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Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar

Clifford Allen By

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Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar It's been a decade since the last bounty of Ornette recordings. 1995-96 saw releases from his free-funk mélange Prime Time; a robust quartet with pianist Geri Allen and bassist Charnett Moffett; and duets with pianist Joachim Kühn, a German free music architect. Indeed, the past three decades have seen an inordinate amount of change for Coleman's groups, and though the fundamentals of his music may remain basically untouched, their aesthetic presence and reach seemed, for a while, to be apples in the next orchard. So it might seem somewhat surprising to see a format Ornette used in the late '60s and early '70s returning on Sound Grammar — his own alto, violin and trumpet, two contrabassists (one exclusively arco, one exclusively pizzicato), and percussion.

Recorded live in concert in Ludwigshafen, Germany in October 2005, Ornette is joined by his regular partner, drummer Denardo Coleman (looks like the "airmail express has worked to both their advantage), and bassists Tony Falanga and Greg Cohen. They perform eight originals, including two classics, "Turnaround and "Song X. From "Lonely Woman onward, Ornette Coleman has certainly shown a preoccupation with time; pluralities of tempo place creative activity firmly in the direct present, rather than moving toward resolution, making one hyper-aware of oneself in the eternal now (to reference Don Cherry).

An example of this aural "presentness" is Ornette's use of two bassists in subtle opposition to one another, one bowing dusky horn-like lines in melodic conversation with his alto or playing dervish-like underneath, the other turning rhythmic anchor into melody. Falanga and Cohen are somewhat reminiscent of the David Izenzon/Charlie Haden duo that Coleman employed ca. 1968-70. Like Falanga, Izenzon was a classically-trained bassist who tended to stick to the high register, bowing contrapuntal lines somewhere between Coleman's trilling vocalizations and the unrelenting drum choruses.

As Free Jazz was a double quartet, Sound Grammar is in a sense a double duet. Ornette and Falanga stitch a discourse of joy and sorrow, keening poems of timeless cries and ebullient child-song, as Cohen and Denardo swirl about, dissecting galloping funk into sea-swells of contrasting rhythm. But as with Jackson Pollock, an overlapping of gestures and contrasting lines creates its own rhythmic flow; what at first may seem a visual assault becomes a meditation on action and experience. Ornette Coleman is a master at feeding collectivity and plurality—grammar and language, after all, never result from the one, but from the many.


Track Listing: Intro; Jordan; Sleep Talking; Turnaround; Matador; Waiting for You; Call to Duty; Once Only; Song X.

Personnel: Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone, trumpet, violin; Tony Falanga, bass; Greg Cohen, bass; Denardo Coleman, drums.

Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Sound Grammar | Style: Modern Jazz


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