Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Three by Ornette...
Prime Time Ornette...
Success... at last I have managed to upload these files, three from Ornette Coleman and his Prime Time group, taken from the album 'Tone Dialling.'
'Enter Tone Dialing, a sound experience of music in the present perception of society as it becomes an ethical civilization of all world citizens.' (Ornette Coleman, taken from the liner notes to 'Tone Dialling').
'Street Blues' starts with a funky electric guitar riff leading into Ornette floating over a back-beated, sprawling unfolding – tablas, bass, guitars. It's one of those tracks that repays repeated listenings as this music is very layered - from the drums upwards to the bass, guitars and Ornette flying over it all. When I saw him earlier this year one particular facet of his playing struck me – the manner in which he will drift slow bending phrases across a usually busy backdrop – then suddenly lock in rhythmically in a faster unison – echoes of the rapid fire hyperbebop themes he was writing way back when.
'Kathelin Gray' starts with slow, elegaic piano – of all things – not an instrument he ever featured much and indeed seemed to want to escape the verticality of - re Gerry Mulligan almost (although let us not forget that he recorded initially with Paul Bley and has used piano more recently in collaborations with Joachim Kuhn). Half of the track is out of tempo piano, supported by minimal pattering percussion until Ornette comes in and states the theme again and the musicians criss-cross behind him – a glimpse maybe of what harmolodics really means -the independence of the individual lines that create an expanded space where somehow they all resolve.
'Family Reunion' – guitar riff over busy percussion straight in – some almost unison lines and more jazzy drums than on 'Street Blues' – less straight backbeat and more rolling interspersions from Denardo coupled with a heavier cymbal presence – some smashing crash cymbal work here. The individual lines all stretch out across the mix as Ornette seems to be sharing equal sonic space, just relying on the cutting timbre of the alto to lift above the band. Towards the end, after a brief theme re-statement, some of the musicians drop out to leave Ornette soloing over some deep, swooshing bass, drums and tabla – to end abruptly.
There is a generosity in Ornette's music – the democracy of instruments he invokes and the space they have to create in. Prime Time is the electronic arm of his kingdom -the one less enjoyed by the conventional jazz critics, still ever suspicious of electricity, and is unique in sound and development. I have an odd theory that goes back to Texas music in general (Ornette is from Fort Worth). A border state indeed – where different traditions rub up against each other – and a long-standing blues tradition – exemplified by Blind Lemon Jefferson, a consummate player who could reel off riff after riff in a free-wheeling manner that ran all over the conventions of the 12 bar blues but surely in an inherently knowing way given the exemplary technique involved – maybe I'll put some of his stuff up soon. And later on, Lightnin' Hopkins, a more limited technician maybe but one who had a sure sense of his rhythms and music. Ornette comes out of that same deep blues tradition and surely this is a stream that flows into his free jazz innovations – the avant garde was always rooted more firmly in the tradition than was realised at the time. Self-taught on all his instruments, a true self-made pioneer who has the wide open spaces of Texas blowing through his music – and I also hear the vertical take in the Prime Time band that stacks up different levels of sound and genre creating an expanded hybrid that reaches out beyond jazz. Oddly enough, when I was listening to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys years ago it came to me – the similarity. In Wills' music, you have the hee-haw vocals, the weeping wailing country hoedown of the fiddles, some almost-bebop electric guitar licks (and remember that the first revolutionary on electric guitar in jazz was Charlie Christian, another Texan), over the piano and rock solid rhythm section. They called it 'Western Swing' – an organic meld of the various popular musics of the time.
Listening to Prime Time I hear that same space and verticality – similar maybe to Miles' electric incarnations from Bitches Brew onwards in that they both tried to take on the 'Electronic Sublime' of popular music. (And replete in the irony of Miles calling Ornette 'psychotic' when you consider the trumpeter's difficult personality and behaviour - often fuelled by drugs -and the harder road Ornette travelled from Fort Worth while retaining an essential gentleness). But in Miles you hear drums, yes, and a sprawling, smudgy middle at times overlaid with his trumpet at the head. Ornette, for all his claims to democracy, is similarly the lead voice most of the time. But underneath the lines split and shimmer away, sometimes admittedly densely laying in blocks but usually having more individually defined linear movement – harmolodic, anyone?
'Tone Dialling' as a whole bears out my Bob Wills metaphor in its complex layering, coming off the quote I opened with– some kind of global manifesto about the state of music in 1995 and Ornette's willingness to let it all flow through – on other tracks he moves from Bach to funk to rap to good old free jazz and Eastern timbres. Let it all hang in or something...