Sunday, 20 November 2011

ornette coleman @ royal albert hall 11/20/2011

words _ gian paolo galasi

The Royal Albert Hall is famous mostly to rock amateurs since in 1965 hosted one of the most controversial performances in the music history: Bob Dylan with its 'Hawks' - not 'The Band' yet, switching from acoustic folk to electric music; but tonight the packed audience attended to a likewise brilliant concert by the Ornette Coleman quartet. 

No one called for 'Judas', though, as happened with Mr. Zimmermann: since his 2009 residency and artistic direction at the Meltdown Festival, featuring two performances - with Charlie Haden and Flea, and again with the Master Musicians of Jajouka - and also a couple of movies on him. 

Ornette Coleman needs surely no introduction, being well known both to music lovers and to avant garde readers since his many liaisons with cinema and literature. His soundtrack for the "Chappaqua" movie, the one for David Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch" on William Seward Burroughs creative process misleading paranoia and drug addiction - misleading fixity, and it is probably of help to track a parallel between Borroughs' cut-up and fold-in writing techniques and Coleman harmolodic idea of music.

What we heard tonight is a quartet composed by Ornette at alto, violin and trumpet, with his son Denardo on drums, Tony Falanga on acoustic bass and Al McDowell at the electric bass. Coleman music is uncatchable as it always was. You listen to "Something Else" and you feel that this music is related to bebop, oops, no more related to beebop. Then you go into "The Shape of Jazz to Come" and you feel that a piece like 'Lonely Woman' can be directly related to the blues, but it is not (only?) blues. 

Then you go on listening, and you find that his collaboration with Bachir Attar and the MMOJ was in some way prepared by what he did on 'Broken Shadows', that is somewhere between '"Free Jazz" double quartet and "Dancing in your Head" but you can't tell if it is something like an expansion or a contraction, and that some compositions presented again through different records are more oblique and more straight at the same time under different focuses.

Like tonight, while the second piece was introduced by Denardo playing some maybe funky configuration that actually had the idea of a groove but heavier than funk usually is, just to loose it and generate anarchy in the interplay; but after quite a while you feel that there was nothing wrong in that, nothing really lost. And so, after 'Lonely Woman', 'Focus on Sanity' and other compositions taken here and there in his entire career, you are certain that Ornette music is always driven by instinct and at the same time highly structured, but that it is not a matter of dialectics, as if different pulses, pushes and pieces were finally mixed together on a new, compelling, sound grammar.


  1. the most greatness is to be able to witness and discover this extraordinary music in an historical context tough... years ago, they were in istanbul with Greg Cohen, instead of All MacDowell, what a night it was...

  2. i was discussing yesterday night after the concert with a friend about greg ... i saw cohen with john zorn and masada quite some time ago in italy. interestingly enough, the last ten years of ornette coleman (sound grammar apart) seem to many so obscure, but there is such interesting stuff ... in all languages with tacuma and shannon jackson ... his record with gery allen -- my friend saw them together ....