Saxophonist Ornette Coleman always gets the credit for inventing free jazz. It’s true that he formally rejected the shackles of fixed rhythmic and harmonic structures in the late 50s, and that the epochal long-form recording he made for Atlantic Records in 1960 is actually called Free Jazz. These days, of course, it’s impossible not to hear Coleman’s innate tunefulness, but at the time his musical ideas were so shocking that at least one audience member physically attacked him and jazz traditionalists dismissed him as a charlatan. Since then the term free jazz has come to be associated with a noisy, chaotic sound far removed from Coleman’s ebullient, deeply melodic music. His melodies are sophisticated, with echoes of Charlie Parker’s rhythmic fluency and high-speed phraseology, and yet they’re always simple, steeped in the blues. It was his insistence on letting the melodies dictate the particulars of rhythm and harmony that led to all that controversy four and a half decades ago. It’s been six years since Coleman released a new album and even longer since he’s played in Chicago. On Friday he’ll perform with a new acoustic quartet that features his son Denardo on drums and Greg Cohen (Tom Waits, John Zorn’s Masada) and Tony Falanga on bass. In his review of the group’s premier performance in New York this past June, Village Voice critic Gary Giddins wrote, “At all times the group seemed to breathe together, rising and falling like a pair of lungs, locked together with an emphatic rhythmic integrity that, in the Coleman manner, is less propulsive than fixed in the present–a perpetual-motion machine that swings in place, spotlighting the momentum of Coleman’s improvised melodies.” Friday, September 26, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.