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Your New Favorite Song.

Now Hear This

Okay, I lied. Once again, in a virtual tip of the hat to Copy, Right?, I present three tracks: the Ornette Coleman Quartet’s “Peace Warriors” (here, the classic Coleman / Cherry / Haden / Higgins lineup), a different version also by Ornette Coleman and Prime Time (his “double quartet” with two guitarists, bassists and drummers each, both from the 1987 In All Languages album), and a cover by John Zorn (with two saxophonists and drummers) from the 1989 Spy vs Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman album.

Prime Time was conceived as embodying the principle of “harmolodics,” as Coleman’s website explains:

Breaking out of the prison bars of rigid meters and conventional harmonic or structural expectations, harmolodic musicians improvise equally together in what Coleman calls compositional improvisation, while always keeping deeply in tune with the flow, direction and needs of their fellow players. In this process, harmony becomes melody becomes harmony. Ornette describes it as “Removing the caste system from sound.” On a broader level, harmolodics equates with the freedom to be as you please, as long as you listen to others and work with them to develop your own individual harmony.

Which all makes, in an odd way, Zorn’s version somewhat redundant; the Prime Time version already sounds more chaotic and stuffed, but in a coiled, controlled way, and is already sonically far removed from the almost staid original.

I’ve always been a fan of John Zorn, though my interest in him has been flagging in recent years. Content, it seems, to release variation upon variation of the Masada songbook — great stuff, mind you, but repetitive enough to test his fans — Zorn, in my opinion, just hasn’t made music as exciting as he did back in the ’80s and early ’90s, back when he was the real bad boy of Downtown. Granted, The Gift (Zorn’s take on exotica / surf music) and Taboo and Exile (and probably IAO) were, by most standards, outstanding, but pales in comparison to Zorn’s groundbreaking work with Naked City, Painkiller, early Masada, and some of his game pieces.

The concept behind Spy vs Spy — one of those albums in Zorn’s early, more thrilling phase — seems to have been to play Ornette’s compositions LOUD and FAST and HARD; Zorn’s version of “Peace Warriors” is typically intense and brutal, more literally thrash-jazz than, say, the Peter Brotzmann Octet’s Machine Gun ever was. As Zorn writes in his liner notes (where he thanks Napalm Death and Blind Idiot God, after all): “Fucking hardcore rules.” Crank up your speakers.

Hear it: Quartet (3.8 mb), Prime Time (3.4 mb), Zorn (1.9 mb).

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