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Ornette Coleman at Rose Hall, September 27th, 2009: Jazz Is Alive

Before Ornette Coleman opening the 2010 season of Jazz at the Lincoln Center at a sold out Rose Hall last night I went to see the French director superb story of a father and daughters love for each other Claire Deny’s “35 Shot Of Rum”. at the Film Forum. Reading the reviews on line before the movie I noted a comparison between Deny’s improvised camera work and Coleman’s equal opportunity harmolodics. But they might have meant the aliveness of both artists: they pulsate with the inner remarkableness of simply being here.

Along with Dave Brubeck, Coleman is the last of the giants of the third wave of jazz still standing but when Coleman broke through in 59 with The Shape Of Jazz To Come he sounded way, way out, the way ‘Trane would a coupla years later. People couldn’t figure free form jazz at all -the chords were strange, the tempo heritical and even today it is an acquired taste. But last night wasn’t an acquired taste. Playing as a quartet, Coleman used an electric bass, an acoustic bass and his son on drums to play lively, upbeat, short (six to eight minutes) compositions as playful as they were concentrated.

Coleman sat at a stool in the middle of the round stage and switched from alto sax to trumpet to violin and when he played violin the band became an avante garde noise band-he had played on the 1968 Plastic Ono Band album with Yoko Ono and reunited with her this year at the concert series he curated London’s Southbank Centre, Meltdown Festival and listening to him yesterday the connection was very clear.

But it wasn’t so much about avant garde rock or even harmolodics, it was about taking off from Tony Falanga’s acoustic bass which Falanga hand picked and played with a bow, and became a bedrock for the band to lie into or took the melody in hand while Coleman played in and around him, seeming to ignore the band and leaving everyone free to follow Coleman as he played compositions from Tomorrow Is The Question! all the way to Sound Grammer.

It wasn’t a difficult set, it didn’t sprawl it levitated and it didn’t push forward it consolidated: it was a victory lap for the 07 Pulitzer prize winning Sound Grammer, and a return to the double after using triple bass bands. Denardo Coleman (Ornette’s son) drumming was forceful in the extreme and this would be the place for the casual fan to get into free jazz. I have often compared jazz to classical music: a dead art form. Coleman made me very happily eat my words.

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