ORNETTE COLEMAN WEEK. Part Two: Live at Carnegie Hall 2006

Put the needle on the record....


Ornette Coleman Quartet +1
Live at Carnegie Hall June 16, 2006
CD-R : 2006

OC, saxophone, trumpet, violin; Tony Falanga, acoustic bass; Greg Cohen, acoustic bass; Al MacDowell, electric bass; Denardo Coleman, drums.

We are incredibly pleased to present the first recordings of Ornette Coleman’s extraordinary new band – which features three bassists. In many ways, this group represents the culmination of Ornette’s musical journey, seamlessly blending elements of his acoustic music and his experiments in classical forms and textures with his abiding sense of funk. It’s simply jaw-dropping stuff.

We thank the anonymous soul who recorded Ornette’s recent Carnegie Hall gig and slipped the results under our door to share with everyone. These recordings are surprisingly clear and, despite the pervasive room tone, you can get a good sense of the band’s singular drive and dynamics. One hopes official recordings of this group will be released soon. They’re already a significant part of jazz history.

A few quick words about the tracks: This version of Ornette’s timeless classic “Lonely Woman” is spine-tingling. Even more spellbinding and haunting than the original. Love the Middle Eastern tonalities. (It was the concert’s encore.) “New Composition #1″ showcases the band in breakneck mode. There’s a wickedly twisted melody, screaming duet between Ornette and bassist Falanga, and then a brief trumpet solo. The climax arrives with Ornette’s fiery violin solo. Forget Ornette Plays Tenor, where’s Ornette Plays Violin?!? “New Composition #2″ is an incredibly nuanced performance of a bittersweet ballad that seems to allude at one point to the “Star Spangled Banner.” Note Falanga’s weeping bowed bass and Al MacDowell’s pitch-perfect, guitar-like chordal accompaniment.


For more information about Ornette’s new group, we now turn over the page to the estimable Harry Lime(wire):

Like J. D. Salinger or the late Stanley Kubrick, Ornette maintains a veil of mystery and reclusiveness around himself.� The last 10 years has been the longest period in his career without a new album. But, as evidenced by his most recent performances at Carnegie Hall, in 2004 and 2006, his creative genius and artistic drive have not laid fallow.

Ornette first unveiled his two bass quartet in 2004 and showed that he could still provide audiences with a revelation made of pure sound. Denser and more idiosyncratic than I could have imagined, the music was strong stuff – a 200-proof distillation of the harmolodic concept he’d been developing for the past 50 years. As the band seamlessly wove their way through a dozen or so songs, each one bleeding into the next, I began to feel that maybe not since the original quartet, had a group of musicians better understood how to speak in his musical language.

Denardo Coleman’s de facto inclusion in Ornette’s group, long ago a novelty, has evolved into a sublime player, contributing a swirling collage of contrapuntal rhythms. He seems like his father’s familiar – quiet and observant, one step ahead of his every intention. But, most fascinating was Ornette’s choice of two relatively unknown but seasoned “studio” upright bassists to complete the other half of his new band.

In every way they seem polar opposites: Greg Cohen is a tall, laconic Los Angeles native. His playing is just as relaxed, even on the most fleet of tempos. He plays pizzicato almost exclusively – rooted and full bodied – but never solos. On the other side of the stage resides Tony Falanga, a stocky and intense Brooklynite who employs a virtuoso arco technique. Falanga’s voice is more prominent and he’ll often double Ornette on melodies.

Cohen’s main claim to fame is as a member of Tom Waits’ band from the 70s through the 90s. A list of his other gigs reads like a typical studio musician’s resume: Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Tricky, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts, Donovan, Crystal Gayle, Bob Dylan, Richie Havens and Lou Reed. Falanga studied classical bass at Julliard and jazz at Berklee College of Music. His credits include the New York Concertino, the Tchaikovsky Chamber Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis and Jim Hall.

The point is this: these two career accompanists combine to provide Ornette with first-rate chops and ego-less, almost telepathic support. One can easily see them as embodying the best qualities of Ornette’s two favorite bass players – Charlie Haden and David Izenzon.

For his 2006 Carnegie Hall appearance, even before the concert began Ornette proved that he was not done experimenting. Standing on the stage along with the two upright basses was an electric bass. Ever wondered what band needs three basses? The answer is, clearly, every band. Although a last minute addition (he didn’t make it into the program), Prime Time veteran Al MacDowell brought everything full circle. Here was the missing link in Ornette’s sonic evolution.


For a detailed, blow-by-blow account of this concert, you can do no better than Steve Smith’s nuanced report, filed shortly after the gig at his always-worthwhile Night After Night blog.

And there’s a revealing interview with Coleman over at Bill Shoemaker’s estimable Point of Departure journal, which originally ran in JazzTimes on the occasion of the release of OC’s last proper album… in 1995. Ornette on the subject of the “caste system in sound”:

When you think of classical, jazz, folk, or ethnic music, most people think in racial terms rather than in descriptions of what they like. You don’t describe things you like by race; you describe them with the words that show how you recognize what it is and who put it together. But in music, rock represents white, jazz represents black, classical music represents Europeans, and on down the line. But all the music that’s played in America is really played with the same exact notes that come from the European system. It’s five years from the year 2000 and I don’t think any ethnic group, regardless of how it relates to its and past and its roots, is getting their full freedom of expression in this system.

Category Ornette Coleman

17 Responses to ORNETTE COLEMAN WEEK. Part Two: Live at Carnegie Hall 2006

  1. Really fine reporting here, and it goes without saying that it’s nice to hear the music again, too. But with regard to the assertion that Greg Cohen’s best-known credit is as a Tom Waits sideman, wouldn’t you agree that in jazz (and especially out-jazz) circles, Cohen’s at least as well known for playing in John Zorn’s Colemanesque quartet Masada for all these years? (Apologies if I’m not recognizing the feel of my leg being pulled…)

  2. Thanks for sharing this vital new music.

  3. Wow. Thanks for this incredible sound.
    Ornette is still the master!

  4. Steve – You’re absolutely right about Cohen’s Masada credit. That’s not the feel of your leg being pulled but of our faces turning red.

    For whatever it’s worth, I spoke to “Harry Lime(wire)” who says that he had discounted the Masada connection more to make the point that Cohen was better known as a sideman than as someone who led his own band, played his own music, etc.

    Anyhow appreciate the comment and your setting the record straight on Cohen’s jazz cred.

  5. Thanks for this – great music and a great blog! I saw Ornette C last year in London with the two bass quartet and he/they were awesome… thanks again…

  6. Hi Rod,
    As someone who has made wordsandmusic a regular destination, I was glad to see your comment. Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind mention over at your place. And of course for the music….

  7. Great stuff…I think I understand the three bass set-up…especially when I read the news.

  8. Here’s the page for the upcoming Ornette album – http://www.bighassle.com/publicity/a_ornette_coleman.html and some lovely pics of the man himself.

  9. Thanks for posting. New Composition #2 is actually an old one. It first surfaced as “New York” on a bootleg from a 1968 Italian concert.

  10. Thanks for the Sound Grammar link, 11thvol., and yeah, those are wonderful portraits.

    And really appreciate the i.d., B. Clugston. Looks like those ’68 Italian recordings are now available in non-bootleg form, as THE LOVE REVOLUTION, albeit from the somewhat questionable Gambit label.
    The Amazon page for this is: http://snipurl.com/u37c.

  11. Went to this show: the best I’ve ever seen. Thanks so much for these!

  12. Awsome-I was not able to attend this show and have been kicking myself ever since-thanks for the post!

  13. I’ve been amazed and gratified by the response to Ornette’s new music. And I just wanted to say thanks to the fellas at Destination-Out for allowing me to share it. It’s a great privilege to be able witness an artist in his golden years still creating vital and original work.

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    Albert Sarko

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