This month in The Wire:
The quartet behind Sound Grammar have been touring since 2003, and the effect of all that roadwork is immediately audible. In 2003, they were aggressive, tearing into these pieces as though their working model was John Zorn's hardcore interpretation of the Coleman oeuvre, Spy Vs. Spy. Coleman barely engaged with group or audience, whipping his musicians through the material like a basketball coach assigning wind sprints. By April of this year, the same pieces had expanded into meditative, almost ambling journeys, the basses of Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga operating in harmolodic fashion as lead and rhythm instruments, Denardo Coleman keeping a relentless beat and his father going wherever the music took him.
Sound Grammar was recorded at a German concert in October 2005, and documents an in-between phase of the group's development. Cohen and Falanga are given occasional rein over the melody, but not as much as they've had in more recent performances, and Denardo plays remarkably well, sounding ideally suited to the music.
Ornette is, of course, Ornette. His violin and trumpet playing lacks the subtlety of his saxophone, but is judiciously deployed. His melodies are instantly recognizable - they bounce, full of a joy that renders his extensive use of a bent blues vocabulary almost paradoxical. This is as true of new pieces like "Sleep Talking" and "Matador" as of 1985's "Song X" or 1959's "Turnaround," both reappraised here. Sadly, the thrilling version of "Lonely Woman" performed as an encore at recent concerts doesn't appear. Ornette hasn't released a record in a decade, and this one is more a postcard from the road than a manifesto. At nearly 80, he's already moved beyond what's documented here.