by carl wilson

The Ornette Report

ornettetony.jpg
Ornette Coleman and Tony Falanga, not this weekend at Massey Hall, but last year at Newport.

I've been searching for reviews of Saturday's show online or in the press, but aside from my colleague Mark Miller's piece in today's Globe, it's all chirping crickets out there. So in a few words: The Ornette concert was not quite as transporting as one might have hoped (as Mark says, the old dog had no new tricks), but it was no let-down, either. Ornette played clearly and with great resonance, so much so that he was actually too loud compared to the rest of the ensemble, diminishing the harmolodic effect of an interplay of equals. He stayed fairly 'inside' as a soloist, never pushing dissonances and seldom even straying from the home keys of his themes and melodies, creating a generally meditative, folklorish and quite bluesy effect. The mood was often elegaic, as is often the case with older musicians, but never nostalgic - especially thanks to the counterpoint from Tony Falanga's bowed bass, whose timbre was often easy to mistake for a second saxophone, as he played high up on his instrument and let lanky Greg Cohen (whose work I first encountered on Tom Waits' Small Change album) handle the stormier bottom end, as he did with gusto: Cohen's spotlit solo late in the set was a high point. Indeed, the twin-bass setup proved itself a perfect vehicle. I only wished Ornette had played his violin for more than the few minutes he did, and more melodically, so the string-trio potential of the group could be explored. (The shaky trumpet interlude, on the other hand, was quite long enough.) I can't speak quite so glowingly of Denardo Coleman's drumming, which was more laboured, less inspired, but it was never intrusive to my experience, and his feel for what the music was asking of him was touching, as an expression of filial duty.

I think everyone who was present would agree that the encore of Lonely Woman was a particular pleasure. Not only did the ensemble play it with assurance for its classic status, I think you could feel in it Ornette's own appreciation for an audience that had just given him a long standing ovation, which felt as much for his lifework in general as for anything that had transpired on stage that evening, and he stretched out a bit more on it than in the rest of the show. It was sad, as Mark notes in his review, that the hall wasn't full, but it's more important that the audience was so respectful and excited to see this pioneer in the flesh, so I think Toronto can hold its head up.

A final thought: One thing I didn't know before seeing him is how introverted and self-contained Ornette seems as a person and as a musician. There's very little testosterone in his persona, indeed an elusive but palpable kind of androgyny - yet with neither flamboyance (except in his flashy suit) nor self-effacingness. I felt that I gained an insight into his music from his physical presence. It made sense to me that this not-so-sociable seeming man would have created a new form of jazz in which the tussel and brawl of the players was downplayed and the individuality of each voice was central, none submitting or playing support to the others. If you ask what harmolodics is, it's a kind of music in which nobody has to shout or compete to get heard but each person's idiosyncrasies provide the form. It requires the listener to open up to the separation of the parts, which form a whole not by adding up but by being suspended in air, like streaks of paint on a canvas, suggesting many directions and never closing doors behind them. Ornette has been a great innovator, but watching him I felt like he had only done what he had to do, because of who he is, not because he meant to be king of the modernist mountain. There's a lot to mull over on the character of artistic advancement there. I don't know what anyone who's seen Ornette before would have made of this concert, but for these insights especially, I am very grateful to have seen it.

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Monday, October 31 at 5:05 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)

 

COMMENTS

...i'm writing a review for the next issue of exclaim,so i'll leave my impressions for that event...as for ornette the man, this is my ornette story...about 10-15 years ago i was in nyc with victoria (my partner at that time)...she had noticed that a friend of hers was playing guitar in a brazilian restaurant off washington square, so we headed there for dinner that evening...as we were having our meal i looked over to my left and there was ornette coleman having dinner with a companion...needless to to say, i was ovetaken with a severe bout of omigawds...i managed to stay calm until we were walking out, when i gave up, walked up to his table (apologising profusely) and basically thanked him for his life and the effect he had on my conception of music and my playing...he looked up, smiled and said 'thank you, why don't you sit down and chat'...i babbled a bit about 'are you sure..??' and looking over to his smiling companion to ask her the same and she said' please come and sit'...victoria, who, of course, had none of my lack of coolness, promptly sat down and started happily chatting...we sat and talked for about half an hour, mostly about some film work he was into and the caravan of dreams thing, after which we got up shook hands and bade each other goodbye and good luck....it was like talking to one of my uncles!...courtly, polite,hospitable,humble, generous and incredibly down to earth...a gentleman in the classic sense...i don't think i will ever forget that moment in time...peace...n

Posted by nilan on November 6, 2005 5:37 PM

 

 

If you lived in Victoria, Carl, you might be a much happier blogger. No respect due. Thanks for the happy thoughts.

Posted by Phil on November 2, 2005 5:31 PM

 

 

Re: Denardo

I thought it was just me and some latent snobism on my part that made me find his drumming just a twitch "off" somehow during the first half of the show. However, he got better, or my mood changed--or what's most likely, I just started to listen to him playing as he meant to be heard playing, instead of listening for Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell to somehow channel themselves through him and make the past present. That ain't the sound of surprise, now, is it? By the end I found him to be rather damn good, especially (as others here have noted) on the ballads. Count me in to that Denardo fan-club: as just another pseud learning to really listen instead of coming to the hall with the concert already in his head, I need a support group, I guess.

BTW, thanks, Carl, for the lovely matter here and every time I log in.

Posted by Jeoff Bull on November 2, 2005 5:11 PM

 

 

No sweat, Dave. I saw Mike D. at the Kate Bush release party tonight & he mentioned the eye piece to me. I'm surprised you don't do some jazz coverage - you obvs. know the stuff.

On Denardo - I can see exactly what you like, but that's kinda what I don't like about it. It's too literal-linear to my tastes - I don't really need the drummer to illustrate what the other musicians are doing. As I said, I think he more than capably serves the music, and your comments back that up in spades. I don't mean to be too down on him - it would be too nitpicky. I'd still love to hear, say, Susie Ibarra in this band, but this ensemble was still wonderful.

Posted by zoilus on November 1, 2005 10:07 PM

 

 

apparently interviews with the big man are hard to come by. Mike D. is reviewing the show for eye, so it's not being totally ignored. i didn't even know about it until a few days before, but i'm not known for jazz writing so i'm not shocked that i didn't get a press release.

(also let me apologize for my first post on this thread. it sounded snarkier than i intended, sorry about that carl. but i <3 Denardo, i really do. also apparently i need a blog comment editor. i promise not to use the phrase 'the man' any more today.)

Posted by Dave M. on November 1, 2005 5:03 PM

 

 

With all due respect, Phil, of course it would sell out in Victoria if Ornette Coleman came to town. First, the hall would probably be smaller. Second, how much else would it have to compete with? In Toronto, everybody gets to see their own living legends eventually, so there's not much motivation to curiosity-seek at shows you're not especially interested in.

Same goes for media attention: It's difficult to come by, altho how the promoters managed NOT to get pieces in the weeklies (Dave M., why nothing in Eye?), I don't quite understand, and certainly the coverage in the dailies was not given the highest profile. (I'd be curious to hear how Jazz FM treated the show too.)

I wish Ornette had sold out, too, but his niche is a marginal and shrinking one in a crowded entertainment market; that's just the depressing truth. It's bullshit to call Toronto audiences apathetic - if you'd been in that hall you wouldn't say that - they're just oversaturated with options, so not as impressed with an Event for an Event's sake as audiences in a smaller centre would be.

I'm probably not going to go see Spoon tonight, even though I'd be happy to, because I have other stuff going on in my life and I can't go to every show. If I lived in Victoria, I suspect I would be going to see Spoon.

Posted by zoilus on November 1, 2005 1:42 PM

 

 

I always like it when a reviewer, especially the much-respected Mark Miller, jumps on a soap box and blasts apathetic Toronto audiences for not getting of their collective fat asses and going to see a living legend. If Ornette Coleman had come to Victoria it would have been sold out for weeks, if not months in advance. Of course, it wouldn't have been Massey Hall. As far as reviews go, Eric's was my favourite because it was clear, concise and totally believable. The others were too hard to navigate.

Posted by Phil on November 1, 2005 1:10 PM

 

 

great review, but i have to take issue with a couple of points. for one thing, i think the dissonance was there, but it wasn't that apparent because it was a sax + two basses + drums combo in a cavernous hall where it was mostly impossible to hear greg cohen and ornette coleman at the same time. i figure they were recording the gig (hence the abundance of mics and the plexiglass around Denardo), so maybe they didn't want to crank the PA for fear of feedback. anyways, when it could be heard, ornette was definitely throwing in some wacky outsideness along with the usual diatonic bizness. it's hard to hear even when the bass is clearly audible, without a piano or other horns it's hard to pick out the relationship between the chord and the line. take sonny rollins' live at the vanguard records it's hard to hear what he's doing to the chords, and he's playing basic stuff like Night In Tunisia fairly straight. or even joe henderson's vanguard trios - lots of strange subs, but very hard to hear without a piano. the ornette concert was basically a trio gig -- i disagree about tony falanga's arco work sounding like another horn. to me it was just a trio with some funny scratchy noises occasionaly arranging itself into a countermelody. also i completely dug the noisy freakout with the violin, i thought it was perfect for that particular tune, which would have verged on the schmaltzy if he hadn't been constantly undermining it with moments like that, or the big honk he let out before the last note.

also this denardo snobbery has got to stop. the man is a frigging genius. for one thing, take his playing on the ballads; the man's style is in its own way as unique as ornette's. he was playing these extremely fast rhythms without ever being intrusive, subtly accenting parts of the beat with the knack for call and response of a great bop drummer and the rhythmic conception of someone like andrew cyrille. i've only got one thing to say to the haters: listen to the end of his solo on the piece the played before the outro. the man ended his solo by playing the entire head on the kit. it's hard enough to play ornithology on the kit, now try to do an ornette head. and he did, and they didn't drop a beat. (in fact, he never dropped a beat, and neither did the rest of the band - they play together what, five times a year, and they were outrageously tight?) people need to stop judging his style on what they expect a free drummer to sound like, and start listening to how he sets up these sonic spaces that sound overly busy but in fact nearly every stroke is reacting to or anticipating something from one of the players. i am starting the Denardo Coleman fan club. (the t-shirt will be the cover from James Blood Ulmer's Tales of Captain Black, aka the best album with the two Colemans, that i've ever heard anyway). the entry fee is five bucks, there are pencils by the door.

Posted by Dave M. on November 1, 2005 1:06 AM

 

 

Well, you humble me with the purity of your reaction, Eric.

And John, I can't answer the Mingus Presents Mingus example, because it is one of my favourite recordings in the world. It's very notable to me to think of it as a response to Ornette; it makes sense of the development of their work respectively, and yet it expresses an incredible and quick sensitivity to what they were learning from one another that I only wish we could talk about in some musicians now.

Posted by zoilus on November 1, 2005 12:59 AM

 

 

Beautiful description of Ornette's vibe, Carl. Not unlike Joachim Berendt's in "The Jazz Book."

I heard Ornette speak about 20 years ago. Extremely soft-spoken, very into his wild clothes, (a lot of?) which he designs; and obviously possessed of a stubbornness and/or courage to have accomplished what he has accomplished, in the face of extraordinary praise and equally extraordinary and more widespread vituperation at the beginning.

I love his music, but I don't think he lives up to his ideal that "all voices are equal." When he's playing, he's out in front, and he very rarely plays background, or "comps." The Mingus-Dolphy-Richmond-Curson quartet of "Mingus Presents Mingus" achieves that vision more clearly, I think; but I've always felt (and maybe I read somewhere? - don't remember) that Mingus made that album at least in part as a response to the challenge and inspiration of Coleman's music.

Coleman -- wow. He changed the way people thought about music in a deep and comprehensive way. And, like you said, he did it in the pursuit of his vision of musical truth and beauty, not chased by a hungry demon of "aesthetic history"; not "looking for something new," but simply, complexly, superbly seeing it. At least, that's how the music feels to me.

Posted by john on October 31, 2005 11:48 PM

 

 

I have never heard anything more beautiful.

Posted by eric chenaux on October 31, 2005 5:26 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson