The Art of the Improvisers' which acts as a selection of refractions to the better-known Atlantic tracks of his early burst onto the scene. On 'Harlem's Manhattan' he also plays tenor and interestingly so. Refraction again... in a lower register it's Ornette at his best but sounding – well, deeper and different. Some wonderfully diamond-sharp drumming from Edward Blackwell – who I prefer behind him, to tell the truth. He seems to push more than Billy Higgins, good though he was. Thoughtful pocket trumpet from Don Cherry, a slow-building solo. Solid bass from Jimmy Garrison including a neat solo with some stopped guitar-like thrumming. But this is Ornette's track as he goes out on another solo that cleverly leads straight back into the unison head. One of the facets of that quartet's collective style that was so intriguing – the accuracy of the unison theme statements, delivered with bebop-like accuracy that could turn on a dime, so to speak – but moved along from bop into a different musical world.

Which brings us to 'The Legend of Bebop.' Back on alto and Charlie Haden in the bass chair. The theme contains elements of bop phrases – and earlier jazz, come to that, but beyond the head it's Ornette's world. The spatial qualities he brought to the music are on display here: his solo breathes easily at this loping tempo with some exquisite drumming from Blackwell and Haden sure and true on a walking line. Cherry delivers of another neat solo, prodded well by Blackwell. A strange theme – I had to track it back a couple of times to work out what was going on -basically, it's two twelve bar sections with a ten bar between them, an expanded blues.

Bebop blew the standard forms into further complexity, precursive to later freedoms such as Coleman's, as Parker and company ran speedily amok over the bar lines in their original themes (based usually on the blues and the 32 bar song form but under-pinned by much denser harmony) and solos. But still, at that time of forties revolution, encased by the standard forms, no matter that solos would asymetrically cross these delineations – in tandem with the drums. Which gives bop much of its tensions, after all: the turnaround is always going to come at a certain place in the line, however cunningly disguised by the piano, say, as main harmonic marker (or guitar), whatever linear teasings and stretchings the soloist is indulging in. (Although let us not forget Duke Ellington's unique compositional and performative areas that do not fit the conventional time line – there are other examples that I won't go into here, one being the playing of Art Tatum, but my argument stands up in general terms). Given the 78 rpm record that was standard up until the extended play format introduced in the fifties, one can maybe understand why there is a manic edge to many bop tracks, leaving aside any cultural/sociological explanations for the moment – everything is densely compressed to cram into the recording format and the song form. Live recordings of the time can sometimes seem less frenetic for obvious reasons of more space available – but that edge is usually still there. Possibly one way of looking at the subsequent new wave is as an overspilling (made possible on record by long players) into a new space opening up beyond the old structural. This had started fairly early on – look at Miles Davis and the 'Birth of the Cool' recordings alongside the 'cool school' so-called. But these manifestations were still from inside the camp, as it were. Leaving aside Lennie Tristano's free-form work – which never saw the light of day at the time, deemed too shocking to release (!). But all of these musicians were operating from within. Ornette came from outside... yet, despite – or because of – his self-taught status, he had a firm sense of what he was about and his place in the scheme of things. This track seems to reflect and musically document that historic move that he played a dominant part in - the cheeky title 'The Legend of...' implies that bebop existed further back in time that it actually did – Charlie Parker had only died in 1955, for example! The tune is (slyly?) boppish, albeit the odd construction noted above and Charlie Haden relies on straight walking bass as if in an echo of earler times when the bop fulcrum had shifted from bass drum to bass. But the piece is taken at a leisurely midtempo, oddly one may think in consideration of the trademark bop speediness – another ironic wave at that past freneticism?

Ornette's music always implicitly carried a sense of where it had come from as well as how far it had travelled. This can be measured in one sense by that jittery bebop quality found in his faster themes– that ends after the head as the solos plunge into a freer space, away from the perceived restrictions of the repeating chorus and harmonies. As if saying – 'Yes, I can play the old way – now listen to my new way.' The tumultuous logics of bop had after all contained much of what had gone before - much more than was realised at the time when they were similarly seen as an outrageous travesty by many critics. Looking back now at an admittedly subjective timeline that reaches from the Hot Five, say, to Bird and Diz to Ornette, or New Orleans frontline to Albert Ayler – a period of just over thirty years – it is easier to perceive the ongoing connections. A subject I hope to deal with in more detail soon – look out for 'When Bop was young!'

Arthur Doyle and Sunny Murray

Elephant's Memories 3



Ornette Coleman:

Harlem's Manhattan

The Legend of Bebop


No comments: