The Old And New Dreams Band: A Lecture-Demonstration

The first Old and New Dreams record on Black Saint has long been one of my Desert Island Discs. The rhythm section of Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell serves up a magnificent polytextural stew in support of the melodic initiatives of Don Cherry and Dewey Redman; everybody plays brilliantly throughout.

In many ways, the work of this band always struck me as a purer presentation of Ornette Coleman’s concepts than many of Ornette’s performances. I mean by this that the shifting tonalities and re-centerings of melodic structure that are at the heart of Coleman’s work are in many ways easier to hear when the composer’s unique alto saxophone sound is not present. Ornette’s sonic presence is undeniable, but when he’s not there it becomes easier to think of the Harmolodic approach as a system that can be used by other musicians. When Ornette’s concept is used (and, as we hear below, explained) by other players, it is easier to separate the things they play from their performance personae. Ornette is such a dramatic and eccentric figure that it is tempting to explain Harmolodics as a species of musical crankery. When Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell interpret his music and influence, the importance and essentiality of Coleman’s Harmolodic Concept is indisputable.

They came to Harvard University in 1980 and played, if memory serves me correctly, at the Loeb Drama Center — an unusual venue. Hearing the band perform live in Cambridge was a truly wonderful experience; some memories from that gig still stand out (like watching Ed Blackwell create a huge blanket of rhythms without, apparently, moving his hands at all). I heard them again at a Cambridge jazz club (Jonathan Swift’s? I forget) a few years later, and they were brilliant then, too. But I digress.

One of the most memorable features of their time under Harvard’s auspices was the lecture-demonstration that Cherry, Redman and Haden gave at Adams House on February 29 (Blackwell was unavailable due to medical issues; IIRC he was doing daily dialysis). I recently digitized the recording of that lec-dem (made on a lo-fi boombox belonging to the drummer and drum-maker Betsy McGurk, who can be heard asking a few questions in the Q&A portion of the presentation) and I’m happy to present it here, along with a transcription (the result of many enjoyable late-night hours).

I have my own thoughts on what Ornette’s “Harmolodics” is all about (the fact that Ornette uses the word “love” a lot when he talks about his music theory is an interesting clue) and someday I’ll write them down and put them out here…but for now, here are Don Cherry, Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden, talking and playing about their music and their mentor, Ornette Coleman. Enjoy.

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