The promised reunion of the original Ornette Coleman Quartet at the Orpheum Theatre on Friday night turned out to be one headliner short. Trumpeter Don Cherry, described as ill after dental work, failed to show for the Los Angeles Festival event.
His absence put only a slight damper on an otherwise fascinating musical event. The Coleman Quartet--with Billy Higgins on drums and Charlie Haden on bass--was a catalytic factor in the many changes taking place in jazz in the late '50s and early '60s. Although the group has had occasional reunions, this was to be the first in Los Angeles--the city in which the quartet members initially came together.
Fortunately, a trio of Coleman, Haden and Higgins is not exactly shabby stuff. It took a good hour or so (and a discomforting hour, at that, in the non-air conditioned Orpheum) before the musicians found their old familiar groove.
Coleman's music is so dependent upon intuitive, unspoken, spontaneous interaction between the players that making the connection almost seems magical at times. But make it they did, and the last hour of the program was a vintage example of the soaring, how-can-I-know-what-I'm-going-to-play-before-I-play-it iconoclasm characteristic of Coleman when he is playing his very best.
There were no announcements and very few pauses. The trio simply started one tune, finished it, and launched into another. Higgins' extraordinarily liquid sense of time--all shimmering ride cymbal and crackling snare--anticipated every Coleman shift of accent and meter. In perfect balance, Haden anchored everything with a sensitivity as whimsical and down-home as it was abstract and visionary.
A closing encore of Coleman's now-classic "Lonely Woman" summed it all up. Despite the more contemporary slant of his recent work with Prime Time, the essence of Coleman's art--its sheer, raw, uncluttered passion--has never been better expressed than it is with such players as Haden and Higgins.