Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Now 57 and as broadly respected as any musician in America, Ornette Coleman resists an elder statesman's niche as if the possibility had never occurred to him. This impractical, self-taught genius makes Cage and Rollins look as careerist as Mick Jagger, which helps explain how his music retains its irreducible freshness as he flits from marginal label to marginal label. The uninitiated can live without his first two LPs for Caravan of Dreams Productions, an avant-garde consortium in Coleman's native Fort Worth (312 Houston Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102): Prime Time/Time Design and Opening the Caravan of Dreams. But In All Languages, an ideal introduction to Coleman, is certain to stand as one of 1987's finest albums.

The first disc of the double LP was cut with Coleman's classic Fifties quartet of Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins. When Cherry and Haden celebrated Coleman's legacy as Old and New Dreams, they played jazz chamber music. Here they're hotter, tighter and faster than in their glory days, yet infectious enough not to intimidate newcomers. The second disc passes many of the same tunes--and one of Coleman's many gifts is for simple, catchy themes--to his electric band, Prime Time. No way is the result rock or funk--Coleman is impatient with the steady pulse. But despite that impatience, the internal sympathy of the group and the brevity of the pieces assure a coherence that coexists with constant surprise as in no other music. In All Languages should grab and hold anyone with a taste for electric textures whose ears haven't been totally pickled by convention. "The sound is the music," Coleman likes to say. This is what he means.

Playboy, Oct. 1987

Sept. 1987 Nov. 1987