Change of the Century, Cont.

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). ornette.jpg 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. barlow.jpg 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.” autobusk.jpg 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?
fringebeat@independent.com)

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