I’m Listening to Ornette Coleman Trio live in Stockholm, “Faces and Places.” Noticed Coleman’s voice in the introduction is rather quiet, suggesting reserve and even shyness. A surprising thing, given that I’ve always looked at his serious face on the album covers and listened to the searching howls of some of his musical lines and assumed that a fierceness must be attached to the voice as well. Still, maybe the smallish voice is connected to the force of the music, as if one cannot have all their power divided evenly among expressive outlets. I’ll always remember the way Ornette was treated at the last Grammy Awards, when he sought to do as they had asked him and read from the cards. He wasn’t as “TV LOUD” or as quick as they would have liked, so Natalie Cole cut him off and took over. The man was being given a lifetime achievement award, and you couldn’t spare a little more air time for his voice. Well, he won a Pulitzer for composition a little later, so that shows just where the Grammy Awards are at.
As for the music, the melodies he’s working with in a trio format are really fluid, with much of the punch and earnestness of his famed free jazz double quartet. As you might expect, though, the arrangements are more sparse and Coleman’s horn carries the bulk of the harmonic/melodic work. It almost feels, for instance, on “European Echoes,” as if you’re hearing how he can work out a simple line and explore it on the horn, without all the heavy rhythmic thunder and dissonant brass harmony. Nice to hear Coleman’s voice in such a singular way. He’s as expressive and soulful as they come, when you move past the complexities of his compositional strategies. Just a horn, a bass, and drums, opening up tunes and moving around curiously in the space. With performances like this, it’s no wonder the Swedes have been such big supporters of American jazz; they knew what they were getting and they showed up to appreciate it in person, not with some perfunctory award after the fact. Good for them.