Music: Ornette Coleman and Prime Time Royal Festival Hall, London

`Coleman delivered a show of such alarming sound and fury that even his fans were blown out of their seats'
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
It's no more than a few weeks since the death of his original musical partner Don Cherry, but does Ornette Coleman, at 65, hear Time's winged chariot drawing near and start to cultivate his garden? Or instead, does he reassemble one of the loudest and least listener-friendly bands in the world and, just for kicks, rope in a rapper and three eccentric acrobats-cum-dancers, plus enough video equipment to start a Channel 5 bid, and go out on tour with a multi-media circus as lacking in taste and decorum as the National Lottery show? Yep, you guessed it, Coleman chose the latter course of action and delivered a show of such alarming sound and fury that even his own fans, otherwise secure in their leather- jacketed certainties, were just about blown out of their seats.

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 JOHNSON

Comments