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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Musical Metaphysics With Ornette Coleman

He's a jazz saxophone virtuoso who's style is so far beyond everyone else that not many can understand it, and even many jazz fans can't listen to Ornette Coleman as a result. But someone understands his genius because he won a Pulitzer Prize for music a few years ago (I'd say that's a lot more impressive than a Grammy).

Coleman plays on the fringes of music, thinking so far beyond normal music theory that it just seems like noise to the majority of listeners. But he's so far ahead of everyone else that he sees the nuance of the nuance of the nuance. It's sort of like the average consumer sees an auto tire as just a tire, but the tire engineer sees it for the kind of tread, the kind and number of ply's and the steel built, but then goes further down to the molecular level of each one.

So when it comes to music, Coleman thinks way beyond the notes. Here's part of an interview from 1995:
"In music you have something called sound, you have speed, you have timbre, you have harmonics, and you have, more or less, the resolutions. In most music, people that play what I call mostly standard music, they only use one dimension, which means the note and the time. Say I'm having this conversation with you now. I'm talking, but I'm thinking, feeling, smelling, and moving. Yet I'm concentrating on what you're saying. So that means there's more things going on in the body than just the present thing that the person's got you doing. You're interviewing me, although I'm doing more than just talking to you. And the same with you.
To me, human existence exists on a multiple level, not just on a two-dimensional level, not just having to be identified with what you do and what you say. Those things are the results of what people see and hear that you do. But the human beings themselves are living on multiple levels. That's how I have always wanted musicians to play with me; on multiple levels. I don't want them to follow me. I want them to follow themself, but to be with me."
Coleman invented a musical philosophy called Harmolodics which he defines as an expression of music that goes beyond any of the tonal, rhythmic or harmonic rules that we're used to in order to attain greater expression. Essentially, it's a handbook about going beyond and even breaking the rules of music. The rules that most of us are chained to.

It's unlikely that most of us will listen to, much less enjoy Ornette Coleman's music, so why do I bring him up? He's 80 years old, was always on the fringe of jazz, and has virtually nothing to do with popular music except for some guest appearances with Jerry Garcia and The Plastic Ono Band. Going beyond the acceptable way of doing things is the only way to pave new ground, to start a new trend, and to break free from the mediocre. The music business has been in a creative slump for so long that the entire listening world can't wait for something new and fresh (although many listeners don't even realize it). Instead we get the same, the similar, the comparable, and the equivalent. It's time to break free.

And the innovative and revolutionary is out there somewhere, gestating and biding it's time. We can only hope that it doesn't die on the vine before it gets it's chance.

Coleman asks rhetorically, "Is the leap from A to Bb the same as Bb to A?" To most, it's the same thing, but for anyone who's about to break new musical ground, it makes all the difference in the world.

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