A list by Syd Fablo and Bruno Bickleby
Born: February 26, 1932, Kingsland, AR, United States
Died: September 12, 2003, Nashville, TN, United States
A list by Syd Fablo and Bruno Bickleby
Born: February 26, 1932, Kingsland, AR, United States
Died: September 12, 2003, Nashville, TN, United States
Recorded at an appearance in Italy in 1990 of the “reunited” Ornette Coleman Quartet, this bootleg has a number of things going for it in spite of the expected lo-fidelity sound. For one, there are some original songs present that do not appear on any official albums, and this bootleg comes from period of years without any official recordings. Second, some of the performances are quite good. The first disc is relatively strong, though the second disc doesn’t really maintain the same level of performance.
Charlie Haden plays like a motherfucker here — this is one of his strongest recordings of the era. Billy Higgins also turns in an above-average performance that surpasses any of his studio turns in Ornette’s band. Ornette plays well as usual, though there is nothing particularly remarkable about his performance here. On the other hand, Don Cherry turns in a substandard effort, and he more often detracts from the songs than contributes to them.
This bootleg is naturally only for Ornette fanatics. But there are a enough highlights to recommend this to those fanatics.
Pavement’s full-length debut album Slanted and Enchanted has remained a critical favorite decades on, sort of the archetype for the kind of indie rock it represented. It reveled in a “lo-fi” aesthetic with tons of slacker charm. Read most reviews of Slanted and Enchanted and you’ll probably be told one or more of the following: a list of influences (The Fall, etc.), personal details about the band members and the history of how the band was formed, and some personal anecdote about how the reviewer discovered or reacted to Pavement. You can read about those things elsewhere. I want to instead write about the cultural significance of Pavement in terms of what they represented in a larger cultural context of the time.
The 1890s were called the “gay 90s” and the 1990s were called the “cynical 90s”. Following a decade of brutally reactionary policy from the like likes Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl, cynicism in the 1990s was very much a kind of coping mechanism. In his important book(s), Kritik der zynischen Vernunft [Critique of Cynical Reason], Peter Sloterdijk described cynicism as “enlightened false consciousness”, a kind of purer strain of opium for the masses. That is just the right description for Pavement’s music. Read interviews with the band at the time and later, as well as any of the various books about 1990s “indie rock” and you’ll find much the same set of concerns about not “selling out”, staying “independent”, and so on. And yet, stop and think about what those things mean. It’s all an open acknowledgement of how shitty things are living under late capitalism. But the response is a kind of mild reformism (“economism” if you will), lessening the harsh impact and trying to stand apart from the worst excesses without really fundamentally changing anything. Their cynicism was a kind of self-preservation effort, by demonstrating an awareness of the shittiness all around, and thereby implying that they stood apart from it. Elaborating on more or less the same concept of disavowal, Mark Fisher wrote,
“Capitalist ideology in general, . . . consists precisely in the overvaluing of belief — in the sense of inner subjective attitude — at the expense of the beliefs we exhibit and externalize in our behavior. So long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange.”
Stephen Malkmus‘s lyrics are sort full of non-sequiturs and almost surrealist imagery. The lyrics, delivered with cracked, non-virtuoso singing, are a big part of what makes up the band’s sound. There is a charm about them. These seem like slackers worth rooting for. On songs like “Here,” Malkmus sings, “I was dressed for success / but success it never comes.” This is sort of what sociologists call “strain theory,” when there is a gap between social expectations and really existing conditions and actualities. Different songs here might represent different types of reactions to social strain: retreatism, rebellion, innovation. The second track, “Trigger Cut / Wounded-Kite at :17,” perfectly fits one of Sloterdijk’s phrases: “coquettish melancholy”.
The music is full of noisy guitar distortion. The drums are a lot looser than on later Pavement albums, and this is album is altogether more legitimately lo-fi than later recordings. Alex Chliton‘s Like Flies on Sherbert is an important precedent for Pavement’s aesthetic in this regard.
Some of the songs seem like parodies of grunge era rock music. This is where the “enlightened false consciousness” angle gets a bit specific. Pavement seems to be parodying the “false consciousness” of others. But doing so doesn’t escape this false consciousness, and that was precisely Peter Sloterdijk’s critique of cynicism — it still retains a connection to that which it purports to reject, and what it does retain, subtly and unspoken, is the same lust for power and prestige, just through different techniques and strategies. Put another way, a parody of false consciousness merely steps away from the most extreme false consciousness while remaining within it, which is quite different than turning from the wrong path to the right path. If we look back to the song “Here,” it certainly contains a critique of the so-called “myth of meritocracy” of the neoliberal era, but it also displays a casual acceptance of it as well. There is a reference to joining in prayer (religion being the original “opium of the masses”), and to waiting, as if someone else will swoop in and change things.
On this debut, Pavement was mostly channeling musical pop culture of the present and past. They had certainly studied up on everything good about 1980s “college” rock. But they were putting their own stamp on it all. That was evident with the album cover — a trashed re-purposing of an old album cover. Later on, Malkmus’ lyrics got a bit sharper. By the time of Brighten the Corners, he was witheringly good at capturing the existential anxiety of trying to manage socially imposed expectations, personal desire, ambition, and resigned acceptance of limited possibilities. But on this debut, the raw energy is a bigger factor.
While it is important to note the band’s cynicism, there was more to their music than just that. Actually, one of the very reasons they remain one of the most lauded bands of their day is that they used their cynicism to open up a space to slip in some rather earnest reflections on the sorts of anxieties and coping mechanisms that middle-class, educated white people tended to rely on in a time when opportunities were starting to diminish and expectations were being (somewhat forcibly) adjusted downward. Pavement didn’t rage and despair about it in a nihilistic way quite like, say, Nirvana. They took a more contemplative approach. The ironic distance and cynicism Pavement used was kind of a dead end (just like nihilistic grunge/alt rock). It accomplished the opposite of what it intended. But I think their music represents kind of a necessary wrong move, to enable those who followed to make the right moves — or, at least, better moves.
Well, I might as well succumb to one of the typical Pavement album review cliches, and talk about how I was introduced to them. In the late 1990s I was involved in student radio. A woman (Nora?) worked at the station who was middle-aged, and I think was in a graduate program at the time. Everybody loved her because she was one of those gracious, erudite types, who treated us young college kids with respect, lending her wisdom to us but seeking to learn from us too. When talking to her one day she admitted to having fallen out of the loop on what was the latest “in” music, and asked what band was like the new Pavement. I had never heard of Pavement at the time, so I had to admit I did not know. But her inquiry encouraged me to find out. Though I made only a cursory investigation at the time. I did keep hearing more about them though. At another school, a classmate of mine who knew I wrote music reviews for the campus paper asked what I thought about Pavement. His all-time favorite album was Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Then a few years later a friend got me a ticket to see James Carter‘s Gold Sounds project perform — this was a jazz band covering Pavement tunes. I felt somewhat bad for not sharing my friend’s deep knowledge and appreciation of the songs, even if I already had an interest in Carter. Anyway, now with a much deeper appreciation of Pavement’s music, I can say that Brighten the Corners remains my favorite of theirs, though Slanted and Enchanted is runner-up and is definitely the place to start with this important 1990s rock outfit.
Jacques Attali – Bruits [Noise: The Political Economy of Music (Theory and History of Literature, Volume 16] (Brian Massumi trans., University of Minnesota Press 1985 )
Jacques Attali’s Bruits [Noise] was first published in French in 1977, then in English translation in 1985. It presents a long-term history of musical development, based on Attali’s novel theory of distinct stages of historical development in music.
As historiography, this bears much resemblance to other characteristically French stuff from back in the day as Henri Lefebvre‘s Critique of Everyday Life. The focus on music as an expression of power (and struggles for power) also ends up placing this in a vaguely similar place as Pierre Bourdieu‘s Distinction, as well as Carles and Comolli‘s Free Jazz/Black Power. Additionally, the reliance on stages that structure the political economy of music also bears some similarity to Walter Benjamin’s famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” as well as the “world-systems” school of thought that includes the likes of Immanuel Wallerstein and Giovanni Arrighi.
Attali’s focus on political economics is welcomed, from the standpoint of being something so often overlooked in these sorts of histories (there are some exceptions of course). On the other hand, despite later becoming an economic minister in the French Mitterand administration, Attali’s economic insights here are fairly superficial. That is to say there are occasional quotations and citations, but this is more or less a work of pure theory that spends no significant effort gathering sufficient empirical evidence to test the theory. Moreover, this sort of historiography is naturally very selective, ending up quite obviously Euro-centric (the few token non-European references just confirm this bias). The repeated metaphors and analogies to religious practice — “rituals” especially — are also not nearly as profound as Attali apparently thought them, though his meaning is clear enough that his chosen terminology is not crucial. Despite a few minor errors (like quoting John Cage talking about “furniture music” when Cage was just paraphrasing Erik Satie), and a somewhat polemical tone, Attali offers many insights, mostly through his framework — sentence-for sentence, Bourdieu’s Distinction is packed with way more insights than Attali manages.
Attali still offers a lot of very appealing — if still empirically unsupported — assertions. One great one is his claim that in the 20th Century (“repeating”), the success of particular music is dependent primarily (but not solely) upon it attracting marketing support to generate demand for it. Doesn’t that just seem intuitively correct in the commercial context? He also states the following little gems:
“To my way of thinking, music appears in myth as an affirmation that society is possible. That is the essential thing. Its order simulates the social order, and its dissonance express marginalities.” (p. 29).
“Noise only produces order if it can concentrate a new sacrificial crisis at a singular point, in a catastrophe, in order to transcend the old violence and recreate a system of differences on another level of organization. *** In other words, catastrophe is inscribed in order, just as crisis is inscribed in development. There is no order that does not contain disorder within itself, and undoubtedly there is no disorder incapable of creating order. This covers the dynamics of codes . There remains the question of the succession of noises and orders, and their interferences.” (p. 34).
With respect to the period of “repeating”, he also says:
“Music has thus become a strategic consumption, an essential mode of sociality for all those who feel themselves powerless before the monologue of the great institutions. It is also, therefore, an extremely effective exploration of the past, at a time when the present no longer answers to everyone’s needs.” (p. 100).
In a foreword to the English translation, Fredric Jameson emphasizes how Attali draws from the marxist notion of (economic) base and (cultural) superstructure, but makes a somewhat novel argument about music (in the superstructure) prophetically anticipating changes in the economic base — in this sense, Attali draws from maoism. This is precisely the opposite of what Michael Denning‘s book Noise Uprising: The Audiopolitics of a World Musical Revolution does — and, for me, that was the weakest part of Denning’s book. Denning scrounges around to make his argument that the musical revolution of the early (pre-Depression) electrical microphone era was uniquely tied to the economies of global “port cities”. Denning there insists on the orthodox marxist position of the base determining the superstructure. Because he is wedded to that theoretical framework, it leads him to make some characterizations with pretty flimsy evidence — he never convinced me that port cities played any unique role, though his Noise Uprising book is still very interesting despite that limitation.
Bruits [Noise] is certainly an important statement, one that anyone contemplating the history and economics of music should grapple with in some form, in the same way as with Roland Barthes‘ Critique et vérité [Criticism and Truth].
“The composed concept of the music I write and play is called Harmolodics. The packaged definition is a theoretical method not exclusively applied to music. Harmolodics is a noun that can be applied for the use of participating in any form of information equally without erasing or altering the information. In music, the melody is not the lead. The lead is a sequenced unison form which requires anyone to transpose all melodies note for note to their instrument.”
One might still wonder what he really means by the term despite that “definition”. Ornette’s guitarist Bern Nix equated “Harmolodics” to counterpoint. Counterpoint is a concept established in European music.
“Jean Philippe Rameau is recognized as the founder of tonal harmonic theory—the theory developed first to account for music of the eigteenth century, later extended to ninteenth-century repertories. Musicians have been trained for the last two hundred years to perceive music in Rameau’s terms—as sequences of chords—and thus his formulations seem to us self-evident. Before Rameau’s Traité de l’harmonie [Treatise on Harmony] (1722), theories and pedagogical methods dealt principally with two aspects of music: coherence over time (mode) and the channeling of noise in the coordination of polyphonic voices (counterpoint).”
Susan McClary, “Afterword: The Politics of Silence and Sound” in Noise: The Political Economy of Music (Theory and History of Literature Volume 16) (1985).
Ornette’s music often expressed an extremely egalitarian relationship between polyphonic voices. In other words, it indeed sounded like it shared many of the goals of counterpoint. And yet, he had essentially no formal music training, in counterpoint or anything else. So while he was concerned with a return to pre-Rameau concerns with “channeling of noise in the coordination of polyphonic voices” in general, he didn’t follow any of the specific rules of counterpoint. The idea of keeping all elements precisely equal is a newer idea in counterpoint. Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote “Kontra-Punkte” in 1953, which he described as keeping all the voices equal. But Ornette’s approach was more concerned with establishing a melody that unified the performances of multiple musicians who had great freedom over other musical parameters like harmony. Though very much like Stockhausen, he was very interested in giving musicians meaningful choices —“positive freedom”—not just eliminating a few explicit prohibitions while leaving in place engrained habits of thoughts. Ornette once pondered in an interview:
“Do you ever ask yourself if the language that you speak now interferes with your actual thoughts? Can a language of origin influence your thoughts?”
(“The Other’s Language: Jacques Derrida Interviews Ornette Coleman, 23 June 1997,” Les Inrockuptibles No. 115, August 20 – September 2, 1997, Timothy S. Murphy trans, Genre, No. 36, 2004). This was is basically a restatement of the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis of linguistic relativity. It also represented a rejection of hierarchical social formations in favor of a more Rousseauian conception with strong Anarchist tendencies along the lines of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Put another way, the project that is and was “Harmolodics” can be compared with Paulo Freire‘s statement about “critical pedagogy”:
“Cultural action either serves domination (consciously or unconsciously) or it serves the liberation of men and women.”
As to the unconscious aspects of this, there is still the matter Stockhuasen noted:
“The famous anarchism is the ‘spiritual background’ which allows a place for everything and everybody without taking account of the fact that a certain object that you use, let’s say a triad, is not the same as any other sound object that’s less common or less simple. There’s a natural differentiation among things, and if you just leave them the way they fall then they function the way they are, which means some of these elements immediately oppress and dominate others, even acoustically cover others. What remains in your head after hearing such a piece are these few elements which are the most redundant. If there’s no choice, then things create their own hierarchy. If you don’t want to balance out something, you wind up with a nonintegrated situation.”
This is the problem of “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.”
The zen monk Ejo Takata had a keisaku (a wooden stick with a flat end used to strike meditating zen students lapsing in concentration) that was engraved on the striking end with characters that said, “I can’t teach you anything. Learn by yourself—you know!” I like to think that, on its face, “Harmolodics” involved some kind of similar urging to self-directed learning, rather than the passive acceptance of dictated demands. Of course, Ornette would never hit people with sticks! His approach was much more like that of “critical pedagogy”. But one of the enigmas about him was that his compositions were profoundly violent, in their attacks on both the objective/symbolic violence and the systemic/structural violence of the hegemonic culture — just as violent as Gandhi. On the other hand, “Harmolodics” also involved unstated influence, and one of the things that Ornette’s compositions accomplished was to establish a coherent framework for judgments as to value equivalencies of different musical elements. This is very similar to the way the origins of financial accounting and monetary systems involved establishing a framework for equating the values of different commodities. Here it is a matter of establishing value equivalencies for elements like melody, harmony and rhythm, and the various contributions of individual performers. Ornette had a much looser and democratic way of approaching that question than most contemporaries. Though there were still boundaries, mostly established through selection of performers (i.e., deciding who is included and who is excluded from the group), rehearsal format (i.e., the settling of pre-performance “debate”), and the like.
A guide by Syd Fablo, Bruno Bickleby, and Patrick.
This is a guide to the music of Ornette Coleman. Albums are listed chronologically by recording date, broken down into multiple periods of his life and career and supplemented with biographical information. Outtake and various artists collections are shown indented and with smaller font and images. Bootlegs are listed, indented, but images and details are provided for only a few selected bootlegs that are of particular significance. Guest and sideman appearances are listed separately toward the end. Book, film/video/TV, and web site resources about or featuring Ornette are listed at the end. The authors also provide curators’ picks and some other items of interest at the end. While there are some compilations and box sets of Ornette’s work available, note that (with one exception) most focus on only a narrow period of time or are explicitly record label specific — the most significant of the label-specific ones being Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings. It is somewhat unfortunate that many of Coleman’s recordings are currently out of print. Moreover, unlike the deluge of archival, outtake and bonus material issued for certain other famous musical contemporaries of Ornette, there has been comparatively little of such material by him officially released to date.
Birth Name: Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman
Born: March 19, 1930 (or possibly March 9, 1930), Fort Worth, TX.
Died: June 11, 2015, New York, NY.
Ornette received almost no formal musical training, and was a noted autodidact. Reports of him being unable to read music are often exaggerated in order to present him as a kind of primitive musical savant, rather than as someone from humble roots who willfully bucked convention. Though he began playing music professionally while still a teenager, it was not until he was in his late 20s that he recorded as a bandleader and he was almost 30 years old before he found success as a solo act — rather late by typical jazz standards. His music was resisted and disliked by many, but he showed an uncommon amount of “grit” in sticking with it despite adversities and setbacks. Listeners tend to have a “love him or hate him” sort of reaction. Usually described as shy (i.e., introverted), he also struck many as an unusual guy for his mannerisms and outlook on life. He eventually developed his own musical theory that he dubbed “Harmolodics”, which he insisted can be applied to how one conducts their own life and to other artistic forms. Often he described himself as a composer who performs. “Lonely Woman” was his first “Harmolodic” composition, and is perhaps his best-known song. One-time collaborator Pat Metheny said about him, “Ornette is the rare example of a musician who has created his own world, his own reality, his own language – effective to the point where emulation and absorbtion [sic] of it is not only impossible, it is simply too daunting a task for most musicians to even consider.” His career (and fortunes) ebbed and flowed, with periods of intense activities and long stretches of public inactivity. He nonetheless came to be regarded as one of America’s greatest musical innovators. He also had a considerable art collection, and partly due to those interest notable contemporary artworks were reproduced on many of his albums, on the cover, back and/or inserts. At least after achieving career success, he was a dapper dresser, often wearing brightly colored custom made suits. His sister Truvenza (Trudy) Coleman also had a musical career, though she did not work with her brother professionally.
🎷🎷🎷 = top-tier; an essential
🎷🎷 = second tier; enjoyable but more for the confirmed fan; worthwhile after you’ve explored the essentials and still want more
🎷 = third tier; a lesser release, for completists only
The 1960s represented a crucial period for jazz music, with its commercial appeal dropping precipitously, a host of radical new innovations developing, and recording technology reaching an important plateau of sorts. It was an era producing many acclaimed albums, which the album format in general coming into its own during the decade. But even among the many great jazz albums of the era, Intents and Purposes stands out. Bill Dixon was one of the great jazz artists of the 20th century, though for a variety of reasons his name is not particularly well known and his relatively small catalog of recordings has not consistently remained in print. That was somewhat the fate of Intents and Purposes.
Recorded with a large group orchestra, the music is able to realize a wide range of textures and produce rather large swings in dynamics. The pieces tend to, strangely enough, include many highly conventional elements of jazz and classical music. There are clear melodic statements, tightly choreographed harmonies, and even syncopated rhythms. But what makes the album so unique is that those conventional elements are a rather small part of the music as a whole. Dixon places an unusually large emphasis on timbre/texture, space, and compositional movement. There are frequently almost independent statements, such as a passage with a simultaneous trumpet improvisation, string harmonies, a pizzicato bassline, and skittering percussion, each of which might have stood on its own. The way Dixon puts these elements together largely eliminates distinctions between foreground and background. Filmmaker Robert Bresson famously said that while most people considered film the combination of theater and photography, he saw it as the combination of painting and music. With Dixon, he seems to make music that combines philosophy and (wordless) poetry.
It has been noted that Dixon drew substantial influence from the work of Ornette Coleman, whose unique style of composition and performance utilized motive structures (as described by Gunther Schuller in the liner notes to Ornette!). Dixon offers his own take on Coleman’s motivic development. It is fair — and perhaps appropriate — to call Intents and Purposes “harmolodic” music, after Coleman’s portmanteau term for his own artistic theory. Though Coleman tended to always emphasize elements of juxtaposition, while Dixon emphasizes synthesis a bit more. That is evident in how he merges foreground and background, eliminating soloist/accompaniment distinctions. There are also some resemblances here to “third stream” music, such as the collaborative album Jazz Abstractions. Of course, The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra grew out of Dixon’s earlier, less documented efforts and is certainly one of the closest counterparts to this music — compare their self-titled album from the following year.
There is a very non-competitive aspect to this music. It asserts itself through a kind of self-actualization, but resists easy comparisons and the sort of jockeying for recognition and prestige that characterizes most other music. That sort of an outlook describes most of Dixon’s career, in which he spent comparatively more time as an educator, recording infrequently and often merely privately.
More than half a century later, this album still sounds unique and impressive. That is to say it hasn’t aged a day. But that shouldn’t surprise, because while this certainly is a part of the social fabric of its time, it was always a work of unique self-expression that showed no deference to commercial trends or fads.
Song X paired Ornette Coleman with the relatively popular guitarist Pat Metheny, augmented by the multifaceted drummer Jack DeJohnette and Coleman’s frequent collaborators Denardo Coleman and Charlie Haden. Metheny’s music –primarily from his band the Pat Metheny Group — is sometimes derisively referred to as “fuzak”, meaning a kind of jazz/rock fusion that is so dull and unengaging that it resembles “Musak” brand piped-in background music. But whatever might be said about his solo recordings, he really rises to the challenge of playing with Ornette here. For his part, Ornette returns to a style of playing and writing that hadn’t been heard much since the 1960s. These songs have clear melodic content, not just repeatable riffs like with his Prime Time band, and the guitar and saxophone play together in harmony. DeJohnette is great. It is somewhat a shame that this is the only recording of Ornette playing with him. While the cliched 1980s production values are a bit unfortunate, they don’t detract too much from what are otherwise uniformly good performances. I think that is really the key to this album’s success. It doesn’t devote its energies to inventing some kind of “new style” or musical theory. It instead presents excellent new compositions that expand upon the old styles/theories and the musicians all play to the best of their abilities. Anthony Braxton came up with a useful three-part taxonomy for musicians and their work, which was not meant to favor any particular category or categories: restructuralists (i.e., innovators and game-changers), stylists (i.e., expanding on an established framework with a uniquely identifiable perspective), and traditionalists (i.e., preserving and faithfully recreating the language and techniques of the past). Song X represents these musicians performing as “stylists”, even as Ornette had elsewhere established himself as a “restructuralist”. Metheny and Coleman supposedly butted heads when recording the album, in a friendly, constructive way. It seems that friction prevented either of them from coasting on a past reputation, and works in favor of the resulting album.
This is probably my favorite of Ornette’s 1980s albums. I can’t say I’m familiar enough with Metheny to offer a similar comparative view, though this is certainly much better than his prior solo effort Rejoicing (which featured Haden and Billy Higgins, both of whom played with Ornette in the past). Most listeners will want to seek out the expanded Twentieth Anniversary Edition of the album, which adds some very decent bonus tracks.
Sound Museum: Hidden Man (a companion album to Sound Museum: Three Women) is appropriately titled. Like a museum, this is sort of a curated look back at what Ornette had accomplished in his career through the mid-1990s. And yet it also offers a slightly different perspective on his past accomplishments. He is recording with a pianist (Geri Allen) in the most substantial way since the late 1950s. Bassist Charnett Moffett, son of Ornette’s former drummer Charles Moffett, adds understated yet substantial coloring. But what strikes me most about this music is the way Ornette’s trumpet playing resembles that of Bill Dixon so much. That aspect was detectable going back to The Empty Foxhole. Here it is unmistakable — compare Dixon’s Son of Sisyphus (1990), for instance. There is a lightness to this music, full of space, with a conversational tone to it much like the style Dixon pioneered. While Hidden Man might not be the most immediately striking album Ornette released over his long career, it is perhaps better than anything he released until his death in 2015.