Ornette Coleman & His Quartet:
Ornette Coleman (alto saxophone, trumpet & violin)
Denardo Coleman (drums)
Charnett Moffett (double bass)
Anthony Falanga (double bass)
Albert MacDowell (bass guitar)
The Byron Wallen Trio:
Byron Wallen (trumpet & piano)
Larry Bartley (double bass)
Tom Skinner (drums)
Reviewed by: Bernie Mulcahy
Reviewed: 9 July, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Ornette Coleman emerged in the mid-1950s after bebop had broken the mould of jazz. The collective improvisation on his 1960 “Free Jazz” release sparked a debate about the definition of jazz. Nearly 50 years later his distinctive composing continues to set him apart from both his peers and the most experimental of the up-and-coming generation of jazz artists.
Before the arrival on the Royal Festival Hall platform of this acknowledged living legend of the avant-garde, an engaging set from The Byron Wallen Trio opened the proceedings. Byron alternated between pushing, squeezing and blasting pure tones out of his trumpet and moulding organic shapes on the piano.
‘Freedom Struggle’ from the new release, “Meeting Ground”, was a highlight with Larry Bartley alternating between bowing resonant low notes on double bass and plucking tight funk lines to mesh with Tom Skinner’s driving mallet-work on the drum kit.
After the interval, an enthusiastic crowd welcomed Ornette Coleman and his quartet. The saxophonist did not announce individual compositions but introduced the performance by saying that the set would allow everyone, “to create only the thing they love and believe in.”
A thrilling blast opened the sequence. Ornette’s strong alto sax rising above the textured layers of Charnett Moffett’s running pizzicato, Anthony Falanga’s bowed high notes, Albert MacDowell’s picked and strummed electric bass and the sizzling cymbal sound and explosive tom-toms of Denardo Coleman, Ornette’s son.
An ensemble unison figure opened the second number before it moved into a kind of divine cacophony with an extended saxophone solo that moved through looping bluesy riffs, mournful cries and keening dissonant tones. Squealing trumpet and atmospheric high-range violin followed.
By the third song the band was in full swing and the nature of their sound had fully emerged. Proactive interplay, dynamic empathy and a common musical intention produced incredible passages and fascinating frequent shifts of prominence from one musician to the other. A lyrical phrase played by Ornette would lead the others into variations on it and to hit several climaxes in each song.
After a standing ovation, the band returned to follow their 65-minute set with, ‘Lonely Woman’, as an encore. At 77 years of age Ornette Coleman plays as powerfully as ever. He remains an innovator and shows no sign of slowing down, bearing out his belief that, “in sound there is no cut-off point.”