Thursday, 11 September 2014

Jackson Pollock and Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman

Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman was used during the BBC Four documentary, The Rules of Abstraction with Matthew Collings, for the Jackson Pollock sequence. A good fit, although Lonely Woman wasn't recorded until 3 years after Pollock's death, but let's not be picky. Still, I can't help thinking about whether music chosen to accompany clips from the past does fit, time-wise. In that sense, perhaps a Thelonious Monk tune would have been better, but who cares or thinks about that kind of thing? Whatever, the usage made me fall in love with the tune all over again.

Here's Collings standing in front of Pollock's Number 32, which is supposedly abstract, but quite clearly contains a figurative element in the form of a horse's head. I'm surprised few critics have pointed this out. Collings talks of structure and control to counter those who think Jack The Dripper was merely working in a random fashion, but doesn't mention the horse. Pollock obviously included it in part as a joke, but also to represent the country life and freedom it symbolised as opposed to claustrophobic (New York) city pressure. That or the equine element occurred purely by chance. Surely not.

Perhaps Pollock's organised 'chaos' is in tune with Ornette Coleman's sound. After all, both were despised, to some extent, for breaking the rules; one making a visual racket, the other a sonic one to many ears. Yet both are now regarded as legends in their respective art forms. And, of course, both still puzzle those for whom painting should represent something that's easily recognisable and music should be melodic, or harmonious, or whatever constitutes 'normal'.

Lonely Woman does contain one of the greatest melodies ever written in Jazz, it just does so in a wayward fashion. It's as if the Free land that was only a year away for Coleman and, later, many others, is already calling, just about to be approached. Lonely Woman lives on the border between old constraints and that vast open territory, the abstract expression of sound.

Perhaps Ornette believed he was forging The Shape Of Jazz To Come when, in 1959, he made the album of the same name which features Lonely Woman. Or was he being ironic? Either way, it remains one of the best album titles ever, as well as a musical masterpiece. The title as a put-down to all the critics? It is not the shape they wanted Jazz to be in, but here it is anyway as offered by Ornette Coleman's quartet.

Being incredibly hip as well as Cool personified, the Modern Jazz Quartet were amongst the first to recognise the genius of Ornette Coleman and specifically Lonely Woman, which they covered on their 1962 album of the same name. To call it a 'cover' does not do it justice. It is both homage to Ornette and a brilliant arrangement in itself...

If anyone had the right to play their version of the tune it is Charlie Haden, who played the stunning opening to the original. Here he is playing it solo...

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