ORNETTE COLEMAN WEEK. Part One: Prime Time

Ornette!

SEX SPY
COMPUTE
Ornette Coleman and Prime Time
Opening the Caravan of Dreams
Caravan of Dreams : 1985

OC, saxophone, trumpet, violin; Bern Nix, guitar; Charles Ellerbee, guitar; Jamaaladeen Tacuma, bass; Albert MacDowell, bass; Denardo Coleman, drums; Sabir Kamal, drums, perc.

The first time I saw Ornette Coleman, he was fronting his harmolodic funk ensemble Prime Time, a group savvier jazz friends warned me was a total â??sell out.â? It was 1990 and Ornette had moved far beyond his original acoustic quartet. He now used electric guitars and played grooves, of a sort. I was told the music would sound slick and commercial, but what I heard was uncompromisingly dense, completely fluid, and incredibly tight and funky, like 500 angels breakdancing on the head of a pin. Something a lot like these tunes.

Some of Prime Timeâ??s albums from the late â??80s and early â??90s do suffer slightly from overly glossy production, which is why Opening the Caravan of Dreams is such a treasure. Recorded live in 1983, it cuts away anything extraneous and showcases the band in their full blazing glory. Prime Timeâ??s debut, Dancing in Your Head, may be more monumental, and Body Meta might have more brilliant corners (both from 1976), but by the time of Caravan the group had been together for almost seven years and honed their music to a fiercely fine edge. Which is why to me it stands as this groupâ??s single best album. [CJC]

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The disc is so good, in fact, we had some trouble making selections. Regarding these two superlative cuts:

â??Sex Spyâ?: Title tune from the soundtrack to a little-known â??70s softcore joint starring Jayne Kennedy, Seka, and Lee Majors, directed by Melvin van Peebles, Peter Bogdanovich (providing the background sleaze), and Robert Downey Sr. Rhythm section captures that falling-down-a-flight-of-stairs funkiness unique to 1983.

â??Computeâ?: Starts very quietly; do not adjust your set. A song so hot it not only triumphs over adversity (in the form of an early drum solo â?? ack!), not only makes good use out of random bursts of synthetic, Zaxxon-like noise, it incorporates Ornette soloing on three different instruments — he literally fiddles while the band burns down the stage. And you can dance to it.

Interestingly, bassist Al MacDowell turned up as a member of the group Ornette brought to Carnegie Hall last month, as part of the JVC festival. For a taste of what that unusual ensemble sounded like, stay tunedâ?¦

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As always, check out our record store of choice, Downtown Music Gallery, for their unbeatable selection of rare free jazz. Request specific titles and you never know what they’ll come up with. Tell ‘em Destination: Out sent you.

Discussion8 Comments Category Ornette Coleman

8 Responses to ORNETTE COLEMAN WEEK. Part One: Prime Time

  1. Ornette!

  2. Prime Time!

  3. A favorite (had it on vinyl for years, can’t dig it out)–
    Intersting to compare this version of “Sex Spy” to the one on ‘Soapsuds, Soapsuds.’ These performances are particularly instructive of just how severe a transformative effect context has on Ornette’s compositions–the ‘Caravan’ version is sly and dirty, the Coleman-Haden duet surprisingly touching. Ornette’s back catalogue is treasure for precisely this reason–continuity and change, and heavy at that.

  4. Overly glossy production? Ornette was just aiming elsewhere and I love him for it – calling the man a genius is just wasting breath because it’s so obvious. Nice to hear you dig these particular cuts out, but if you’re aiming your (admittedly mild) jibes at the splendiferous In All Languages or Virgin Beauty then I’m going to have to challenge you to fisticuffs. I’m still humming tunes from those albums as I walk along, nigh on two decades after I first heard them. They’re gorgeous pop masterpieces and brilliant examples of melodic concision. They take their rightful place alongside his other work, all of which I adore (well, I’m currently a bit unsure about Hidden Man, but I’m sure I’ll get there in the end).

    Thanking you kindly for your lovely blog!

  5. One of the great things about Ornette – he spawned a whole new generation of innovator/imitators. Not only harmolodic disciples like Ulmer and Tacuma, but Downtown skronk outfits such as the Contortions, Golden Palaminos, Last Exit, etc. While none of these guys brought the poly-rhythmic nuance of Prime Time, their brittle funk informed my listening habits for years. …Still does.

    Check out for more of this stuff. Radio Ornette. Yeah!

  6. That band was so earth-moving in live performance. I saw them twice in San Francisco and still treasure the tapes we bootlegged at those shows (no overproduction there, I assure you). When “In All Languages” finally came out, it was a huge disappointment after hearing the band in person.

  7. radio.video.trad » Blog Archive » Funky Saxophones

  8. Funky Saxophones » RVJ PREMIUM

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