Ornette Coleman – Soapsuds Soapsuds Artists House AH 6 (1979)
Although bassist Charlie Haden had left Ornette’s regular group, the two reunited for a series of duo recordings in the late 1970s. A couple tracks appear on Haden’s own Closeness and The Golden Number and the rest make up Ornette’s Soapsuds Soapsuds. Here, Ornette records on tenor sax for the first time since Ornette on Tenor a decade and a half earlier. The most striking aspect of this music is that it is completely different from that of his Prime Time band around this era. Prime Time largely eliminated shifts in tempo, and minimized the use of melody to guide/facilitate harmonic choices. To this listener, that makes Soapsuds superior, because it avoids the simplistic “new age” cyclical rigidity embedded in Prime Time’s music and instead picks up where Ornette had left off with Science Fiction, his last small group album before the Prime Time years. Haden was quite simply the best bassist Ornette ever performed with in terms of being able to develop his own independent harmonic and melodic cues that worked alongside Ornette’s own playing without being beholden to what Ornette was doing — though bassist David Izenzon came close in his own way!
The album opens with “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” the theme song to a satirical daytime soap opera TV show. Ornette plays with clear legato phrasing in a way strikingly similar to David Murray‘s playing on a rendition of “Over the Rainbow” with Sunny Murray & The Untouchable Factor from the same era released on Wildflowers 1. It is a great performance, with clear melodic statements but also irreverent disregard for the sanctity of the melody or the original harmonics of the composition. The intimate, romanticized tone paired with the ironic re-appropriation of elements of popular culture also fits well within the context of the “loft jazz” scene that was in full swing at the time, inspired by Ornette’s Artists House loft endeavor on Prince Street in New York earlier in the decade. Side two of the album is slightly less memorable. The performances are solid but the melodic content is looser and doesn’t stick in your head as much.
This album was released on the Artists House label, which was started by Ornette’s manager/attorney/producer John Snyder. The label paid higher-than-normal royalties to artists, gave them complete artistic control, and manufactured albums using heavy card stock and virgin vinyl. Basically, it was a label committed to artistic integrity rather than investor profits. It was a relatively short-lived endeavor, and it’s unusual policies have been at least partly responsible for the lack of reissues — as of this writing, the album is out of print.
I consider this album a solid effort, and a mildly unique album in kind of a low key, unassuming way. Much of Ornette’s music features busy tempos, while there is little or none of that here. The duo format also lends a sparseness to the sound that presents a more extreme minimalism than other slightly minimalist trio recordings from the mid-1960s and 1990s. I also welcome the fact that Ornette revives the musical theories that, in my opinion, he abandoned and betrayed with Prime Time, a band that fell prey to the “Tyranny of Structurelessness” much more than Ornette ever publicly admitted. On the other hand, this album seems to travel familiar ground but doesn’t quite rise to the level of Ornette and Haden’s best work, though the track “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” certainly does.
Ornette Coleman & Prime Time – Opening the Caravan of Dreams Caravan of Dreams CDP85001 (1986)
Presented on this album are live recordings of Ornette and his Prime Time band performing for the opening of the Caravan of Dreams club/cultural center in Ornette’s home town of Fort Worth Texas. This is basically an extension of the same funk/R&B and free jazz fusion that the group had performed and recorded in the past. Though this particular set of performances has a more raw and visceral tone than the group’s last studio album, Of Human Feelings. The band gets to wail away with each band member going in his own direction and it kind of makes some intuitive sense that facilitating this is their objective. Yet they also come together for joint or “unison” statements on songs like “City Living” and “Compute.” One commentator referred to this as a riff hybrid format, with repeatable riffs organized within a structure that recalled pre-Prime Time efforts. Ornette’s own performances aren’t perhaps as memorable as elsewhere, though he does deploy a remarkably wide assortment of stylistic flourishes, but the rest of the band sounds tighter than usual. Occasional use of cowbell, a whistle and some kind of electronic beeper add nice little touches too. If you like Prime Time’s music, this is sure to please. If you don’t, this probably won’t change your mind, though to these ears the live setting does make this more engaging than most Prime Time albums.
“After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.”
William S. Burroughs, Painting & Guns
Bonus links: “The Rifle on the Wall: A Left Argument for Gun Rights (Reprise)” (“The political principle at stake is simple: to deny the state the monopoly of armed force, and, obversely, to empower the citizenry, to distribute the power of armed force among the people.”) and Links to books about black armed resistance in freedom movements
Thelonious Monk – 5 by Monk by 5 Riverside RS 12-9305 (1959)
A pretty mediocre Monk album. This is a one-off quintet with a cornet, and there are some new songs debuted. But the playing is rather programmatic. The players generally don’t push themselves, and there is nothing in the way of interesting interactions between them. Monk plays well, but that just isn’t enough. I would place this near the bottom of the pack when ranking the Riverside albums.
Link to an article by Susan Roberts:
“Are Modern Cities Sustainable?”
Bonus quote: “9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.” The Communist Manifesto
“one should . . . admit how problematic it is to anchor one’s political demands to status of victimhood. Is the basic characteristic of today’s subjectivity not the weird combination of the free subject who believes themselves ultimately responsible for their own fate and the subject who bases their argument on their status as a victim of circumstances beyond their own control? Every contact with another human being is experienced as a potential threat – if the other smokes, if he casts a covetous glance at me, he already hurts me; this logic of victimization is today universalized, reaching well beyond the standard cases of sexual or racist harassment.”
Slavoj Žižek, “Sex and ’68: Liberal Movement Revolutionized ‘Sexuality’ But at What Cost?”
Bonus link: “The Politics of Identity”
Link to a book review by Mike Beggs of In the Long Run We Are All Dead: Keynesianism, Political Economy and Revolution by Geoff Mann:
“The Keynesian Counterrevolution”
Bonus links: “The Left in a Foxhole?” (excerpt from Mann’s book) and “Liberalism: An Ideology of Exclusion” (this article rebuts Begg’s discussion of classical and modern liberalism, indicating that the archetype of all forms of liberalism is a politics of exclusion; in this case, merely elevating “the bourgeois and the intelligentsia” above others) and War and Revolution. Rethinking the Twentieth Century and Domenico Losurdo on Two Epidemics and “The Class Struggle on Wall Street” (“The problem [with Keynesianism] is, the rentier doesn’t want to be euthanized. Capital is not going to say, ‘okay, our work here is done, goodbye.’ So to maintain the social position of money-owners, you have to create an artificial shortage of money, and that’s another way of looking at the job of the central bank.”)
“class struggle is ultimately the struggle for the meaning of society ‘as such’, the struggle for which of the two classes will impose itself as the stand-in for society ‘as such’, thereby degrading its other into the stand-in for the non-Social (the destruction of, the threat to, society).
“To simplify: Does the masses’ struggle for emancipation pose a threat to civilization as such, since civilization can thrive only in a hierarchical social order? Or is it that the ruling class is a parasite threatening to drag society into self-destruction, so that the only alternative to socialism is barbarism?” Slavoj Žižek, Afterword to Revolution at the Gates: Selected Writings of Lenin From 1917 (pp. 209-10).