Picks and Pans Review: In All Languages

updated 09/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ornette Coleman

When Coleman staked out his jazz turf 30 years ago, there was no telling how fertile the acreage would prove to be, except that almost no one else wanted any part of it. It soon became clear that the gawky kid from Fort Worth with the plastic saxophone was not going to be run off the land, and that his unique theories of harmony and improvisation were spreading like pollen on the wind. Coleman has had fallow years. But judging from this two-record set, he is ready to make a new impact, while not overlooking his debt to the blues. The 23 tracks on the set are each about three minutes long and crackle with energy. Coleman, 57, has a lot to say, stunning control of the means to say it and seemingly no time to waste. Like Thelonious Monk, he is a gifted composer of compact, highly animated themes, many of them memorably melodic. They range from the funky languor of Feet Music to the jumping-bean pep of Latin Genetics to the idiosyncratic tumble and dash of Peace Warriors. As a balladeer Coleman has few peers. His keening sound and eccentric phrasing once made the uninitiated wince, but while listeners have grown accustomed to his syntax, his sound, particularly on alto sax, has matured into one of the most lustrous and poignant ever. On the first disk Coleman plays with his original quartet: Don Cherry (trumpet), Charlie Haden (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). On the second he's joined by his electrified septet, Prime Time. Both bands have probably logged thousands of hours with him and are models of responsive precision. But they are poles apart in style. The quartet is a butterfly; Prime Time—two guitarists, two bassists, two drummers—is a threshing machine. One of the fascinations of the set is hearing how tunes such as Feet Music, Cloning, Space Church (Continuous Services) and the title cut are made different by the two groups. Prime Time creates a wild, pinwheeling world, less initially approachable but finally as ordered and beautiful as that of the quartet. It would be fun if a sly FM programmer slipped the seductively hummable Story Tellers (featuring Coleman on trumpet) into a mix between Chuck Mangione and some recent Miles Davis. Imagine: Ornette as a crowd pleaser. Wonders never cease. (Caravan of Dreams, 312 Houston St., Fort Worth, Tx., 76102)

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