Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ornette by three...

You can't get away from Ornette... I was early morning net surfing and over on the very wonderful jazz blog Destination Out (now added to my links on the sidebar) found some recordings of a recent concert in New York by him and his now three bass band. They won't be there long so go get them here... – sound quality is good and the music is stunning. Ornette seems to be on an artistic roll at the moment... So, given all the harmolodics of late – here's three by Mr Coleman. Why fight fate...

First: a live session recorded in Europe, 1965: 'At the Golden Circle, Vol 1' from which I have selected 'Faces and Places' (alternate take). What always comes across in his work is a sense of freedom and space – even on the crowded and sprawling electric Prime Time tracks. Here – an acoustic trio playing music that flows and rolls effortlessly – and breathes. At this distance in time it is easily forgotten how hard won these freedoms were (go back and read some of the asinine contemporary criticism)– and one wonders if Ornette has ever really been given his rightful due (rather than just some awkward tokenism). Still – we should be glad that he is still playing/composing - and putting together killer bands. 'Faces and Spaces' is a typical quirkily brilliant theme and Ornette solos over solid Izenson bass and the spurring drums of Moffet. One of my favourite groups, they seem so finely tuned to each other's moves. Moffet especially is an underrated drummer, I think, spinning out long polyrhythms, sudden rolls and ticking rimshots, bass drum triplets, cymbals in constant agitation, fast off-beat high hat stutters. Izenson solos as Moffet falls back, just ticking cymbals as accompaniment, the bass a little muffled but delivering fast articulate lines. Ornette returns for another solo – if one can think of this in terms of solo plus backing because everything is so tightly interlocked and interdependent – they call it harmolodics, captain... Moffett's drums surge in volume towards the end – which when it comes is one of those drop on a dime (or old sixpence) sudden stops.

'From 1950 to 1975 harmolodics has always existed in my writing and playing. Yet I did not have a Harmolodic Band to compose and perform with as a working band. I often speak about being a composer that performs without prejudice of environment.

Enter - Prime Time in forming a Harmolodic Band, where the needs of the composer and the players found challenging questions. Prime Time is not a jazz, classical, rock or blues ensemble. It is pure Harmolodic where all forms that can, or could exist yesterday, today, or tomorrow can exist in the now or the moment without a second.'

(-Ornette Coleman, from the liner notes to Body Meta).

'Body Meta' was recorded in 1975 . 'Voice Poetry' has a cheeky Bo Diddley-ish rhythmic lick to it – the old 'shave and a haircut two bits' – ushered in by the drums before the rhythm guitar picks it up. Another guitar enters, single line melody statement across the bouncing bass and the rhythm guitar/drums holding the repeated lick, evolving into modulating chordal strums. Ornette finally enters – his alto in perfect sonic balance with the other lines. Long held notes until the solo develops further, his innate rhythmic displacements bouncing off his companions. Melody as rhythm, rhythm as melody... high smearing plaintive notes - always an element of some sweet sadness in his playing – to my ears. The guitar not holding the rhythm loop becomes more agitated. A sudden drop off ending...

Coleman came together with Pat Metheny in 1986 – on the face of it, an odd pairing, yet Metheny (who subsequently went on to record with the late Derek Bailey) had expressed much admiration for the elder player and his guitar on 'Song X' steps beyond itself in this company. Metheny holds his own and more – and Ornette seemed particularly inspired. 'Endangered Species' opens on high squealing notes that suddenly swirl and swarm – like a flock of demented birds whose collective internal radars have been sabotaged. (An 'endangered species?' Like forward-thinking 'jazz' musicians?). One of Ornette's strange tunes that is nevertheless catchy mainly because of the repeated, bending phrase that follows the initial fast frenzy. Beyond the theme, this is largely collective improvisation driven by the maelstrom of the two drummers. Ornette seems unflappable against the sonic extravaganza launched by the guitar player, angry swirls of thick guitar swooping round his alto and threatening to drown him in places – yet he stands his ground. Metheney's playing here is more about timbre and texture, the inimitable Charlie Haden all but inaudible in places but gamely hanging. They drop out to leave the drums to duet, De Johnette and Denardo, two veterans of the long hard rides into fusion and electricity that Miles and Ornette independently launched ( as incessantly mentioned in recent posts!). Return to theme, then odd electronics as the drums take it out onto a final cymbal crash.

Ornette Coleman Trio
(Ornette Coleman(as,tp,vln), David Izenzon(b), Charles Moffett(d) )
Faces and Places


Ornette Coleman
(Ornette Coleman(as), Bern Nix(g), Charles Ellerbee(g),
Jamaaladeen Tacuma(b),Shannon Jackson(d) )
Voice Poetry


Ornette Coleman/Pat Metheny
Ornette Coleman(as,vln)Pat Metheny(g,g-syn), Charlie Haden(b), Jack DeJohnette(d), Denardo Coleman(d)

Endangered Species


And here is an interesting, somewhat lo-fi video of Metheny in Japan, 1999...


Molly Bloom said...

I'm enjoying listening to these tracks Rod. I love 'Faces and Places' best. It is, like you say, a rolling piece of freedom. There are moments of excess though, those high notes that repeat - marvellous. And the way he comes back down from them. Fantastic. It's like with a human go from a bottom note to a top note very quickly is always amazing.

I think you're right...he probably wasn't given his due. Genius!

St Anthony said...

It's always instructive to go back and read contemporary criticism - you think, couldn't they bloody hear?
I like the Golden Circle trio ... 1965, who would believe it? Archetypal quirky tune, and tight playing. Like Monk, he had the technique he needed.

One never quite knows if one's grasped Harmolodics in all its complexity, but who cares if it sounds like this? Many may have fallen by the wayside in the 70s but Ornette just kept on moving forward. His electric bands really ... um, rock isn't the right word, and I couldn't write 'kick ass' but that's the general idea.
Now, I was never a big Metheny fan - I always find his stuff to fussy, too technical, but it really works here. Another one of Ornette's weird little themes, they always make me smile.
A real rhythm barrage, and the 'lead' instruments battling it out. Actually, this album's just been rereleased, so I must get round to getting it on CD.
Unlike Mr Chance, Ornette's muse has always been benign, and all the better for it.