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Listen Cloze: "Lonely Woman" by Ornette Coleman

on a job application
for a position i never got
i once put down "ornette coleman"
as "kin to notify" because of that song
he made: "lonely woman"
tho i'm sure he stole those sound-tears
from someone he had hurt, made cry--
no man
has ever
really felt
like that

- Kalamu ya Salaam


- injunction on the video for Zorn's cover, below

God there's so much hippy chat cloaked around jazz. (Tales of the otherworldly and interworldly.) Too often it's a druggy, emptily radical space. This spooks a lot of people away. (Dizzy Gillespie called it "mess" music.) But the cosmic pseudo-philosophy is the least interesting thing about it.

There's so much scary technicality around jazz. (Tales of the diatonic and aleatoric.) This spooks a lot of people away. (Dizzy Gillespie called it "mess" music.) The intellectualisation is probably overcompensation; scar tissue from classical music's long rejection of the intense new black bebop. Jazz has kept classical jargon simply because snobbishness is loads and loads of fun.

Jazz is thus both Continental and Analytic. Few capture the hard clear mist as well as Ornette Coleman did. This is the first cut on his world-messing Shape of Jazz To Come - frenetic, melody mutating, haunting. Cherry (the trumpeter) & Coleman (saxist) are preternatural together, dueting madly. "Lonely Woman" is all kinds of things - repetitive and frozen, scarcely developing.

I think I'm right in saying nobody did improvised chord structure before this. Harmony on the run, if you like, as you like it. A rhythm section loose enough to manoeuvre past the erratic shit flying about. Have a look, if you have the eyes:

"Lonely Woman" doesn't sound so harsh now, scream bits and drum solos aside. Not quite ready to dance to it, though. This is what musical freedom amounts to, then: deciding what you're going to do as you do it, and to hell with tonal centers; we can always make more. (Later on he wouldn't bother with new ones.)

"State your themes, young man!"
"...Yeah, but then what?"


But never mind that, never mind any of the gubbins and tubes underneath; what does it feel like? What's feminine about it?

A man trying to sympathise with a glimpsed stranger? An awed pathos descending on him, for once? It'd be a strange mind that had both ratatat hi-hat and swung plaintive horn! (Harmony as her surroundings, melody as her stream of consciousness.)


Covers by

-- Radka Toneff (Norwegian doing a vocal setting. The lyrics are painful and lose the wit of the instrumental, but it's nice enough.)

-- Diamanda Galas' one(!) is something else, lyricless; dementing over one single nasty piano pedal chord.

-- Dave Liebman (Recorder is striking at first, but the whole thing gets laboured pretty soon, so full of itself it could shit limbs)

-- Allen/Orr/Smith is avant as you like - "skilful" - but it never develops above knee-level in its quest for consistent weirdness.

-- Mark Kostabi,
(Boring solo piano with "Over the Rainbow" and other cheap disquotes)

--Maria Faust,
(slow, smoothened out, catching a little fire midway but remaining a negative jam)

-- Joe Lovano (his clarinet version is great on record, but you'll have to settle for this unsteady cut:)

-- John Zorn, (raucous and dutty, but robbed of senstivity and wit)

-- Joshua Redman (nujazz reimagining, all vague blips and indifference. Actually starts at 2:35, at which point it becomes ok.)

What these covers have in common is their failure to find anything like the original's godly pairing of sax and trumpet. Even Coleman apparently never did, after Cherry died. This lonely woman was never actually alone; she had two voices, was two voices, trying to balance in the night.


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