Sound Grammar

Living in an age where the “genius” label is as common as pocket change leaves a breathtakingly original artist like Fort Worth’s ORNETTE COLEMAN out in the critical cold. Coleman calls his music—marked by brittle melody, propulsive rhythms, and a lack of sonic density—“harmolodics,” a term that doesn’t convey much to the uninitiated. But the 76-year-old finds no limits in language. SOUND GRAMMAR (Sound Grammar), Coleman’s first release in a decade, shows that a mere 26 letters, or in this case, 12 notes, can’t restrain his imagination. Coleman’s sidemen (two bassists and son Denardo on drums) don’t coast on clichéd riffs set to overused chord changes. Instead, the joyous and uninhibited music hangs on composed melodic lines punctuated by Coleman’s ethereal alto sax. The set is, except for two tracks, all new material. And it soars: “Matador” dances with playfulness; the haunting “Sleep Talking” harks back to Coleman’s classic quartet with Charlie Haden and Don Cherry. Ultimately, what to call a talent as unique as Coleman is a moot point. An album this noteworthy leaves only one question: Why doesn’t he record more often?

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