THE ART OF THE TURNAROUND: Ornette Coleman, the great jazz musician — the greatest, among the living? — first recorded his quirky jewel “Turnaround” on the groundbreaking 1959 album Tomorrow is the Question! (note the operative exclamation point). A catchy almost-blues tune, the song’s twist appears in the chromatically dizzy “turnaround” leading back to the top of the chord pattern, and its sneaky deviation from norms neatly symbolizes Coleman’s brilliance as any.
This year, “Turnaround” returns, dropped like a vintage CARE package amidst new compositions on the thrilling new Coleman album, Sound Grammar. In a way, Coleman is a trickster and a “turnaround” figure in jazz history. For nearly 50 years, he has carved out a private path through the old musical language of the music, guided by a kindly rebel spirit all his own.
With his keening alto sax sound piercing and charging the air, the now 76-year-old Coleman is heard embraced by the swarming and surprisingly natural low end rumble of dual acoustic bassists Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga. Organic notions of swing and drum color anchor the band from the drum kit of Ornette’s son and longtime musical ally Denardo Coleman.
In this later phase of Ornette’s musical life, in which appearances and recordings are fewer and farther between but no less important, Coleman is exploring the two bass hit concept. It may seem strange on paper, but doubling up on bass may be an exciting trend: we’ve seen it done recently by artists as disparate as vocalist Tierney Sutton (whose band has had alternating bassists for years) and at Campbell Hall recently, in the form of Lou Reed’s odd and fascinating two-bassist experiment. Coleman brought his double double bass band to Disney Hall’s resonant quarters a couple of years ago, and it was a memorable encounter, as usual.
Coleman’s first new album in five years, Sound Grammar is destined to wind up on countless jazz Top Ten lists, and it won’t just be a knee-jerk gesture for Ornette-obsessive critics bemoaning the lack of invention in current jazz circles. Still visionary after all these years, Coleman is making vital music. He’s still seducing us with his folk-meets-avant-garde manner of musical speaking, and still attaching exclamations to his questions.
NEW KID IN TOWN: It’s not often that Santa Barbara welcomes a composer of international repute and innovative reputation. Clarence Barlow qualifies as that kind of cultural newcomer to herald. Barlow (pictured), a noted composer and electronic music figure who has also written music software, recently took over UCSB’s long-vacant Corwin Chair position, originally held by Peter Fricker and then passed on to the beloved William Kraft. Kraft did much during his decade at UCSB to spice things up around this town, including creating the Ensemble for Contemporary Music (ECM), keeper of the new music flame with concerts at Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall.
An official Barlow celebration comes next spring, when the University’s “Primavera” festival toasts his music, but the next ECM concert, on Thursday, December 7, will give a teaser preview of his wares. Born in Calcutta of British stock, in 1945, Barlow studied with Karlheinz Stockhausen and others, and spent many years working and teaching in Germany — including at the legendary Darmstadt — and in Amsterdam. Though entrenched in the world of wires and digital thinking, Barlow has also produced a large body of music for “traditional” physical instruments, and also concocted the pitch and rhythm generator software called “Autobusk.” His arrival at UCSB comes at a propitious time, as the computer music energies of the CREATE department have heated up.
Reviewing a Barlow program in the Village Voice in 2000, Kyle Gann noted that “Barlow’s musical logic is like Lewis Carroll, luring you down a rabbit hole into a wonderland whose charm is that things only seem to make sense; or else, conversely, his nonsense only makes sense in retrospect.” We’re duly intrigued. (got e? email@example.com)