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Everything’s Great in Guelph — Unless You Ask Sainkho Namtchylak

Ornette Coleman, at home, New York, 2005

Ornette Coleman’s remarkable career has operated at two levels: fighting the battle every lonely visionary must fight and fighting against the frustration that flows from this. It has meant the alto saxophonist, who once threatened to pull the jazz temple down by abandoning prearranged harmony and to some extent the constraints of bar lines as well, has been an intermittent presence in jazz for some 40 years. Indeed, tonight’s concert at the Barbican was his first in London for five years although, as if to make up for his absence, he performed again three days later with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Shore to create a live soundtrack for the Davis Cronenberg film “Naked Lunch”.

Coleman’s Barbican concert, with his trio and an ensemble he calls Global Expressions, revealed his highly personal tone from his trademark white-plastic alto saxophone had changed little since from his 1959 recordings, the year of his New York debut that caused a sensation. In ushering in free jazz, Coleman became the enfant terrible of jazz-Leonard Bernstein and Dorothy Kilgallen said yes; Kenneth Tynan said no. But after the intoxication came the hangover. Suspicious of being ripped off by his management, Coleman had virtually withdrawn from public performance by 1962, the first of many furloughs dotted throughout his career. Free jazz, deprived of its most charismatic figurehead, described a graceful ellipse and subsided in never-never land-never totally arriving yet never actually going away.

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