Live: Ornette Coleman, Regaling Jazz At Lincoln Center With Whatever’s At Hand


Ornette Coleman
Jazz at Lincoln Center
Saturday, September 26

One rad thing about being quite possibly the most revered jazz musician alive is you can play whatever you want, in terms of both songs and instrumentation, which explains why Ornette Coleman, holding forth in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s gorgeous Rose Theater, plays saxophone, trumpet, and violin in the first two minutes of his first song, “Following the Sound,” both the trumpet and violin for about 20 seconds apiece. He picks up the former periodically throughout the night, on a whim, out of pique or boredom; he never touches the latter again.

JALC does not normally traffic in music this defiantly noisy, messy, violent, free. But Coleman, perhaps the One Great Exception, is welcomed as a conquering hero, bathing in luxuriant applause and multiple standing ovations throughout this 90-minute set of short, blunt, thrillingly chaotic, bass-heavy jams (Tony Falanga on upright, Al MacDowell on electric), with his son Denardo bashing away on drums, jagged shards from his drumsticks occasionally spraying out behind him, even during the ballads.

Though not conventionally simple or saccharine in any sense, those ballads are particularly arresting tonight: Fifty (!) years on, “Lonely Woman” still thrills and bookends nicely with early highlight “Sleep Talking,” from 2006’s Pulitzer- and Voice Jazz Poll-winning Sound Grammar, trafficking in both eerie beauty and profound unease, Ornette and his two bassists enthusiastically vying to out-melancholy one another as Denardo rumbles onward. No need for violin this time, but it’s comforting just to know it’s there.