Hear Ornette Coleman Collaborate with Lou Reed, Which Lou Called “One of My Greatest Moments”

Sax­o­phon­ist Ornette Cole­man died yes­ter­day at age 85, leav­ing behind one of jaz­z’s most inter­est­ing and illus­tri­ous lega­cies. Cole­man strode into the fifties and six­ties with a hand­ful of van­guard artists—Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck—and, as the New York Times writes, “widened the options in jazz.” This meant tak­ing jazz places it had not been before, even­tu­al­ly into the psy­che­del­ic jams on Cole­man’s 1971 Sci­ence Fic­tion album, which fea­tures one track with “a ‘Pur­ple Haze’-styled bassline through a wah-wah ped­al,” Jaz­zTimes wrote in 2000, while “Ornette over­dubs on trum­pet and vio­lin and Dewey Red­man wails on musette over Ed Black­well’s inim­itable groove.” The track “Hap­py House” seems to bend space and time in new direc­tions, pair­ing two trum­pet play­ers and two drummers—one for each ear in stereo record­ing.

Cole­man’s free form will­ing­ness to exper­i­ment made him a sought after col­lab­o­ra­tor (at least once against his will) with artists who also bent, or invent­ed, their own genre bound­aries. Thir­ty-two years after Sci­ence Fic­tion, Cole­man made an appear­ance on the 2003 Edgar Allan Poe-trib­ute The Raven, a late album by Lou Reed, the pio­neer­ing artist who took pop and R&B down a dark, psy­che­del­ic path.

The result­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion, which you can hear at the top of the post, just bare­ly holds togeth­er in a gospel/free jazz/funk groove that hyp­no­tizes even as it bewil­ders lis­ten­ers, giv­ing us an ensem­ble of musi­cians each hear­ing slight­ly dif­fer­ent rhythms and tim­bres in the repet­i­tive drone of Reed’s lead vocal.

Reed was excit­ed about Cole­man’s con­tri­bu­tion, writ­ing on his web­site, “THIS IS ONE OF MY GREATEST MOMENTS.” The jazz great “did sev­en versions—all dif­fer­ent and all amaz­ing and won­drous.” You can hear four above. “Each take,” Reed explains, “is Ornette play­ing against a dif­fer­ent instrument—ie drum, gui­tar 1 gui­tar 2 etc. Lis­ten to this!!!” And lis­ten you should. Try to fig­ure out which of the sev­en takes made the album ver­sion above. Then lis­ten to them again. Then read this inter­view between Jacques Der­ri­da and Cole­man in which he explains how he came to devel­op his sin­u­ous style, one writes the New York Times Ben Ratliff, less behold­en to the rules of har­mo­ny and rhythm” and more in tune with “an intu­itive, col­lec­tive musi­cal lan­guage.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Philoso­pher Jacques Der­ri­da Inter­views Jazz Leg­end Ornette Cole­man: Talk Impro­vi­sa­tion, Lan­guage & Racism (1997)

Charles Min­gus Explains in His Gram­my-Win­ning Essay “What is a Jazz Com­pos­er?”

Lou Reed Rewrites Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” See Read­ings by Reed and Willem Dafoe

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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