1. “Ornette Coleman Dies at 85.” The composer and saxophonist who rewrote the language of jazz died on Thursday in Manhattan.
“His early work—a personal answer to his fellow alto saxophonist and innovator Charlie Parker—lay right inside the jazz tradition, generating a handful of standards for jazz musicians of the last half-century. But he later challenged assumptions about jazz from top to bottom, bringing in his own ideas about instrumentation, process and technical expertise. He was more voluble and theoretical than John Coltrane, the other great pathbreaker of that jazz era. He was a kind of musician-philosopher, whose interests reached well beyond jazz. He was seen as a native avant-gardist, personifying the American independent will as much as any artist of the last century. Slight, Southern and soft-spoken, Mr. Coleman became a visible part of New York City’s cultural life, often attending parties in bright silk suits. He could talk in sometimes baffling language about harmony and ontology, but his utterances could also be disarming in their freshness and clarity.”
2. “Ornette Coleman’s Revolution.” Richard Brody remembers the jazz legend.
“Coleman was a musician who always thought of his music in philosophical terms; in Shirley Clarke’s film, Ornette: Made in America, from 1985, Coleman discusses some of those ideas in detail; he does so, too, in this conversation with Jacques Derrida, from 1997. But the essence of Coleman’s philosophy connects it to the defining trait of philosophical thought from Socrates onward: the puncturing of shibboleths, the rational devaluation of concepts considered essential, the proof through reason that ideas and categories believed to derive from nature are merely convenient artifices and social markers and can easily be dispensed with. But those ideas and categories are dispensed with by those who cherish their freedom of spirit, and often at the cost of their social position. To expose familiar habits as fusty fabrications is to expose oneself to ridicule, as a weirdo, and to persecution, as a threat to the established order.”
3. “The Last Living Horror Icon.” David Edelstein remembers Christopher Lee.
“The day before his 80th birthday, Lee—remarkably hale despite a bad fall a few months earlier—told me he wasn’t certain he had much time left but that he’d endeavor to remain alive until the release of Star Wars Episode III. That would come in 2005. In the bonus decade, he joined Mick Jagger as a Knight of the Realm, though I have no idea if he ever gave the Rolling Stones a listen. He did, in his 90s, release an album of heavy-metal covers, which suggested he’d loosened up quite a bit. Perhaps the title made that easier. I hope he knew he had nothing left to prove.”
4. “Ornette Coleman’s Uncompromising Genius.” Unfamiliar with Coleman’s music? This obit by Glenn Kenny is a good primer on where and how to begin.
“Dancing was not just a springboard for what Westerners now, for better or worse, call World Music, it also served as a prominent informal introduction to Harmolodics, Coleman’s attempt to construct a theory of free playing. There are many different explanations of Harmolodics out there, some more comprehendible than others, but the most useful way of defining it might be to say that it sought to destroy hierarchies within musical expression. To say, in other words, that the particular noise you make through the sax or the guitar is of equal value to the chord or melody you attempt to articulate with it. Maybe. The best appreciation of Harmolodic music is achieved by listening to it, and some of the best of it was made by the various iterations of Ornette’s ’70s electric group, Prime Time, which spawned such monster musicians as bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma, guitarists Bern Nix and James ’Blood’ Ulmer, drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, and more. Body Meta, Of Human Feelings—as rocking as these ’70s records are, they sure as hell were not ’fusion,’ and indeed, their rollicking freedom proved perhaps more inspirational to the New Wave musicians of New York’s downtown scene of the ’70s and ’80s than to any old-school or fusion jazzers. See, for instance, John Zorn.”
5. “Jerry Rigged.” Adam Nayman on why Seinfeld’s comedic brilliance relied on a privileged perspective.
“Never was this particular strain of gluttony more apparent than in Seinfeld’s finale, which saw Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine sentenced to communal jail time for criminal indifference—a nicely sideways evocation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit and its ’hell is other people’ kicker that gave the final pullout from the gang kibitzing behind bars a slight fritz of existential resonance. The trial was meant self-reflexively as a referendum on the show, and even though the characters were found guilty after a parade of surprise witnesses claiming victimization, the case was actually being made for the defence: the only thing that Seinfeld (and Seinfeld) is truly guilty of, Your Honour, is nine years of hilarity. Any objections on moral or intellectual grounds are beside the point, because there’s nothing you can say about our clients that they haven’t already admitted of their own volition—and with nice, big, shit-eating smiles on their faces, too.”
Video of the Day: Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years gets a trailer:
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