At UCLA on a calm November evening, Ornette Coleman's
explorations of beauty reached high tide. It felt like a stroll along
the ocean, the calm and the chaotic crashing together on the same
shore. With support from his son Denardo Coleman on drums,
Tony Falanga on acoustic bass, and Al MacDowell on electric bass, Mr.
Coleman's sax and trumpet soothed the souls of an audience who came to
witness an icon. It was the jazz quartet as living organism.
Coleman resides in both otherworldly and earthly realms.
The music transformed the simple act of concert attendance into an
exercise in all-at-onceness. This mystical merging of left and
right brain evoked both the naive sing-song of children and the soulful
yakking of gut-bucket blues. Though the sound was mesmerizing, I did
not wish to close my eyes. Staring at this gentleman in the flashy
plaid suit kept me grounded in his eight decades of living.
But there are better ways to describe it. Words do not really
work. Breathing does…and asking questions about questioning does.
Thinking about thinking does. Meta cognition! Ship Ahoy! As Brigitte
Bardot told us, "I don't think when I make love."
Ornette has asked, "What is the sound of sound?" Sitting for
more than ninety minutes, engulfed in Ornette, I asked, “Can we
perceive perceiving?” As the quartet launched into the sudden starts
and stops of "Sleep Talking," I began to dream about dreaming.
In his 1997 interview with Jacques Derrida, Ornette said, "In
improvised music, I think musicians are trying to reassemble an
emotional or intellectual puzzle." To delve deep into his harmolodic
hybridizing, see Shirley Clarke's experimental documentary "Ornette:
Made In America," which explores sexuality and the creative
The music sailed into the heart of darkness at sunset. I recalled Joseph Conrad's words: With the pressure of
your hands and feet, keep yourself afloat.
It was a perfect storm, high seas tactility. The rain showers of McDowell's melodic runs augmented
the waterfall of Falanga's upright strength to reach flood levels. With
decades of experience drumming for his dad, Denardo pounded a thunder
of whirlpools. As the captain of the free jazz ship, Ornette steered a
flotilla of shamanistic compositions that included "Turnabout," "Bach
Cello Suite #1," "9/11," "Peace," and "Call of Duty."
Two guests added to the buoyant duality. Soprano vocalist
Mari Okubo flowed with Coleman's soaring alto. Even Flea, the Red
Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist, body-bopping some appropriate bottom,
jumped into the riverrun of past guests such as Jerry Garcia, Yoko Ono,
and Pat Metheny. When Coleman warmly shook Flea's hand, we were
all gripping that firmness. Ornette's generous and gentle spirit made
us all feel like we were all crew, not just passengers.
We reached safe harbor with the encore,
"Lonely Woman." Evoking an orgasmic hybrid of
Ornette transcended music as entertainment, ritual, or even worship.
His fluid solos did not seem to start or end. I felt the stellar spirit
of Buddy Bolden as his deviations invented the first anchoring notes of
jazz. It reminded me of when Joe Zawinul said that Weather Report had
no soloists because everyone was soloing all the time. But Ornette's
version kept us knee deep in the swamp muck (or as Frank Zappa put it,
"It was only Swamp Gas") while fulfilling Jack Kerouac's
axiom that "walking on water wasn't built in a day."
It takes eighty years of odes to create the soundtrack
to life. Thank you, Ornette Coleman.
Gerry Fialka salutes GREG BURK, who wrote this insightful
review of the same show: