On Air Now: (none) - (none)

Listen Live

Today's Music News

Patti Smith at Meltdown 2009

Review: Ornette Coleman

Jazz pioneer still fresh after 50 years
20 June 2009 - Ornette Coleman has been lionised by musicians from Ian Drury to Lou Reed, while the Master Musicians of Jajouka are descended from one of the oldest surviving musical traditions on earth; even Mick Jagger has sung their praises.

So it’s fair to say that most people probably approached last night’s show at the Royal Festival Hall with expectations that were as great as the reputations involved.

But in bringing his album The Shape of Jazz to Come back to the stage, half a century after it first thrilled and shocked audiences in equal measure, Coleman proved himself as elusive and inspiring as ever.

Though the 1959 record has long been regarded as one of the first avant guard or free jazz albums ever made, its impact was as immediate and surprising. Patti Smith slipped in and out to perform poetry over one track, while the Master Musicians of Jajouka improvised as part of an epic closing piece.

The 79-year-old has always had the capacity to divide audiences; Miles Davis famously called his music ‘unlistenable’ but his capacity to excite has been absorbed by some of the most innovative musicians of recent times like Frank Zappa and Iggy Pop – and it’s easy to see why.
"Ornette's music is unlistenable." Miles Davis

It’s staggering to think that this particular work of Coleman’s is half a century old, but fans afterwards said that on the whole his music had stood the test of time.

It’s true to say that they were divided about the guest appearances – Smith and the Jajouka band inspiring both great praise and bewilderment – but overall few who came to the concert knowing Coleman’s music went away anything other than delighted.

Coleman’s Meltdown festival has already seen performances by Yoko Ono (with whom he played onstage) and Patti Smith, and on Sunday he’ll perform an interpretation of his other most notable album, This Is Our Music, with the help of Red Hot Chilli Peppers bassist Flea.

Rodrigo Davies

Have your say

Disclaimer:The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

Comments so far

There are no comments yet

Music News

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Listen again
Shows from the past seven days on the
BBC Radio Player

Talks to Phill Jupitus

A live set on the Dream Ticket

Live session on Brain Surgery

Plays a session for Gideon

Theme time radio hour on jail


BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.