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7 May 2011

Ornette Coleman - 'Town Hall 1962' (ESP/Base)

Though the Coleman/Cherry/Haden/Higgins 4tet is the one that made Ornette famous, this next trio with David Izenzohn and Charles Moffet is a far more remarkable group, in my opinion. Actually, I think this is one of the most "underrated" bands of all time, perhaps because Izenzohn and Moffet were less famous that Cherry/Haden (both before and after) their work with Coleman. Or maybe I just have weird taste. Anyway, Town Hall 1962 showcases this trio and also two compositions for string quartet. This is the sixth release on ESP disk which means it didn't hit vinyl until a few years after the concert happened. It's a weird split release, with 'Doughnut' and 'The Ark' showcasing the trio, 'Sadness' being the string quartet + Ornette, and 'Dedication to Poets and Writers' being the quartet alone, though composed by Coleman. This makes the whole thing feel a bit disjointed and ambitious, like Ornette was trying to stuff all of his interests into one concert/record. The trio work is bright and sassy, though the recording is very much a live concert hall feel. Both cuts are drenched in natural reverb; the sharp sonorities of the sax cut through which leave Izenzohn and Moffet a bit underrepresented, but if you listen for them it's pretty rewarding. The side-long 'Ark' moves through a variety of shiny textures and bold motifs; it gets chaotic and ellipical at points, and there's one passage where it sounds like someone whistling but I think it's just Izenzohn bowing his strings to generate harmonics. There's a lot more bowing in his approach to bass playing (as compared to late-50's Haden) which might be another reason I enjoy this band so much. It's a very open sound, and somehow busier than the quartet recordings I just listened to. Now, the string quartet pieces are both beautiful and severe. 'Sadness' is aptly named - a somber, mournful integration of saxophone and strings, which doesn't so much cry as brood. 'Dedication' is lengthy but fluid - rooted in minor keys, constantly ascending and descending - it is far more contrapuntal than other Ornette classical-influenced compositions I've heard, though I guess that would only be Skies of America, which I haven't heard in ages (though I remember fondly). 'Dedication''s busyness comes as a sharp contrast when paired with 'Sadness'; I like the more minimal approach to string pieces, but the many glissandos and runs of 'Dedication' allow it to attain a thunderous, psychedelic quality. Town Hall 1962 is never a record I hear anyone talk about, despite it's place as an early ESP side, as I guess the neoclassicism puts it slightly out of step with the thunder of New York Eye and Ear Control, Spiritual Unity, etc., but I think there's a lot of joy (and 'Sadness') to extract from it.

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