Sunday, March 09, 2008
Keep on your altos
i rejoiced today to find WKCR being its awesome self and spinning Ornette Coleman all day in honor of his 78th birthday. many delights, including some of the 1958 Hillcrest sessions (was very intrigued to hear how recognizable his sound was at this point, though in the scheme of things "The Shape of Jazz to Come" was only a year later), the mighty aforementioned, ever-incredible "Shape," what i'm pretty sure was "The Empty Foxhole" and two others that really hit me hard: "Skies of America" and "Song X," the latter of which is actually spinning as i write this.
had never really given "Skies," Ornette's most well-known orchestral work, a try before, but i really enjoyed what i heard. the symphonic stuff comes across as a little heavy-handed, but Ornette's alto soars bravely over everything, concerto-style. the best parts are his frequent a cappella interludes, showing off that marvelous round, tart, wailing, singsongy concept of his. Ornette's musical signature on sax is one of the most potent and unmistakable there is, for sure.
and then "Song X," Ornette's collabo w/ Pat Metheny. this one sounds like nothing else. it's one of the most vibrant, alive recordings i can think of. the shit absolutely crackles with joy--it's got this very modern, frenetic quality but also a very big, friendly, sweet melodic aspect too. i guess one word for it would be "unabashed"--you imagine all the players grinning ear-to-ear as they play. intense speed and happy, positive vibes. one of the most inviting avant-garde jazz releases of all, no doubt. i think Metheny is a real good match for Ornette, just in terms of that pervasive sense of celebration in his playing. sure he can get cheesy sometimes, but this is a really beautiful team-up.
speaking of altoists and team-ups, have also been listening to tons of Tim Berne, marveling once again at the guy's consistency, prolificness, sturdiness of concept, sincerity, etc. am really into the idea that he's got all these bands working simultaneously, all with almost the same personnel, but each with a totally different identity, e.g.
Hard Cell - w/ Craig Taborn and Tom Rainey
(the latter of whom is always on, always unassumingly badass. one of the few drummers whose name i'm never not psyched to see on the back of a CD.)
Big Satan - w/ Marc Ducret and Rainey
Science Friction - w/ Taborn, Ducret and Rainey
Paraphrase - w/ Drew Gress and Rainey
Hard Cell in particular really excites me. it's built around these extremely intricate yet burly vamps that to me have a very proggy, hypnotic character to them. as is so often the case in Berne's music, these patterns seem to just spring up from out of nowhere during the improvisations and all of the sudden the band will be grooving in this crazy lockstep. i definitely think all math-rock fans should take a listen to the latest Hard Cell disc, "Feign." some serious rhythm workouts happening there.
also really digging "Fulton Street Maul," a really gritty, fun and potent session from 1987 that actually came out on Columbia Records. awesome lineup of Hank Roberts on cello (playing Abdul Wadud to Berne's Julius Hemphill and serving up really intense vamp action), Bill Frisell on guitar (he can get too FX-happy for me sometimes, but he does give the record a lot of atmosphere) and Nels Cline's bro Alex on drums.
this one shows you how long Berne's been on top of his game. for my money, he's perhaps the most honest, ungimmicky voice in downtown music--unlike some of the more famous folks in this scene, all his core concepts are musical. he's got no use for buzzwords or fanciful looks-cool-on-paper type stuff. just a seriously funky, gritty player/writer who's intensely committed to digging in and finishing the job, improv-wise.
really dig the Screwgun operation, Berne's homegrown label. check out the website for a handy mp3 shop, where i recently picked up "Maul" for a mere 6 clams.
and check out this excellent example of the Berne/Rainey mindmeld. brutally delicate split-second funk: