FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ornette, Van Dyke and Del

Ornette Coleman, Of Human Feelings, (Antilles) 

Give or take Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman bestrides the continent as America’s greatest living musician, still forging dazzling new sounds at the age of 81. On this landmark recording from 1979 we find the originator of free jazz and harmolodics laying down strangely infectious melodies in a manner that might be called free funk. Here, the Great Innovator seems on the verge of constructing a new sonic language, a compulsion signaled in the titles of the songs themselves: “Sleep Talk, “What is the Name of That Song?” “Love Words.”

The ensemble of musicians is typically eccentric. His electric Prime Time Band consists of two drummers (son Denardo Coleman and Calvin Weston), two guitarists (Charlie Ellerbee and Bern Nix), plus Coleman’s surging alto sax and the pulsating bass lines of Jamaaladeen Tacuma. (No keyboard player, of course. Ornette has held a lifelong disdain for the unwelcome intrusions of piano players.)

Coleman’s enigmatic music is often daunting, confrontational, and wildly anarchic. (Keyboardist Joe Zawinul once described the Coleman harmolodic style as “joint soloing.”) While this record fires off new ideas every twelve bars, the group improvisation is somehow more accessible, almost inviting. Of course, that’s the deceptive allure of funk at work: the waters seem safe and shallow and suddenly turn treacherous and very deep.

On Of Human Feelings, Coleman’s music is warm and dense, lyrical and ironic. It grooves and sparks and pulls at you with a seductive undertow and in the end you just relent to the music’s intense and redemptive flow.

An inexplicably neglected (and now criminally deleted) masterpiece by a rebel genius.

Van Dyke Parks, Arrangements Vol. 1, (Bananastan) 

Van Dyke Parks was the secret impresario for one of the legendary mysteries of rock music: the recording of Smile, the abandoned follow-up to the Beach Boys’ wildly acclaimed Pet Sounds album. Parks, one of rock music’s most talented arrangers and producers, worked closely Brian Wilson for two years on the record, which was meant to include “Good Vibrations.” They co-wrote dozens of songs, including “Surf’s Up,” “Wind Chimes,” and “Wonderful.” The music is deeply textured and the lyrics are freighted with word-play, puns and surrealistic imagery.

Wilson called the sessions “a teenage symphony to God.” That God seems to have been revealed to Wilson by ingestion of prodigious amounts of LSD.

As Wilson’s psychological horizons widened, internal strife began to shred the band apart. Carl Wilson got his draft notice. The band entered into a bruising dispute with Capitol Records over the theft of their royalty payments and Mike Love, resentful of the intrusion of Parks, scurrilously denounced the songwriter during the recording of the lush “Surf’s Up.”  Sensing an implosion, Parks quit the project and the album ultimately collapsed.

The excavated ruins of that record are slated to be released next month in a two-CD set titled The Smile Sessions.

Until then you can sate your curiosity with this peculiar collection put together by Parks of 15 tracks that he produced and arranged for other bands, from the Latin funk of Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” to the acid-fueled Cajun stomp of Sal Valentino’s “Alligator Man.” Parks can even make the tediously pious Bonnie Raitt sound a little raunchy, as on the naughty calypso “Wha’ She Go’ Do.” Now that’s a hired gun held by a mojo hand.

Del Shannon, This Is Del Shannon (Music Box)

When Del Shannon, the pride of Grand Rapids, shot himself with a .22 caliber rifle in 1990, he was 55 and tormented by lost fame, depression and the bio-chemical chaos unleashed by Prozac. Though his songs deeply  influenced a generation of rockers from George Harrison and Elton John to Dave Edmunds and Tom Petty, Shannon hadn’t scored a hit record in 25 years.

In his prime, Shannon was the bard of teenage break-up songs, none better than his first, “Runaway,” released in 1961. “Runaway,” with its early deployment of a keyboard synthesizer called the Musitron, hit the top of the charts in the US, a height he never scaled again.

For some reason, he was always more popular in Britain and Europe, where he was revered. In 1963, Del Shannon became one of the first American rockers to form his own label, Berlee Records, and the first American to cover the Beatles, “From Me to You,” which hit the charts in the US before the Beatles’ own version. Over the next couple of years Shannon recorded six or seven other great songs, including “Handy Man,” “Do You Wanna Dance,” “Cry Myself to Sleep,” “Keep Searching” and “Stranger in Town.”

In the 1970s his career slid into gradual eclipse, followed by alcoholism and the erosion of his searing falsetto. He fled to Nashville for a few years, devoted himself to crafting a strange and not entirely embarrassing concept album (“The Adventures of Charles Westover”) and toured small clubs playing badly misconceived covers of the Stones, among others.

In the late 1980s there were rumors Shannon was set to replace Roy Orbison in that ensemble of antiques known as the Traveling Wilburys. Then he killed himself in Santa Clarita, California, leaving behind ten tracks in the studio that were eventually salvaged into an album (“Rock On”) by Jeff Lynne. Though the LP nearly suffocates under its overproduction (Lynne’s trademark), there are a few glimpses of the old fire, notably on a furtive version of his own song “I Go to Pieces,” which had been a hit for Peter and Gordon in 1965.

Still, Del Shannon seems fixed in time, lodged forever in the early 60s, when even the pangs of adolescent erotic dread seemed to grind away to sunnier riffs.

Jeffrey St. Clair’s latest book is Born Under a Bad Sky. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers Strike: Black Smoke Pouring Out of LAUSD Headquarters
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail