Ornette Coleman's harmolodic theory:
from the liner notes to
Ornette Coleman, Beauty is a Rare Thing: the Complete Atlantic Recordings,
Ornette Coleman, the early advocate of a "free jazz" that
some conservatives confused with chaos, has emerged as a theoretician
and a structuralist, originator of the difficult-to-define but widely-discussed
discipline he calls harmolodics....
Coleman is a painter as well as a musician, and sometimes one gets the
impression that he is "seeing" melody or sound. His penchant
for developing musical ideas doesn't always work in sequences of theme-and-variation.
Sometimes it's more like he is visualizing a note or phrase as a three-dimensional
construct, to be studied at close range and at arm's length, turned this
way and that, examined from a variety of angles. This effect is intensified
when the music involves a group of players improvising collectively. Each
musician is relating to and drawing from a theme Coleman has written out
in advance, but each individual hears it, and plays it, somewhat differently.
And from Ornette's point of view, each contribution is equally essential
to the whole. One tends to hear the horn player as a soloist, backed by
a rhythm section, but this is not Coleman's perspective. "In the
music we play," he said of the performances collected in this box,
"no one player has the lead. . Anyone can come out with it at any
This is a typical utopian ideal, but as a concept--as a goal--it is absolutely
fundamental to the music herein. Every time Coleman apparently takes the
lead, pulling the bassist and drummer along in his wake, you can be sure
that a moment of synergy, an unequivocal dialogue of equals, is right
around the corner. Even when Coleman and [trumpet player Don] Cherry are
playing a written theme together, the same notes and phrases in the same
register, they play it as individuals. The fine points of each
player's phrasing and inflection are deliberately invoked to render each
one's voice distinct.