London Jazz Festival: Ornette Coleman

Simon Adams reviews Ornette Coleman at the Royal Festival Hall, 20 November 2011

Ornette ColemanAfter so many years watching and listening to Ornette Coleman, I find it difficult to say anything new about him, certainly anything that has not already been said many thousands of times before. And yet, at this last gig of the London Jazz Festival, I found myself surprised yet again with the vigour of his performance and the originality of his improvisation. It is sometimes overlooked that in the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic equality he pioneered in his harmolodic concept, his own role in playing lead instruments - mainly alto sax last night, with a few bursts of trumpet and one screed of violin - is very exposed. Unsustained by chord changes or indeed any regular harmonic structure, Ornette has to develop and pursue the melody on his own. There is no safety net of an upcoming chord change or chorus end to rely on, just the logic of note-by-note development that eventually creates a fluid melodic line.

And what lines of beauty they often are. After a quick ensemble burst of a head arrangement, he headed straight into the main themes of each piece, sing-songing his way up and down the register as he creates great arcs of notes. Denardo Coleman keeps up a furious commentary on drums, while bassists Tony Falanga and Al MacDowell, on upright and electric instruments respectively, conduct a compare and contrast competition between them, Falanga's deep and resonant classical lines supporting the finger-popping fun of MacDowell. Tunes sped by at some speed, with Theme From A Symphony - the iconic main track on Dancing In Your Head - a particular highlight, Lonely Woman a pin-dropping encore. Now 81, and somewhat fragile, Ornette Coleman proved yet again that his music shows no signs of ageing.

Photo of Ornette Coleman at Nice in 2010 by Sylvia McRae

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