Last night’s Ornette Coleman concert was one of those rare experiences you could describe as profound. Just two years short of his 80th birthday his age showed as he slowly shuffled onto the stage, but that frailty did not show in his music. The 1 1/2 hour concert went from number to number almost without a break with no talking. Flanked by three basses, two electric and one acoustic, and his son Denardo on drums, Coleman punctuated their relentless rhythms with brilliant brush strokes of sound. It was demanding music and if you let your attention wander, if even for a second, you would find yourself desperately trying to catch up. While most of the music focused on Coleman’s current, Pulitzer prize winning album, Sound Grammar, a scattering of his earlier works also graced the evening. It seemed over as soon as it began as the time evaporated as you concentrated on the experience. As abruptly as Coleman’s music, the band suddenly put down their instruments, bowed and walked off the stage. As the crowd realized what was happening the applause became a roar and the musicians returned for an encore, after which Coleman slowly shuffled off the stage. The audience wanted more, but sensed it was too much to ask considering what they had already received and respectfully let Coleman take his leave. Genius deserves such respect.
At the end of the concert I was mentally spent from the intense concentration the music demanded. However, there is something about experiencing great art that is elevating and expands your mind. This was such an experience.
Ornette Coleman once said there was music before there was a word for it. Now I understand what he meant.