Ornette Coleman

Sound Grammar

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Sound Grammar was recorded in Germany in front of a live audience in October of 2005 with his new quartet -- Greg Cohen (bass), Denardo Coleman (drums and percussion), Tony Falanga (bass), and Ornette (alto, violin, trumpet) -- it's the first "new" product from Coleman in ten years. That said, with the exception of "Song X," the last song on the program, the other five tunes are new, seemingly written just for this band. The use of two bassists here is not only a rhythmic consideration, but a sonorous one. Cohen picks his bass, while Falanga bows his. This heavy bottom and full middle, as it were, leave room for Denardo to interact with his father. While one can make somewhat logical comparisons to Coleman's At the "Golden Circle" in Stockholm recordings on Blue Note from four decades ago with Charles Moffett and David Izenzon, these are only logistical. This time out, Coleman's band is rooted deeply in modal blues -- check the slow yet intense "Sleep Talking." The intensity level is there but it's far from overwhelming, since this band plays together as one. Nothing is wasted, either in the heads of these pieces or in the solos. This band plays together literally as one, no matter what's happening. Listen to the interplay between the basses on "Turnaround," as Coleman finds his unique place in blowing the blues and melding harmolodically with his instantly identifiable lyric sound. As all these sounds blend together, they become, in their order to one another, grammar. And each member finds a unique place in the conversation in this ordered sonic universe.

The playfulness in "Matador" is infectious as the entire band walks through a sideways version of "Mexican Hat Dance" along with the sound of the crowd at a bullfight. As the work unfolds, it becomes clear that the struggle of species, blood, and passion is taking place in the ring of death and victory. The work ends back on the theme, with the crowd cheering (one assumes the matador won?). The rhythmic/melodic approach to improvising and timekeeping the bassists take is one of close listening, and carrying Coleman's harmolodic theory to its most beautiful and lyrical extreme. The place the blues inhabit in this working order is a special one, as Coleman is able to engage them at any time, pull them out, speak from them, and turn them inside out with his own linguistic and playfully melodic method of playing. This is no less so when he pulls out his trumpet, as he does on "Jordan," with the hardest-driving rhythmic setting of the disc. This also happens on "Call to Duty," where Coleman once again plays both instruments. The bassists push one another incessantly here -- and Cohen with this rhythmic attack can push any musician to his best performance -- while Denardo steps back and folds into the middle; he actually allows Ornette to slow time down somehow, no matter the pace. The deep blues are expressed in Falanga's solo in "Once Only," as he plays a doleful melodic line and moves off from it in bits and pieces. The violin comes out again in a ten-and-a-half-minute "Song X," which closes the concert. The playing is out and edgy, but never goes to the extremes it once did, in part due to Falanga's ability to create harmolodic counterpoint and pace Coleman's solo on the instrument into a great lyric context. Sound Grammar is one of those records that makes the listener realize just how much Ornette Coleman means to jazz, and how much he is missed as he releases something new only once a decade.

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