By Stanley Zappa
Just as Harold Bloom can enjoy Freud as “the central imagination of our age”, one doesn't have to be a musician to enjoy The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization by George Russell. The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization
Toward the end of the book, Russell spells “it” out metaphorically with The “River Trip” Explanation of Jazz Improvisational Styles:
“Let's take a large river, like the Mississippi for example, and call it a tune. Now suppose the small towns along its shores are chords, and the larger towns are not only chords, but tonic stations as well. (Tonic stations are points in any chord-built composition to which two or more chords tend to resolve.)
Now let's say you're Coleman Hawkins and you're going to take a trip down he river on a steamer...this steamer is a local and will make stops at all the towns along the river....
Ornette Coleman also will make the trip down the river. His conveyance, Like Coltrane's, will be a rocket ship...Once his rocket ship jets off from St. Louis and soars into the chromatic sphere, it may not touch ground again until it has hit New Orleans”...He may remain aloft indefinitely, allowing his ideas to resolve themselves naturally.”
Now that Virgin Galactic is booking flights into space, Coleman doesn't sound so “space aged” any more. In fact, with Reunion 1990, The Ornette Coleman Quartet inherits the earth—and that was 21 years ago. Since 1990 Coleman released Tone Dialing and Sound Museum – Hidden Man and Three Women, two of my favorite recordings of all time by anyone, ever. The 90's were a good decade for Coleman and if you told me that the 90's was the future he began to remember on may 22nd, 1959 I'd believe you. The Shape of Jazz to Come. Coleman was right.
Reunion, as you may have read in Burning Ambulance (for one) isn't for the audiophile--just the listener. Of course everyone plays great--one long shimmering virtuoso cadenza of glimmering excellence from beginning to end. Haden is a real stand out. His solos are fully realized pieces unto themselves, employing the full sonic spectrum of the instrument to the point where he even whips out ol' John Hardy. Ornette, then 60 years old, sounds like a glorious ad-mixture of Fred “Curley” Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon—elated and elastic yet strong and commanding. Same for Don Cherry and Billy Higgins who, on this outing, also fly at it full throttle, in a similar state of euphoria and grace. And why shouldn't they? They made it--in every sense of the term.
If you've ever cared about the music of Ornette Coleman (or Charley Haden, or Billy Higgins or Don Cherry) even a little, take out your credit card, buy this recording and pay that portion of your credit card bill. If you've never heard Ornette Coleman and you have come looking for a recommendation, you have found one. Start here and work backward.
Even with 11 months to go in the year, I hereby confidently place Reunion squarely within my 2011 top ten.