Ornette Coleman: ireelng jazz
playing. He hung out on the West Coast for most of the 1950s, working a series of menial jobs while developing his concepts in countless practice sessions. When the California label Contemporary released Something Else! in 1958, it was immediately seen as a radical new direction for jazz.
The real ruckus, however, began when Ornette arrived in New York to play an engagement at the 5 Spot. It began as a week, grew to six months, and divided the musical community down the middle. Atlantic Records took advantage of the furore to sign the saxophonist, and the series of albums which he fired out between 1959 and 1961 not only established his ideas as a central fixture in the new musical landscape, but also helped to inaugurate the free jazz movement ofthe 19603.
What most offended ears attuned to Western ideas of melody, harmony and rhythm was Coleman’s total lack of interest in the staples of the form. Musical rules, he says, ‘are nothing’, mere conventions to be swept aside in the search for originality and a new direction. He found that direction very early, and has never deviated from it in his exploration of a linear way of approaching musical unison, in which the various elements have an equal role. Eventually, he began to codify his theories as Harmolodics.
‘The structure I have always used in my music is the one I now call Harmolodic, which has wider implications than simply music. In musical terms, though, it means that the elements which operate on a composition or an improvised form of music have an equal relationship to the results of the performance. That is what each of the guys who
play in my band have to do, and it is a matter of how they take the composition and utilise it to the best of their natural ear, and their own concept of composing as well.’
The freely-ﬂoating harmonies and asymmetric metre of his music takes a bit of getting used to, but many of those who had found his acoustic quartets amenable enough to their ears found their loyalties further tested in the electric frenzy of Prime Time. The improvised solos became more and more difficult to disentangle from the increasingly dense ensemble texture, with its twinned guitar-bass-drum format, but that is precisely as intended.
‘All the years that I have been writing and playing with bands, I have tried to achieve a concept where composition and improvisation are on an equal level. When I first put Prime Time together. the guitar appeared to me to be the instrument that had the widest sound when you play a melody. and by using two I could have a much fuller sound for the things I was composing.
‘Electric is just another label which the musical caste system perpetuates. Nobody calls bands who are playing what is called ‘rock music‘ an electric band, but it is used as a term to put down anyone who uses electric instruments in other contexts. The instrument is still the instrument, and it is just another way of putting people down by putting them in a category which has nothing to do with what they are doing musically.‘
More recently, he has re-introduced an acoustic element into Prime Time, with tabla player Badal Roy replacing one of the drummers. The newest line-up, though, contains another surprise. Over the years, Coleman has written for everything from saxophone to symphony orchestra, but the one thing conspicuous by its absence has been piano. Why, then, has he decided to add keyboard player David Bryant to the band at this time?
‘Well, so many keyboard players ask me why I didn’t use piano, but I just never had a piano player who could play Harmolodics. One day, though, this young man knocked on my door and started studying with me, and after he had a grasp of the theory and philosophy of it, I decided to hire him because I didn’t want anyone thinking I was leaving any instruments out. Piano had always been used to give direction to improvisers, but I found out that I could use it just as another sound in the music.’
The saxophonist’s most recent project has been playing— in entirely typical fashion — on the soundtrack of David Cronenberg’s film Naked Lunch, where he took particular pleasure in the fact that composer Howard Morse ‘never told me how to play or what to play, just when’. With such a singular talent, it would be hard to envisage any other approach.
Ornette Coleman and Prime Time are at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh on Mon 27.
Taking their name trom the poet Robert Tannahill and the weaving trade, two things most associated with the town oi Paisley, The Tannahill Weavers came together in the early 70s, evolving out oi sessions in the town’s pubs. Back In Edinburgh last week to record another album, Phil Smlllle talked about the current line-up oi one oi Scotland’s longest-lasting bands.
‘Kenny Forsyth has been with us a year now, and he's the youngest, but a great player. He’s irom the Vale oi
.Atholl Pipe Band, which, llyou know
anything about piping, is a deiinite statement about his ability. Theiriorthcomlng album, as yet untitled, is ‘very much in the Tanny style, with maybe a bit more keyboards,’ said Smlille. ‘The music has changed over the years; still basically Scottish with irish and other Celtic styles cominging in. I think that it’s become more controlled, or perhaps the control has to do with age. ‘We play so little in Scotland that
The Tannahill Weavers
people who last heard us a decade ago will be surprised at the difference. The musicianship has improved, but the old energy is still there.’
With iiddler John Martin oi Ossian and Easy Club lame now a member at the group, a couple oi BBC Television appearances as Eddl Reader’s backing band, and a lew iolk iestivai appearances last year, Scottish audiences have been catching up with the lact that the Tannahills are no longer a thrash pub iolk outtlt.
Just back irom a seven-week tour at Holland and Germany, the boys will be heading oil on their eleventh US tour iaterthis year. Their last CD, Cullen Bay, is in the shops, their latest will be released on Green Linnet in September, but as Roy cheeriuily says, ‘You should see us live. That's what we’re really known lor- our live gigs.’ (Norman Chalmers)
The Tannahill Weavers play George Square Theatre, Edinburgh on Sat 25.
Allan lloldsworih Allan Holdsworth is not the lirst musician to lind himsell held in high esteem by his peers but generally overlooked by the wider public. While acknowledging that being named as the best in the business by stadium-illling guitarists like Eddie Van llaien and Gary Moore is liatterlng, it makes his own low proille even more irustrating.
‘Yeah, but I never really expect the kind at music i play to make a lot at money anyway,’ he says. ‘What is lrustrailng is that i believe the music could lind a bigger audience it they heard it, but they are never exposed to it because at the way that record
companies and radio stations operate.’ it would be easy to dismiss such views as sour grapes, but they happen to contain a large element oi truth. Holdsworth’s particular iuslon oi jazz-based improvisation with bright orchestral textures and iuslon rhythms are by no means inaccessible, however technically devastating to guitarists.
Born in Bradiord, he worked with the likes oi Solt Machine, Liielime and Gong in the 70s, but has led his own IOU outtlt since 1980. The irony is that he is a reluctant guitarist who actually wanted to be a saxophone player, and claims that he is always trying ‘to make the guitar sound like something else, because I never really liked guitar very much. By the time I tried horn, though, and later violin, it was too late to change!
The closest he has come is the breath-control lacllily on the Synth-Axe guitar synthesiser which he has experimented with since the mid-80s. He has now abandoned it, however, citing Synth-Axe’s lack oi back-up support as the problem, and is looking ior another such instrument to help him iurther the compositional possibllites oi his music. (Kenny Mathieson)
Allan Holdsworth is at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh on Sat 2.
The List 24 April — 7 May 1992 33