The first problem was what to look at. Sure, there was Ornette, smack bang in the middle of it all, as self-possessed as a pedigree Persian cat and seemingly oblivious to the madness all around him, tootling away on alto sax or trumpet and never looking up from his music stand. On either side stood the band, seven anonymous musicians deep in conversation with the unpredictable beat, eyes down and brows furrowed. Competing for attention were two giant video screens and multiple monitors, screening all manner of noisy images, from promo Prime Time logos to Easter Island heads, intercut with live pictures of the band. Backstage, an inscrutable crew of vision- mixer operatives cued up the visuals with the sole intent, one thought, of avoiding any aesthetically pleasing or meaningful juxtapositions. "Let's try," you imagined the director saying, "to be really bad."
And then came the dancers, two masked and costumed hippies followed by a contortionist, cartwheeling and kung-fu kicking their way across the stage and re-appearing throughout the show in a variety of ludicrous clothes. The music, though, just kept on coming, teeming harmolodic riffs tossed like basketballs between the two basses and two guitars as Ornette's sax soared over the rhythms with his patented wails and cries.
The British trumpeter Guy Barker sat in for much of the show, and summoned up the ghost of Cherry with many a whistle and squeak, and the female rapper Avenda Khadijah Ali was superbly tough on her few featured numbers. At the end, we were all too stunned to react with the fervour the show had demanded, but Coleman did at least consent to one encore before leaving as enigmatically as he had arrived, a sly smile just about creasing the corners of his mouth.
PHIL JOHNSONReuse content