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London Calling

Ornette Coleman's Meltdown is the Best Ever

By Published: July 16, 2009

Its free concerts and mass participation events contributed greatly to Meltdown's feel-good atmosphere, as did some fine sunny weather throughout. Two thirds of the events were free, including films about or by Ornette Coleman, Yoko Ono, the Master Musicians of Jajouka , and Patti Smith. In addition, there were free performances by such notable British bands as Acoustic Ladyland, Led Bib, Leafcutter John, Get the Blessing, and Martin Speake

Martin Speake
Martin Speake
sax, alto
's Mind & Time. Throughout the week, a group of selected young musicians and dancers attended the School of Harmolodics, taking inspiration from Coleman's theory of Harmolodics. At the end of the week, they gave an impressive free performance of the work they had developed together. Coleman would have been proud to see what he had inspired.

Other participatory events centered on Voicelab, the South Bank's resident voice workshop; they held an open rehearsal with Ian Shaw leading, before their performance with Bobby McFerrin. Fittingly, they also led a mass participation event, People's Choir Sing Songs of Protest, prior to the concert by Liberation Music Orchestra, in which several hundred of us sang "We Shall Overcome," "The Internationale" and "Nkosi Sikelele Africa" with gusto and revolutionary fervour.

Left to right: Patti Smith, Bill Frisell, Tony Falanga, Ornette Coleman, Denardo Coleman, Al MacDowell

Ultimately, this Meltdown was such a success because it became a huge celebration of over fifty years of Ornette Coleman and his music. In concerts, on film and through guests, many facets of Colman's music were celebrated. The two concerts featuring Coleman and his band were billed as "Reflections of The Shape of Jazz to Come" and "Reflections of This is Our Music." Many audience members came expecting recreations of those two classic Colman albums. In true Coleman style, the reality belied such expectations. With his band of son Denardo on drums, Tony Falanga on double bass, Al MacDowell on bass guitar plus sundry guests, the original albums were used as inspiration for improvisation and exploration. Tellingly, much of the focus was on Coleman's own soloing. He was in flowing, fluid form on sax, and—in the absence of a trumpet player to duet with—he also contributed some incisive interjections on trumpet. The free-flowing nature of the two concerts was indicated by the fact that, at the end of the second concert, Charlie Haden joined Coleman for an encore of "Lonely Woman," a track originally on The Shape of Jazz to Come. In keeping with the spirit of the evening, no-one minded. At the end of it (and of Meltdown itself) there was a huge outpouring of affection and warmth towards Coleman. Cries of "We love you, Ornette" and "Thank you" filled the air alongside prolonged applause and cheering. Coleman patrolled the edge of the stage for a long time, greeting well-wishers, shaking hands and signing autographs. After he had finally gone, we were left feeling overwhelmed with one dominant thought: "Please come back to London soon."

Coming soon: As well as Meltdown, June in London also brought the Unnamed Music Festival, organised by the Another Timbre label. Among other highlights, the festival featured two sets from Keith Rowe. Before his first performance, Rowe gave a rare interview to London Calling. It will appear very soon.

The month closed with Bruce Springsteen playing a concert in Hyde Park to a crowd of 50, 000 delirious fans. What song did he open the concert with? "London Calling," of course. Smart move, Bruce.

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