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Ornette Coleman & Prime Time - Tone Dialing CD (album) cover

TONE DIALING

Ornette Coleman & Prime Time

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.91 | 3 ratings

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js (Easy Money)
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars 1995 was a big year for jazz music, but very little of it was played by jazz musicians. The mid- 90s was all about the world of turntablism colliding with late 60s soul jazz for an explosion of acid jazz and trip-hop creativity. When Ornette's first recording in seven years arrived at the peak of this nu-jazz phenomena, I suspected it was a well timed attempt to cash in on new trends, but at the same time I was also looking forward to hearing Ornette's take on these new genres. Needless to say, Ornette is not one who will just 'cash-in'. Although there is definitely some trip-hop flavor here, this album is also one of Coleman's most diverse creations, touching on the aforementioned hip-hop jazz, as well as dense avant- garde cacophony, laid back world beat grooves, interpretations of Baroque masterpieces and plenty of Ornette's unique contrapuntal funk.

Although most of Coleman's albums will usually hit a style and sort of hold it, this one is all over the map. In fact many of these songs don't sound like Ornette at all. The presence of keyboards further marks this album as an odd one in the Coleman discography. The use of string synthesizers and synth-choir vocals in the middle of dense thickets of interweaving lines in the funk/jazz tunes almost sounds comical or satirical. I bet the Ornette purists didn't care for it, but I think it's great he's always trying new things.

Album opener Street Blues delivers the expected mid 90s trip-hop right off the bat and follows that cut with some artsy NYC rap delivered by MC Lyte on Search for Life. None of this hip-hop is formulaic though as Ornette and his son Denardo claim this genre for themselves with Prime Time's usual dense mix of contrapuntal lines. Even Lyte's voice doubles up on itself as her lines collide with each other much like Ornette and his ensemble's harmolodics.

After these two cuts the idea of this being the Ornette trendy trip-hop album of 95 is cast aside as the band heads into laid back and slightly bizarre Carribean grooves on Guadalupe, and avant-garde sound textures on Miguel's Fortune. One of the most interesting cuts on the album is Bach's Prelude, which opens with a direct reading of one of Bach's better known preludes on guitar before Prime Time takes on the tune with their own brand of almost humorous contrapuntal effects. The result is both sentimental and goofy irreverence at the same time. I think J.S. would be very pleased to hear his contrapuntal technique taken further by Ornette's as the band pushes the harmonic modulations of this piece to the breaking point. Another high point on this album is Badal Roy on tablas, a perfect addition to the Prime Time sound.

This album is possibly Ornette's best in the modern age, each song stands as a very unique composition and much care is given to production and arrangement. The staggering complexity and thoroughness of much of this album actually gets a little fatiguing to me and sometimes I find my attention span wandering before the album is finished. Maybe this album is a little too long when you consider how dense much of the music is.

js (Easy Money) | 4/5 |

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