By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
It’s not hard to understand why Coleman would be interested in transcending pain, or why he would find dancing in irons an apt metaphor. Still, the sensationalism got some swords pointed his way. People don’t expect this kind of thing from a musician. But Coleman isn’t just a musician.
The San Francisco show was remarkable in another respect: it marked a reconciliation of Coleman with keyboards. "I didn’t like the piano, because it was in the way," he says. "I just hadn’t found anybody that could play harmolodically." Coleman hadn’t recorded with a pianist since he used Walter Norris on his first studio album in 1958. But this night he broke out in a big way: Dave Bryant playing electric keyboards with Prime Time, and pianist Geri Allen featured in his acoustic quartet with Charnett Moffett on bass and his son and longtime collaborator, Denardo Coleman, on drums.
The appearance of Allen, who also plays on Sound Museum, was a special charge. At 39, she is a superb jazz artist in her own right, blending technical mastery, rhythmic acuity and intellectual fire. She had teamed for a number of projects with Charlie Haden, Coleman’s perennial first choice of bassists, and kept prodding Haden to boost her with Ornette.
When Coleman finally took the plunge, the match-up was obviously correct. Allen is often the most involving facet of Sound Museum’s gestalt, whether spreading out a delicate carpet, overlayering dense patterns or executing perfect rapid unisons. And she never "gets in the way."
It’s not an easy balance to strike, this harmolodic harmony. "The most peaceful part of being complete in any environment," says Coleman, "is when you feel at ease without fear, loneliness, need and want, where it has to do with your mentality and most of all the consciousness of your behavior."
An ambitious goal, and highly democratic. Coleman disdains hierarchies, and he has no use for categories. "The class style, which is the monarchy system in sound -- I haven’t wanted to feed that image. To me, all of those different monarchs are anti-social, and I don’t want to add to that. I found people that were interested in things that I could write, and they didn’t have to worry about a category."
Hamolodics makes everything personal; the musicians are allowed to search for "their own hidden notes," as Coleman calls them. While most forms stick to a set 12 tones, he says, interpretation is up to the individual. "The notes are the same, but your brain is constantly defining what these notes are recalling to you."
This notion of musical freedom plainly arises from a search for personal freedom. "I was born in the South, and I learned long ago that the black person has not yet been able to use the full potential of his brain and of his inner being. I had been in an environment where a person who knew what I knew didn’t even have an opportunity. I wasn’t angry or disappointed, I was just like anyone else that’s exploited. And in some ways, that’s done now with all races."
Along with the freedom comes the necessity to listen, to be aware of your environment. On the surface, Coleman’s music can seem random, but playing it requires training and discipline. At its best, it reaches unexpected convergences of dissimilar elements, becoming a model for an ideal alternate reality. It’s so ambitious a concept that its most successful moments can seem metaphysical, though Coleman sees the process as entirely natural -- arriving at a natural state just requires dumping some preconceived baggage, that’s all.
Still, Coleman is interested in magic. "I was in Paris last year, and I saw where David Copperfield was doing a show, and I went there to see what he was doing with magic, to see if I wanted to get involved with it, with other musicians. And he was a very fantastic magician -- I just thought that his show was leaning more toward, ‘You sit here and you watch me,’ and so I couldn’t figure out how someone could participate in his show without having to take a direction from what he was doing. So I felt that it was just his way of putting himself in a position of what they call a successful performer. But I still believe that magic is really illusions. I guess it means to make something unseen seen, or to make something seen disappear." And Coleman’s main concern is reality.
Maybe that’s why Coleman left Los Angeles back in 1960. "I was in California 10 years before I made a record," he says. After all the punishment and neglect, he got a band and a record contract with Atlantic, and got out. "It’s a city where millions of people make their living from imitating words and images, and yet there’s no other creativity that has the same status as that. L.A. is just a harsh city for creative music."
Coleman had to get out in the world market to find an audience. Los Angeles isn’t such an anomaly, though; people like what they know, and few identify with a man who listens to John Cage and LaMonte Young. Regardless of his music’s originality and scope, he’ll never sell like Mariah Carey.