Ornette's harmolodica

Ornette Coleman

The man from Ft. Worth, and the aesthetic of free jazz

Fort Worth native Ornette Coleman may not be a household brand like Miles or Coltrane outside of jazz circles, but within the music world his name is huge. A revolutionary thinker and composer, he was instrumental in the "free jazz" movement; on his 1961 stereophonic album that bore that name, he put one quartet on the left channel, another on the right channel, and let them improvise freely.

It sounded like chaos to casual listeners and like a coup to jazz traditionalists, but Coleman's aesthetic was rigorously intellectualized. He called his musical theories "Harmolodics," and insisted that they transcended the limits of the jazz world; he composed for string quartets, woodwind quintets, and orchestras. In the '70s, Coleman went to Morocco to collaborate with the Master Musicians of Joujouka, and in later years made landmark records with Pat Metheny and Jerry Garcia.

Current Choice

Ornette Coleman
Sun, Nov 14
Bass Concert Hall
University of Texas, Austin
(512) 477-6060
Coleman's recording has slowed down in recent years, but when he does put something out - 1995's Tone Dialing, the dual 1996 release of Hidden Man and Three Women - he proves that his creativity is a long way from drying up. Some of his live performances in the last decade have been extravagant, multi-night affairs that are site specific - but where Manhattan's Avery Fisher Hall once gave him two nights with the Philharmonic and devoted the next two to his original quartet, his appearance in Austin this weekend looks to be a straightforward concert gig.

Even if the show were limited to 20 minutes and performed from the bottom of a well, though, a chance to see Ornette Coleman is not to be missed by anyone open to the wilder side of jazz.

By John DeFore

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