Take the O Train
The new Ornette Coleman album is incredibly good.
The band is the best he's assembled in more than a decade: Ornette on alto sax (with occasional forays into trumpet and violin), his son Denardo Coleman on drums (spectacularly so), and the two bassists, Greg Cohen (who's played with everyone from Woody Allen to John Zorn) and Tony Falanga (whose experience is mainly classical). Coleman tried a double-bass quartet before, in the late '60s (with Charlie Haden and David Izenzon), but it didn't really work. This one does. Cohen mainly plucks, Falanga mainly bows, and their interplay—with the two Colemans and with each other—cooks, boils, simmers, lights bonfires: whatever's called for.
But Ornette is at the center of things, guiding it all. There's always been a conciseness to his music. The two other colossal saxophonists of his era, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, were probing improvisers (Rollins very much still is), prone to take a passage or verse through endless perturbations, searching for the right note or interval that would open the portal to the rhythm of the universe. It's this boundless restlessness that makes their music so thrilling. Coleman's improvisations are no less intricate, but he heads straight for the prize. He seems to have figured out the various mazes of jazz from the get-go, as if he'd designed them all himself.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Audio excerpts from Sound Grammar © 2006 Phrase Text; The Shape of Jazz to Come © 1959 Atlantic; Change of the Century © 1959 Atlantic and Charlie Parker: The Complete Savoy and Dial Studio Sessions © 2002 Savoy Jazz. All rights reserved.