Ornette Coleman Quintet
by Gerry Fialka
Published in LA JAZZ SCENE Nov 2007
Verdi once spoke of how it is better to reinvent music than to copy it. Ornette Coleman's recent UCLA concert mashed barrelhouse blues with Charlie Parker multi-melodies, resulting in remarkable reinventions. The standing ovations at the beginning and the end of the show duly thanked him for inventing free jazz. The thunderous clapping roared appreciation for his continued renewal now, at age 77. His sounds still "sail into a blistering human voice run" as astutely described years ago by critic Whitney Balliett. Coleman's only spoken words introduced the first song "Follow the Sound" with "It's your heartbeat of love, happiness and security." Then he blasted into a horn flight that nurtured, nested and notified us to pay attention.
His blazing quintet created a safehouse with the "quality to preserve life" which is how Ornette once described the music of Joujouka, Morocco. Their textural depth induced joyous laughter from the man next to me, refreshingly rare for instrumental music. Monk's music makes some laugh out loud, too. Thelonius said, "You got to pick the notes you really mean." Indeed, Ornette's sincerity struck deep. The Coleman transcendence transfixed in what Garcia Lorca called "cante jondo" (deep song).
His three bassmen Tony Falanga, Charnett Moffett & Al Macdowell along with his son Denardo on drums flipped lick city inside out. Their complimentary intuitions often matched Ornette's electricity. As a disciplined collective they subverted control with chaos and chaos with control: fevered polyphonous pitch with stop-on-a-dime precision, all in the midst of randomly improvised sounding labyrinths. When Ornette's trumpet blended with Charnett's wah-wah pedal, Miles Davis' ON THE CORNER was retrieved in all its funky splendor. This riveting ensemble gave new meanings to the phrase "beyond styles."
During the piece "Bach," Tony Falanga rendered his classical sensitivity to the space between the notes. It seemed to come back to center stage where we "could almost see the shape of the breath of a note," Ornette's quote about his plastic horn from years ago. Ornette's alto journey evoked a huge emotional range of dynamics. It was a sea of key: crying, calling, cackling, clamoring and cantoring. I struggle to find words that really come close to what he does with the horn. Otherness? Orgasm? Who knows?
Coleman glowed in his shocking blue suit and pork pie hat. His courage to challenge his audience still thrives. His musical poetry conveys a universality. It communicates before it's necessarily understood. "Coleman's music forces listeners to rethink how they hear..." articulated in David Yaffe's brilliant "The Art of the Improviser" (The Nation 5-14-07).
The living force of this Quintet's organism animates and informs the present. We felt a wild celebratory sense as Ornette reinvented his own reinventions. "He played all the notes Bird missed" (as Thomas Pychon wrote in V) and then some.
Gerry Fialka 310-306-7330 firstname.lastname@example.org