|Ornette Coleman at LJF2011
Photo Credit: Edu Hawkins
(Royal Festival Hall, Nov 20th. Closing night of LJF2011. Review by Jon Turney)
Listen hard enough, and you can still almost feel the vibe from Ornette Coleman’s triumphant performance to close the Meltdown festival he curated on the South Bank in 2009. So would his reappearance on the last day of the LJF live up to that night of standing ovations and cries of “we love you, Ornette?” Hell, yes.
This was a reversion to the great man’s usual show, if you like. No Charlie Haden duet. No Flea from the Chili Peppers adding bass to Turnaround (in fact, unusually, no Turnaround). No wailing interlude from Master Musicians of Jajouka. The absence of guests gave a clearer view of the remarkable understanding between Coleman and his two long-standing bass players – Tony Falanga, thunderously emphatic on acoustic bass, and Al MacDowell, whose fast-fingered electric bass sounds more like guitar. It is perhaps a little like having Ornette’s contrasting bassists of old, Charlie Haden and Scott LaFaro, at the same time. Falanga is Haden, typically keeping solid time and underpinning the leader’s shifting line, MacDowell is LaFaro, skipping around in lightning fast commentary-cum-anticipation alongside the man with the plastic alto sax.
The three together make a tight-knit trio, supported by Denardo Coleman behind the drums. Denardo, a drummer it is easy to hear too much of, exhibited an unusually light touch for much of the evening, using his cymbals and brushes to good effect. Some of the bluesy ballads still had backbeats, but they were fine too.
The quartet’s single set lasted over an hour and a half, with rarely a dull moment. Most numbers were short, but the Coleman song book is long. We had plenty from the very beginning of his recording career – sometimes pretty much as they were then, sometimes reworked a little. Round Trip, from a little later, was a welcome favourite, and Latin Genetics as jaunty as ever. Coleman stuck mainly to alto, the trumpet and violin excursions being a bit perfunctory these days. His intonation is occasionally more wayward, too– hardly a problem in this music – and he makes a few more squeaks, but the keening, swooping tone is largely intact. In mid-set, he eased off a little, allowing MacDowell to state themes and confining himself to a few flurries and trademark licks as the bass players explore the tune. But by the end he was back in the driving seat, signalling the switches of direction each number took. These are not as unexpected, or as inventive, as fifty years ago. But to me the effect was still as fresh, as invigorating as ever.
At 81, the man’s urge to play seems inexhaustible. And at set’s end, the clamour for an encore eventually brought him back for the customary reminder that he is one of jazz’s peerless melodists. Lonely Woman, played against softly plucked acoustic bass, became a farewell benediction.