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Blog // Thoughts
February 29, 2008

Ornette Coleman

Last night jazz legend Ornette Coleman played the Hong Kong Cultural Centre as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. It was a memorable gig that really could be viewed one of two ways. We could focus on the fact that as usual, the concert started late and patrons were streaming in 20 minutes after […]

Last night jazz legend Ornette Coleman played the Hong Kong Cultural Centre as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. It was a memorable gig that really could be viewed one of two ways.

We could focus on the fact that as usual, the concert started late and patrons were streaming in 20 minutes after the show started. That’s really saying something because around the 20 minute mark people started leaving. In fact, by the time Coleman had finished the main set, which lasted a whisker over one hour, close to a quarter of the seats were empty. OK, not all of those were early leavers, since as per normal at these events, there were lots of empty seats in the premium sections – I know because I had to stare over them from my poor back of the stalls seat (which organisers advised me I should be thankful for, despite having booked on day one of sales).

Or we could look at it another way, maybe starting with the warm, almost rapturous applause that Coleman and his musicians received at the end of the concert (including the knowing response to his one encore number). This that this was not easy music, but it was brilliant music. Coleman took to the stage supported by his son Denardo Coleman on Drums and three bass-players; Tony Falanga on Acoustic Bass, Al McDowell on Piccolo Bass and Charnette Moffett on Electric Bass. We were treated to a tight, frenetic and challenging display of Coleman’s trademark composed free jazz – at times rambunctious, at times hauntingly beautiful and always technically masterful. There’s a lot of challenges involved in writing and arranged for low harmony and this band’s arrangements responded to those with some grace.

At times this sort of music has a tendency to sound chaotic or worse, to sound abstractly intellectual. But, this was no one-dimensional blowing session. The elements of a great gig were all there, the ballads, the blues, the post-bop, the referencing of the greats. It’s hard to see how a jazz fan could walk away unsatisfied. For me, this wasn’t the best gig I’ve ever seen – but it was a welcome treat in a city with a tiny live music scene.

But, that leaves the question of why so many people left early, especially around the 30-40 minute mark. What did they think when they saw Coleman’s picture in the promotion (a black man with a sax = smooth music?). Could they really not see out a 70 minute concert? Was this music, despite being nowhere near the extremes of free jazz, just too much?

Maybe there is yet another way to reflect on this gig? When Coleman finished the encore, he put his horn down on its stand before the song had ended in a very deliberate and considered way. Ornette Coleman is a master in the twilight of his career. He played with real fire and passion and gave Hong Kong a musical gift. It was clear that some of those who stayed to the end really understood this. In the end I found myself saying “thank you” as I applauded the band from the stage. Perhaps it’s best to remember that most of us may not get another chance to see this great musician play again.

[tags] Ornette Coleman, Hong Kong Arts Festival [/tags]

Responses
Johnny Laird 15 years ago

It’s been a good while since I listened to any Ornette, because the couple albums I have from the eighties – “Song X” and “In All Languages” – are on vinyl, but there was a time when he was constantly being played in my house.

Man, that musta been a good gig!

J

John L 15 years ago

It was an amazing set. Would have liked a more intimate atmosphere (say village vanguard style) with fewer distortions from a mic. Your obervations are spot on… i was curious who the audience would be. Just last week, i went to see ART perform Orpheus X (some truly amazing scenes and music) and sure enough, people were leaving after 5 minutes. It’s their loss though. I’m just glad HK is bringing in more talent than Air supply (no offense to the fans… well, maybe some). Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

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