I saw Ornette Coleman in concert

Yes, this WAS taken on a flip phone

Before the concert, I listened to Ornette’s Columbia Records album Science Fiction to get energized. Upon entering, I discovered a hefty crowd of people. More than I thought I ever would. The ratio of men to women was somewhat off balance, noted Dave King, drummer of The Bad Plus, as we stood in line at the men’s room. He said “We should have had a tailgating party.” I would have been down for that. Why don’t we do that at jazz concerts?

It is interesting to note how the two bass players navigated what could have been a muddied aural situation. Falanga played arco for almost the entire show, putting down the bow to play pizzi but a couple of times. In that regard, he reminded me of David Izenzon. Not just because he was playing arco, but the contributions were similar — he was able to play in the ‘cello range high enough to stay out of the way of Greg Cohen, the other bass player that was walking most of the time. Falanga has some astounding ideas. I cannot believe this is the first time I have heard of the guy. By staying in the range above Cohen’s walking basslines and below Ornette’s arsenal, He was able to make the ensemble sound quite rich.

Falnaga was a very kind man; when I spoke with him afterwords, I thanked him for a great performance (which sometimes I think would be tiresome to hear night after night]) He replied with the deepest sincerity, “Thank you for being a part of it.”

I haven’t heard a great deal of Denardo Coleman’s playing. My only point of reference comes from two recordings: The Empty Foxhole and Ornette at 12 performed at ages 10 and 12 respectively. He is not out of the metronome school of playing, nor the Buddy Rich chops monster school. His more relaxed approach to rhythm was befitting of the concept at hand. I’ll just say that Dave Weckl would have been out of place. Stylistically, his playing reminded me of Sunny Murray. Ambitious, but not over-the-top.

I am terrible with song titles, and I know only that the last tune was “Song X” and the encore was “Lonely Woman.” Many of the melodies were familiar, or perhaps almost familiar, knowing some of his musical devices. Very little was said. He thanked the crowd for coming out, and said how grateful he was for the musical happening the night before when several ensembles got together to play the music of Ornette Coleman.

Some of the most interesting moments were when they came together as a string trio. Cohen did pick up the bow for one portion. Ornette has both an unusual musical vocabulary on the violin and an unusual physical manner of dealing with the instrument. If I recall, he was playing left-handed on a right-handed instrument. To these ears, his string chops are in quite great shape. 

He spent more time on the violin than he did on the other secondary instrument, the trumpet. His chops here were also in great shape. It did not sound as if he was struggling to get the notes he wanted to pass from him and through the instrument. When the secondary instruments were called upon, it was always after starting the tune on his white plastic alto.

And that alto is as strong as ever. The ideas, volume and speed Ornette still gets from his main axe on those breakneck portions of some of the tunes belie this giant’s age, as celebrated that night: 75 years.

That same visceral blues energy was somewhat in contrast to the gentle handshake and paper-thin skin of the man in person. I was lucky enough to make it backstage to meet one of my heroes. Smartly dressed in a pale blue suite and colorful shirt, topped with a pork-pie hat and mustache, Ornette was ever the gentleman.

He asked if played an instrument, and I said “No sir, I just play records.” He responded, looking me right in the eyes, “Well, you can sure do both.” He paused for a beat and said it again, “You can do both.” It was as if he was telling me what to do. I think it is great advice. I’ll take it.


Alice Coltrane – Translinear Light

The Impulse! record label in the early and mid-1970s was home to a few jazz musicians interested in spiritual sounds. The output varied greatly, from the free-jazz blowouts of Sun Ra and sax giants Albert Ayler and John Coltrane (posthumously-released recordings), to the more tranquil African- and Asian-influenced explorations of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. As the years have passed the label has become more mainstream, in contrast to those halcyon days of side-long tenor sax flights and searching meditative psalms.

However, the latest release from Alice Coltrane has brought it all full circle. When she was the pianist in husband John Coltrane’s band, the recordings captured an even greater push away from standards, and towards the more searching and spiritual tunes that John penned.

While those interpretations were often dizzyingly intense, polytonal and dissonant, Ms. Coltrane’s interpretation of those same tunes as well as her original material recorded in the decade after John’s death were often much more tranquil. Ms. Coltrane left the jazz world at the end of the 1970s to focus on the spiritual path that those recordings hinted at.

Having been out of the public eye for the most part of 20 years hasn’t had a deletorius effect on Ms. Coltrane’s music. This recording, “Translinear Light” seems to pick up where she left off.

The first statement sets the tone for the recording. The Wurlitzer organ she again uses on several of the tunes has a tone that will sound odd to many seasoned jazz listeners. Some of the pitch bends made me wonder if she was communicating with Sun Ra’s spirit…

A reading of the old spiritual “Walk with Me” starts with Ms. Coltrane’s huge Godspelized chords. The other players in this trio, James Genus on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums have no trouble in following her in and out of conventional rhythms.

“Translinear Light” is the first cut to feature Ms. Coltrane’s son, Ravi Coltrane, on soprano sax. The mother / child duo introduce the tune for the first couple of minutes, with the ringing tones of the piano sustaining into eternity. When she hits these full, right-hand mid register chords, anchoring them with a crashing left hand you would think the earth would open up right in front of you.

Ravi’s reading of his mother’s tune “Jagadishwar” is arresting. The straight synthesizer backing takes some getting used to, but Ravi is most certainly pouring forth with ideas — so much so that you start to froget that the synth instrument is the same one that ruined so many other jazz dates in the 1980s.

One of the highest points on this record is the reading of “This Train.” Bassist Charlie Haden and percussionist Jack DeJohnette set up an undeniable groove for Ms. Coltrane’s outerspaceways take on the old spritiual. This is no standard read, by any measure. Her approach to the Wurlitzer stands in contrast to her pianistic approach. This instrument is played like a sax, with the emphasis on the melodic line, rather than in harmonic movement. Apparently, she reserves all of that for the VERY full voicings she pulls from the acoustic piano.

The synth comes out again to accompany Ms. Coltrane’s other reed-playing son, Oran Coltrane. That artificial tone is more distracting in this case, but still not enough to drown out that joyous and airy alto sax.

Genus & Tain set up a groove reminiscent of those seeking, spiritual records the Impulse! label was host to in the 70s. The bass vamps and very subltle harmonic movement (almost static, really) recall not only Ms. Coltrane’s early 70s works, but also references some of John Coltrane’s experiments with Middle-Eastern tonalities and forms in the early sixties. (Starting perhaps with the famous quartet’s take on “My Favorite Things.”)

Two John Coltrane penned tunes follow, one that was on the 1963 album of the same name, “Crescent,” and the other that was first recorded in 1966 after Ms. Coltrane joined the band, “Leo.” Her unique harmonic conception on piano is in full bloom on “Crescent;” the Wurlitzer and free drumming of DeJohnette show that at age 67, Ms. Coltrane is full of fire!

A positively gorgeous duo with piano and Haden’s bass create the other high point on this album. Her wide dynamic range and the clipping of some runs while letting others ring out give Haden a great deal of room for his own singular phrasing, tone, and thoughts.

The closing number is a unique insight into what has kept her busy since leaving the jazz world. Her own Sai Anantam Singers on percussion and vocals, plus her organ playing make this an uplifting and entrancing bit of album punctuation. It fades out at the end, leaving one with the impression that the tune, and by extension, Alice Coltrane’s music, will go on forever.


Motörhead, live at First Ave! A night of metal.

Metal Jerry would have been proud.

Metal Jerry is a guy that used to frequent Co-Op Records, the little indie record shop I worked at for several years. He was what I consider to be the quintessential heavy metal fan — it is ALL about the music to him. He would come to the store with his little rough Satan-goatee, leather jacket and black heavy metal t-shirts and order up some of the most obscure, scary cover-having, unpronouncablely-named stuff you can imagine. If it was a good day, you might get to see the tattoo on his arm. Homemade for sure, its tattoo-blue letters about 1″ high said simply one thing in a totally in-ornate script: METAL. Below it was an upside-down cross. That pretty well sums up the attitude.

I must say that the crowd was just as I thought they would be. Hardcore heavy-metal fans. Beards, black metal band t-shirts, leather jackets. No poseurs that I could see. 95% males. A few homemade tattoos on arms and you get the picture.

There were three opening bands. The first of which was Slunt, a NY based 4 piece with two ladies. They indeed rocked hard, especially with their cover of Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never.” (Memories of rewinding my family’s dubbed copy of the movie Reckless to hear that song over and over came back to me all at once.) The guitars were Gibson SGs, so a favorable nod is definitely in order. Apparently the orginal bass player quit — the new player, Ilse, had been in the band for all of two weeks. I bought their EP.

Then there was Zeke, a thrash-metal band of a certain intensity; they did a Minor Threat cover and generally tore shit up.

Corrosion of Conformity followed–their new vocalist was not like the COC I loved. I used to be a big COC fan, but this new dude just makes them like yet another Sabbath cover band.

Some other bands were playing in the 7th Street Entry, so I was able to escape the main-stage pain to see the Twin City Howlers. I know a guy in the band, and they kicked a great bit more ass than COC could think of doing. Stripped down 4 on the floor rock. Loved it.

I went back into the First Ave mainroom and in about two minutes Motörhead came on and taught everyone a fucking lesson. It was a sight to behold. Mikkey Dee, the drummer had some serious rock chops for sure. At one point Lemmy says to the audience “This is from our new album. Have any of you bought it?” Shouts from the audience were affirmative, but Lemmy says “Well, not fucking enough of you have. Go and fucking steal it, I don’t care. I just want you to hear the music.”

They played “Love You Like a Reptile” and “Fast and Loose” from the renowned “Ace of Spades” album, plus the crowd pleaser of “Ramones.” Many other tunes that I am not familiar with were pounded out with a steeled rock fury that had to be witnessed to be believed. When Lemmy indicated that it was their last song, the crowd booed; he responded by saying, “Well, it isn’t really the last song. We will leave the stage and you will make a bunch of noise and we will come back and play some more, alright?”

The three tune encore opened with Mikkey Dee joining the guitarist, both with acoustics in hand to perform “Whorehouse Blues.” Lemmy even played some harp. Before they tore into the second tune, Lemmy sez “Are you ready? Well, here it comes.” Everyone was waiting, and the time had come. “Ace of Spades!” As heavy and powerful as I had hoped.

Los Lobos played a show at a theatre on the same block as this club, and they came in after a while; they stood watching from the side. I thought “Shit, is that Los Lobos?” It was. I went up and said to Cesar Rosas, “Los Lobos at a Motörhead concert. Cool.”


Björk – Mouth’s Cradle

I have been listening to this album pretty regularly since I was lucky enough to receive it as a gift. As with Bjork’s other albums, there is an abundance of positively heart-stopping melodic material. It may be in the bac ground, as the production has obscured it in the past.

As you may know via the press surrounding this album that it is almost entirely made up of human voices. Quite a feat for those involved (arranging the material, and for the producers to assemble it into a cohesive musical expression.) There are reams of press about the whole of the record — I want to spend a moment thinking about one song in particular.

Why it is buried twelve tracks in, I will never know. “Possibly Maybe” was 8 cuts into Post, and the same goes for “Alarm Call” on Homogenic. I see a pattern.

Some of the intervals and voicings of the Icelandic Choir remind me of 13th Century Parisian master of organum, Perotin. The simplicity of the grouping and alternation between spare chords gives it that feeling of no beginning and no end. Polyphony quickly gives way to the Mark Bell glitch production. Distortion (intentional, I would guess) from production in Bjork’s vocal is almost emulated in the extended vocal (or ultra-natural?) techniques of the incredible Tanya Tagaq. Rahzel gives the song a solid boom-bap beat with serious forward motion. A swing, even.

Aside from the singular tone of her voice, Bjork has always caught my ear from the inventiveness of her phrasing. She knows when to turn the faucet on and off. On Vespertine and Medulla she has reined in some of the more fantastic flights that took in the past. I enjoy them, but I must say that this less bombastic direction has allowed her to grow, to develop her instrument. It’s much more easily accomplished when the volume isn’t stuck on 11. That doesn’t always come naturally. She writes the words with such care and forethought as to how and where they will fit in the final expression, that it lays on my chest like a cinder block. For example:

these teeth / are / a ladder up to / his mouth

Another example:

if you want / up to the mouth / the mouth’s cradle

Those couplets paired with the production and hip-hop swing have me bobbing my head like the latest Neptunes production in the club. Mark Bell keeps the song buzzing with bits that Rahzel and Tagaq have created, and the Icelandic Choir lends a harmonic root to Bjork’s flights.

The song rachets up the dissonance near its end. It sounds as if she is going to a bridge, but, not being one beholden to AABA structures, that dissonance ramps up and soon the song closes. It closes with some surprisingly political words:

i need a shelter to / build an altar away from / all the osamas and bushes