Ornette Coleman’s quartet deals in moment-to-moment magic—the kind that defies documentation. But if Sound Grammar, recorded live in Germany, doesn’t exactly match the excitement of being there, it does clear up the acoustic fog of the big halls in which Coleman usually performs. On this album we hear the interlocking arco-pizzicato dance of bassists Tony Falanga and Greg Cohen as never before. Denardo Coleman’s drumming is both propulsive and coloristic, reflecting many years of experience with his illustrious father. Ornette’s alto is gnomic, tireless, characteristically semi-sharp; he briefly switches to trumpet on “Jordan” and “Call to Duty” and bows violin toward the end of “Song X,” the finale.
The acoustic two-bass concept is not without precedent in Coleman’s oeuvre. Though unconventional, it follows an internal logic: Falanga plays abstract melodies while Cohen holds down the bottom. “Jordan,” “Call to Duty” and “Song X” are difficult thematic lines that launch into whirlwinds of free-bop intensity. “Matador” has a rhythmic foundation akin to a samba. “Sleep Talking” and “Waiting for You” strike a more solemn tone, with legato bass lyricism in the lead. And “Once Only” is altogether unclassifiable—a strong example of Coleman’s enduring depth of vision.