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We love you, Ornette!

June 24, 2009

OK, anticipation met and exceeded. I could just stack up superlatives here, but both Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and Ornette Coleman’s second gig at Meltdown last weekend have been widely and well reviewed – Haden here, and here, and Ornette splendidly here. John Fordham’s commentary on Haden seems to have escaped capture on the Guardian website, but may also be around.

Things to say? I now like the Bad Plus (supporting Haden), who struck me as much more appealing musical than on last hearing – less determinedly tricksy, more open, flowing and spontaneous. Still have reservations about the over-detailed drumming, though.

Carla Bley is some kind of genius as an arranger, transforming what are sometimes pretty slight tunes into miniature masterpieces. And fascinating to hear a band with a majority of London-based players really capture the Liberation Orchestra sound. The orchestra has had extraordinary personnel over its four recordings (five if you count Live in Montreal). This one worked just fine. Special commendation, as others say, for John Parricelli on guitar who played brilliantly on every piece.

And yes, there was a bit of a hiatus when it became apparent that Mr C. would not join Haden on stage on Saturday, though it didn’t detract too much from an astonishing evening – we had had an hour and a half of great music by then.

Also added to the anticipation for those of us lucky enough to come back for more on Sunday. Would Charlie show for Ornette? Yes, he did – after a Coleman show as vigourous and compelling as any I can recall from the four or five times I have heard the man on stage. To hear him revisiting old tunes is a rare pleasure, and one I never expected to enjoy. I suppose it was entirely predictable that he and Haden’s duet would begin and end with Lonely Woman. But who cares? It made me very happy – I’m smiling as I type three days later. “We love you Ornette”, someone shouted at the end. I always did, but I think I love him even more now. Just wedded to the cutting edge music of fifty years ago, I guess…   Strangely moving, though, to see a five minute standing ovation in the Festival Hall for an old man who was denounced as a fraud and a charlatan by people with closed ears all those decades ago. It was a kind of Ornette Coleman lifetime achievement concert, but not only that. His own playing, when it is on the spot, has undiminished power and hardly any less invention (OK, there are licks, but they are HIS licks) than the records bring us from half a century ago. This is music that makes life worth living. Long may he go on!

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