Featured: Top of Home Page

Ornette Coleman: Skies of America / The Complete Science Fiction Sessions

Dan Moos

Ornette Coleman

The Complete Science Fiction Sessions

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2000-05-02
UK Release Date: 2000-05-08
Amazon
iTunes

Picasso used to be shocking. It was garbage. John Coltrane used to hurt people's ears. Charlie Parker just made lots of staccato noise. Now, Picasso prints adorn dorm walls and Coltrane and Davis play quietly in the background of polite, but cultured, cocktail parties. Ornette Coleman has never been graced by such cultural absorption and sterilization. Of course this lack of attention also means minimal commercial success, but then again, Coleman isn't dead yet and such commercial/cultural accolades seem to rain down upon artists after they're six feet under.

The boundaries that Coleman pushed may have sprung back in the last few decades. Dissonance has never become popular. Strange rhythms still baffle most people. Call and response must always be done in the same language. Neither Skies of America nor Science Fiction will go over very well at a cocktail party, cultured attendees or no. Coleman's music has always pressed against boundaries, not wishing to break though, but rather just distorting the norm. His music sought new forms and structures, not just a lack of form. At times his music has verged on the one-world continuity that often leaves the world of economic inequalities behind for a higher vision of musical perpetuity and equivalence. These forms come from within, from an individual who can mold and meld with Coleman's temporal musical community. Then at other times, such as on Skies of America, Coleman's music takes on a formal structure that resists earlier boundaries and sets new, more interwoven ones. Coleman has been called "no technical virtuoso," but his musical mind cannot be ignored. He has pushed limits and created new musical spaces that yearn for response in some kind of dialogue of form and structure.

Skies of America
Skies of America is a third-stream composition, meaning that it encompasses parts of traditional classical music and parts of contemporary jazz. This work was meant to be a collaboration of a full orchestra, in this case the London Symphony Orchestra (conducted by David Measham) with Coleman's quartet, but conflicts with the musicians' union in Britain forced the quartet players from the recording. Skies of America is Coleman's epic "harmolodic manifesto." Harmolodic theory "uses only melody, harmony, and the instrumentation of the movement of forms." Coleman uses bass, treble, tenor, and alto clefs simultaneously throughout Skies of America, often having different parts of the orchestra playing the same parts of the score in different clefs. While I am still a little fuzzy on the details of Coleman's composing here, many of the themes in Skies of America sound not necessarily dissonant through a forced conflict of tones, but rather sonically jumbled through an apparent chance clashing of tones as they happen to cross from instrument to instrument playing similar parts in differing clefs. Skies of America does carry certain themes, some that even repeat, but there is really no opening or closure. Coleman's music here does not begin as unified and separate away towards atonality and return. His tones stay away from repetition. He has kept all the tones high, denoting sky and his sounds vary from angry and disapproving to floating and celebratory. But all of Skies of America remain in the clouds, tonally soaring or roaring across American space.

The Complete Science Fiction Sessions
The Complete Science Fiction Sessions is a collection of Coleman's 1971 release Science Fiction and his 1982 Broken Shadows. Broken Shadows, though released in 1982, was comprised almost wholly of material from the Science Fiction sessions. So really, this 2000 Complete Science Fiction Sessions is just that: complete. Unlike Skies of America, The Complete Science Fiction Sessions gives us more traditional, if you can call it that, Ornette Coleman. Both discs of this release contain tracks the vary from free jazz to more traditionally be-bop influenced romps. While Skies of America attempts to produce a single musical concept, a whole vision of America suitably written through harmolodics, The Complete Science Fiction Sessions breaks into distinct tunes that do not necessarily speak to each other. The continuity of Science Fiction sessions lies in the players, not in the blueprint. These sessions use many members of the extended Coleman musical family, most notably the return and regrouping of early members such as Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins. On a number of tracks, Coleman uses both Indian vocalist Asha Puthli or poet David Henderson much in the same way as other members of the session. Voices become part of the mix, bringing language into the music, complicating the unrepresentability of music and the madness of Coleman's composition. The Complete Science Fiction Sessions pastes two Coleman albums together, as they should have been, and returns to these sessions their rightful continuity.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.