Ornette • 27 September 2007

Ok. Holy Shit.

It was decided that I should be edified. By a sort of direct experience of free jazz, which in its recorded form can make me irritable. Ornette Coleman and his drummer son Denardo and three bassists played here, the premiere of Sound Grammar; and I figured that twenty years from now when I get around to appreciating free jazz, I’d be glad I’d seen it.

Seriously, it was amazing. What do you say? Ornette walks on stage looking like a brittle old stick in the shape of an upside-down saxophone, head permanently bowed and hands clasped. Iridescent turquoise suit and big white shoes. He is 77 and I hear he passed out onstage at a festival over the summer. The only thing he said all night was at the start, telling us to follow the note, but that the note would be the beating of our own hearts instead of the sound they were playing.

Corny. Except I think this is the best way to describe what happened next. Ornette took up his alto saxophone and undid all the dark thoughts I’d been thinking about old age since seeing my diminished grandmother week before last. The intensity, mastery, emotional clarity. And sweat. He actually is genius, not the sentimental shadow of past genius.

I was exhausted afterwards.

After our friends had gone, the Editor tried to explain something about the unplayed rhythm in the music, the irregular pulse along each 16th or 32nd note or something. I looked up and said I wished I had the concepts to appreciate it on that level, but I just didn’t perceive a pattern.

—Yes you did. You were moving to it.—


—I  thought you wouldn’t like it but after you started moving I realized you’d think it was the same as yoga.—

Whatever that means.

Here is Ornette in the NYT last year:

The music he likes is simply defined: anything…  that is not created as part of a style. “The state of surviving in music is more like ‘what music are you playing,’ But music isn’t a style, it’s an idea.”… Mr. Coleman draws you into the chicken- and- egg questions that he’s asking himself…. Many of them are about what happens when you put a name on something, or when you learn some codified knowledge. Though he is fascinated by music theory, he is suspicious of any construct of thought.

Links: Free Jazz, Ornette’s Permanent Revolution, Seeking the Mystical Inside the Music

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