Ornette Coleman - Oceans Of Sound

One of the most surprising releases of the year has just slipped out on the run up to Christmas. A live album by Ornette Coleman, Sound Grammar, marks the first album by the great saxophonist and composer in 10 years. Featuring a two bass player line-up it signals a return to form for Ornette, and a chance once again to marvel at the innovative range of ideas pouring out of the Texan, now in his late seventies. In a rare interview, Kevin Le Gendre finds out from Ornette the background to the album and touches on his wider philosophical ideas and inspirations.
Ornette Coleman - Oceans Of Sound
Noise is the primary complaint registered on 311, New York’s citizen service hotline. Every day the unholy symphony of construction work, car stereos, air conditioning units, barking animals and barking people shatters the fragile calm. It’s not so much that one of the most iconic cities on the planet doesn’t sleep, it appears to know no silent nights.

Yet although some 33,996 criminal court summonses are issued each year for decibel-busting activities not everyone feels so censorious about Gotham’s right royal racket. One man’s noise pollution could be another’s aural stimulation. The endless electric signals and distortions provoke a certain wonder in Ornette Coleman.   “Well, New York is just 24 hour sound, it’s a sound environment. It’s amazing,” he says excitedly down a Transatlantic line. “I mean just the sound of street traffic is something else. You hear all those police sirens, all those sirens.  “The street I live on in mid-Manhattan… it’s impossible to avoid sound. It’s just always there; the sound never seems to go away, the machines and mostly the people. Sound is something that exists so naturally, it’s almost like breath.”

The eternity and the elementary nature of sound seems to be an appropriate starting point for any conversation with a man who has spent some five decades investigating and creatively manipulating vibrations both musically and, according to some, not so musically. Ornette Coleman, from that uncommon first name to the last otherworldly note on any of his recordings, stands as a maverick, an original, a one-off. It’s not for nothing that his 1958 debut recording was entitled Something Else and that he continues to elicit reactions either for or against.

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