Ornette Coleman at the Skopje Jazz Festival, Macedonia


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The audience, clearly mesmerized, wanted as much of Coleman as they could get.
Ornette Coleman
Skopje Jazz Festival
Skopje, Republic of Macedonia
October 23, 2006

Each year the Skopje Jazz Festival manages to top itself. Whatever featured lineup gathers under the cover of the event's large umbrella, it always manages to surpass the previous year. The pattern has continued for the last 24 years, and this year's event, which included a celebration of the festival's 25-year existence, was no exception. Over these two and one-half decades the festival has continually blossomed, with many new generations attending and witnessing exceptional concerts with great and varied lineups, interesting concepts, and internationally diverse jazz idioms.
This year's lineup featured diverse acts such as Andy Bey, Vinicius Cantuaria, Joao Bosco with Gonzalo Rubacalba, E.S.T and—the cherry on the top of this jazz parfait—Ornette Coleman. But apart from the featured attraction, the program and innovative concepts, I have always had a special love of the closing nights. It's the memories of great events and performances on those final nights that has proven the festival's crowning glory over the past few years.
I remember an exceptional performance by Nils Petter Molvaer and his geared-up band, presenting a healthy combination of and interaction between live music and an improvised DJ set. Later that evening, Molvaer was very polite and patient as we had a nice conversation. I also remember the shocking performance of Cecil Taylor's Sound Vision band when they stormed the Universall Hall with their sound exorcism, which proved to exorcise more than merely sound. I think he holds the record for the fastest emptying of the Universall Hall. Even the people who operate the soundboard remember Taylor's sound man deliberately twisting the knobs on the amplifiers (to achieve maximum sonic penetration and effect). It was completely opposite to that night's performance by Mingus' Big Band, which performed music notable for its loveliness and tenderness. And I will never forget the fun I had with Marcio Faraco, who threw a very entertaining and compelling story-telling show—engaging and fascinating yet filled with fun and jokes that never seemed to end.

L:R: Tony Falanga, Al McDowell, Ornette Coleman

As for this year's feature, Ornette Coleman's performance was something that has long been anticipated. The music that he and his band performed on October 23 had rough textures suggestive of a non-brushed diamond. Backed by Denardo Coleman on drums, Tony Falanga on bass and Al McDowell on electric bass, the band played tight but simultaneously loose, with each member assuming the roles of both soloist and accompanist. Nothing about the band's compositions, approach or performance could be tagged as "classical" in the formal sense. Obviously blessed with a gift of communication, Coleman easily and visibly found his way to people's heads, ears and hearts. One could see that he played with great passion, showing stunning melodic creativity and an ever fertile imagination. His many-colored lines moved in directions that were parallel, contrary, multi-polyphonic, and occasionaly within the resulting soundscapes you would hear echoes of Zorn's Masada or Metheny's music. As I was sitting there and listening, I felt as though I was watching history unfold, just as those long before me must have felt upon first hearing Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, or John Coltrane. Throughout the evening there were emotional peaks moving the listener to ever higher plateaus of excitement.

The audience, clearly mesmerized, wanted as much of Coleman as they could get, and he reciprocated with three encores, even inviting people from the audience to join him on stage, where some of the participants recited poetry, sang or improvised melodies along with the American jazz legend. Even backstage after the concert, people continued to express their feelings to Coleman, the band and their crew—practically a flood of fans conveying their gratitude.

In short, the performance of Ornette Coleman and his band at the Skopje Jazz Festival will definitely be remembered as one of the best performances ever to be witnessed here. To the minds of those who heard them, Ornette Coleman and his group epitomized what jazz should be: pure and vibrant.

Photo Credit
Tzvetan Tzvetanov

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