Thursday, 17 July 2014

Ornette Coleman's Virgin Beauty - Welcome Home Old Friend

Thankfully, when it's very hot like it is today, you can always find shade in the canyons of this concrete jungle called London. Ornette made a track called The Jungle Is A Skyscraper for the Science Fiction album, cleverly inverting the common analogy...'cause he's clever.

Another advantage of living here is the amount of charity shops. I called in a regular haunt today and found this old friend on vinyl. We hadn't met for about 20 years. Good albums are old friends, aren't they? Unlike the human variety, they never let you down; they just give themselves completely, apart from a track that you never liked, which you skip, because really good albums can still contain disappointments, just like people. In the olde days we'd have to get up, go to the turntable and lift the needle over that track. That's why there were less obese people in the world then. No, really. Perhaps the government should insist that all kids (forget adults, they're a lost cause) should have record players...well, it's some kind of exercise, isn't it?

I had to part with Virgin Beauty in order to get some cash. I'd regularly sell as many albums as I could carry. You don't get much for the average record, but not much is better than nothing when you're desperate. Who's Crazy? was a soundtrack album Ornette made in 1966. Perhaps I was crazy to sell Virgin Beauty along with all the others, but I had space in the bedsit to consider along with basic survival. 

Seeing this album again today I just had to reacquaint myself with it. There it sat, a beautiful thing forced to lean against so much shit. It was as if Ornette himself was having to endure the indignity of rubbing shoulders with artists not fit to brush the fluff from one of his extravagant jackets.

The album features Prime Time, the band Ornette unleashed on the world when it was released in 1988. They didn't record again until 1995. Perhaps the reviews weren't encouraging. Cook and Morton in their Penguin Guide To Jazz called it  'dull, MOR funk, in which tougher material is obscured by a clotted rock mix.'. What were Jazz fans to make of a band containing two drummers, bassists and guitarists? Crazy! You know what some Jazz fans are like, banging on about creative expression and the joyful spirit of improvised music until someone breaks the rules. Many are still recovering from Bitches Brew, no doubt.

I was lucky enough to see Prime Time at The Town & Country Club. It must have been around '88, to promote this album. There's a snapshot in my mind of standing there with LJ in the crowd marvelling at what the legend had gone and done. We hadn't been so excited by the sight and sound of two drummers since The Glitter Band. I don't think they influenced Ornette, though. 

I'd forgotten how insanely catchy the opener 3 Wishes is, the genius way all the instruments dance together like courtiers in a complex mating game. The funkiness, without ever lapsing into a run-of-the-mill riff, of course. This is Ornette, after all, doing what Miles could not when he tried to modernise earlier in the 80s. To close the album, Unknown Artist, which for the first half is Ornette on his own, playing as if to destroy every fool from the last 30 years who had the nerve to say he 'couldn't play' - destroy them with beauty.

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