Saturday, 1 May 2010

Tomorrow Is The Question - A Vote For Ornette Coleman

Tomorrow is the question and this Wednesday it will be a big one for voters in the UK. I may be pre-empting the prelude to polling day, but I’m not about to take to the soapbox to spout my political views, so you needn’t worry. Perhaps, like me, you’re sick of political views. I got election fatigue the day after it was officially announced.
   Ornette Coleman said Tomorrow Is The Question back in ’59 with the title of his album, and that’s been on my mind as well as in my ears over the last hour. Listening to it again, I wonder how it came to be that such astounding sounds got made. Music is a mystery to all but the experts yet even for them I doubt that the question of Ornette’s sound can be fully answered. Like Monk, his sound is a inscrutable.

For me, Ornette’s question regarding tomorrow takes precedence over the Political one. Perhaps that makes me shallow, but I do adhere to the Church of Cultural Consumerism, after all. And as a member, I feel it my duty to swear some kind of oath to Ornette (with my hand firmly planted on a copy of this album). “I hereby declare that I shall live by the truth, and nothing but the truth, of great art such as this, so help me Ornette.”
   Those who do not speak of Politics fascinate me more than those who do. And I don’t mean people who are incapable of thinking beyond their next wage/meal/car etc. The absence of Political commentary is, in a way, as big a political statement as those made by folks who can talk for hours about hung parliaments and electoral reform. Yet if I had a bunch of friends and we were in a bar I could no doubt talk for some time about how much I dislike modern Politics.
   As I age, however, I become more vacant. Thus, the largely unoccupied space between my ears is more conducive to allowing a deluge of music to replace what others might consider to be Important Thoughts.
   Tomorrow remains an unanswered question in Ornette’s music, which only raises more questions because despite (and because of) his musical system, it is open to interpretation, understanding and appreciation. These puzzles he constructed...the labyrinthine nature of the solos, of the whole body of work...where are the answers and what route should we take through the music? We must logically start at the beginning, but two minutes in I frequently find myself quite lost; ecstatically so.
   There is the melody of ‘Turnaround’, but that in itself does not conform to the rules...and is usurped by a bass solo where bass solos should not be, namely, first in line. And Don Cherry plays trumpet like a child discovering the joy of a new toy whilst Ornette plays the blues in the form of some abstract truth which only he may comprehend.
   The ghost of Charlie Parker is audible in this music. No surprise since he haunted all alto players. But Ornette did more than most to banish the spirit of Bop by asking the big question: what about tomorrow? The following year he delivered one answer, ‘Free Jazz’, which was insane. No-one had dared to record a piece so long, never mind so apparently anarchic. It’s as if he had pondered the question long and hard throughout 1960 before deciding that leaping into the unknown was the only answer.
   Tomorrow may always be the question for those living crazy lives of spontaneity and I applaud anyone who has miraculously escaped the restrictions and routines of ordinary daily life. For most of us the questions relate to such fascinating dilemmas as what time to go to the supermarket, whether to do the washing, what to wear and so on. Your society needs you. Without our kind, it would fall apart! That’s not to say that the ordinariness promoted by politicians is to be commended. How tiresome they are with their insistence on good old-fashioned ‘values’ based on the pretence that working hard, being a normal family and behaving decently will automatically bring happiness.
   I admit there’s something to be said for the comfort provided by a routine, and the security granted by a job. Still, as a form of relief from this predictability, some of us revel in the great escape route supplied by musicians such as Ornette Coleman. In his musical world, tomorrow is a question that can never be answered by politicians.

1 comment:

  1. Watch Shirley Clarke's documentary about Ornette Coleman as video on demand stream


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