Ornette Coleman’s Body Meta, forty years later
“Body Meta is the first Prime Time band recording. The Dancing In Your Head release came from these sessions. The name Prime Time was given because every rehearsal was done in such a will it be or not be manner (because of the difficulty of schéduling everybody for rehearsals). When it did happen it was Prime Time. Prime Time is not a jazz, classical, rock or blues ensemble. It is pure Harmolodic where all forms that can, or could exist yesterday, today. or tomorrow can exist in the now or the moment without a second.
Thanks for lìstening.
It seems difficult, even complicated, to think that forty years have passed since the publication of Body Meta. It’s difficult to think that forty years ago, a period in which many had declared jazz to be dead, and the innovations in this genre seemed very few and very similar to each other, a record like Body Meta could have emerged. During this time, some jazz players, like Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, had converted to fusion, and Miles Davis had retreated into a personal nightmare made of drugs, frustration and nervous breakdown after creating some of the most visionary records ever played. In this decade characterized by a high political, economic and social instability, Ornette Coleman, in his very personal, typically idiosyncratic way, managed to find a different path to explore. Always on the cutting edge, with this album Ornette presents a new band (Prime Time) that with Body Meta gives voice to a new musical style, which he developed and defined as “harmolodic”.
“For Harmolodic Democracy – the player would need the freedom to express what Harmolodic information they found to work in composed music. There is always a rhythm – melody – harmony concept. All ideas have lead resolutions. Each player can choose any of the connections from the composers work for their personal expression, etc.”
Coleman not only fused genres (jazz, funk, rock, R & B, world music), but reinvented his own personal musical structural scheme: the cyclical and poignant traces of Body Meta redefined the functions and relationships of melody, harmony and rhythm, making them all interdependent in a completely new way. Coleman’s saxophone picks up where Coltrane had stopped in the late 1960s, and moves into the stratosphere, inspired by the idiosyncratic work of Bern Nix and the Jamaaladeen Tacuma bass lines, not to mention the polyrhythmic percussions of Ronald Shannon Jackson and Ornette’s son, Denardo, drummer that I don’t particularly like.
One of the most important jazz albums of the ’70s, Body Meta arrived after a period of difficulty spent looking for the members of the new band:
“ I was seeking to form a band consisting of two Guitars, two Basses, two Drummers (one rhythm, one “tempo” time), and the concert piano. As it turned out I was only able to start with six of the eight. I called Reggie Lucas. He came and we played. When we stopped he was very interested in becoming a member, but l had not yet completed forrning the band at that time, he played great, however I needed more time to share Harmolodics with him than circumstances allowed. He offered to give me a number of a Bass player who lived in Philadelphia named Rudy McDaniel. From that meeting Rudy (Jamaladeen Tacuma) introduced me to a guitar player, Charlie Ellerbe. Guitarist, Bern Nix, was recommended to me by a friend from Nigeria. The two drummers included Ronald Shannon Jackson and Denardo Coleman. At the time Ron had been staying with me and studying. Denardo joined a short while later after finishing college.”
Julian Cope, in his web site Head Heritage, talks about similarities and connections between the figures of Coleman and Captain Beefheart: “It’s tempting to compare Nix & Ellerbee’s guitars to Zoot Horn Rollo and Antennare Jimmy Semens and all them other great Magic Band guitar duos, but really they sound more like Jimmy Nolan (James Brown’s guy) and his evil twin surgically sewn together by the tops of their heads, still punchy from the anesthesia so given a healthy dose of amphetamine to pep them up into a cartoonish frenzy.”
But frankly the comparisons seem to me decidedly forced togheter: I don’t think that Coleman has ever been influenced by Trout Mask Replica, although it’s possible that Ornette was one of the key influences in Beefheart’s first musical approach.
Body Meta is a really successful album that opens up new spaces and horizons. The guitars of Bern Nix and Charlie Ellerbee play a relentless, torrid funky that blends perfectly into this new chapter of Coleman’s music: loud, jagged, thickly intertwined and dense.
Every track is different, Coleman’s vision has a widespread focus, but it is clear that things have changed since the beginnings of free jazz. Even his personal sound is more pronounced, pure and full of feeling, free from chains and more difficult to define. And the guitars? Well those are really from another planet. It’s true, forty years have passed, but this record doesn’t show them and I think it can be an interesting starting point for new musical explorations. This is music of pure soul expression and deserves a repeated listening, you can put the CD player on repeat and let it flow, don’t be surprised if after a while you’ll start to dance it, its funky vein is irresistible. I would highly recommend it to anyone, it’s good for the body and for the mind.