EmptyRoyce Hall, UCLA, Westwood
Wednesday, Sept. 26
Ornette Coleman was the guy who was out before it was in to be out. Now he's going back in, and that of course is out.
In his recital Wednesday night at Royce Hall in Westwood, he was at his most enjoyable, with the stress on the joy part, when he got into some straight or only slightly bent blues changes. Not to say that he wasn't having fun with the other stuff, but here you felt a little shock at what a great blues improviser he can be.
With the loving and unflagging support of his son Denardo, who played killer drums all night, the 77-year-old father held tight to the changes and soared above them in camp melancholy, almost like his old boss from the 1950s, the late R&B guitarist Pee Wee Crayton. He even threw in a quote from "If I Loved You," like Long Tall Dexter Gordon used to do on the scene here back then.
There was plenty of jazz in "Turnaround," of course, Coleman's Monk-like piece that has become part of the conventional jazz repertoire. It was elaborated upon in a somewhat unconventional way, each member of the ensemble taking his own lonely, brush-studded path only to be joined by one or more of the others in an appreciative duet if he was not careful.
Tony Falanga, one of the three bass players aboard, began a piece called "Bach" with a growly, devil-may-care partita, which sounded unconventional enough in that register, though the substance was several centuries old. Ornette helped him out for a couple of bars with a little screech trumpet.
Falanga followed this with a rapturous intro to another tune, "Those That Know Before It Happens." Ornette decorated the output with some textbookish licks of a quite formal character.
His writing in the latter part of the 90-minute, no-intermission concert was undeniably allusive to the jazz past, particularly on "Taking the Cure," which began with a riff that could have served Jimmy Lunceford well.
Coleman got out his fiddle for "Song X," which started off with another easily decipherable riff. Then he got out his trademark white alto saxophone again and sailed along at a certain point for three or four bars in a lazy, slow, New Orleans song style, transported and paying no attention to the hustling pace of the others. Duel bassist Charnett Moffett did some funky things here when it was his turn to solo, prodded by bass guitarist Al Macdowell, who brought his wah-wah pedal to bear.
Like "Song X," "Song World" reminded you of a German Christmas polka, a jolly little thing that proved once again that you can't escape that old devil form. You might as well give up and go back in. Wednesday's material was from Coleman's new album whose title seems to hint at that: "Sound Grammar."