Ornette Coleman Quartet Massey Hall, Toronto ON - October 29, 2005

When Ornette Coleman walked onstage at Massey Hall, he was greeted with a standing ovation. The warmth shown by Toronto for one of the icons of 20th century music was in evidence for the entire evening and spoke volumes for the personal connection many have to him through his music. The quartet featured Coleman on alto sax, trumpet and violin, Tony Falanga and Greg Cohen on acoustic bass and Denardo Coleman on drums. The music that flowed that evening was one of the most relaxed yet intense displays of artistry I have ever heard. The thing that surprised me was that, more often than not, the quartet that took the stage at Massey was a small acoustic version of Ornette's metal beast of a band: Primetime. The rhythm section was the key to this fusion, with a constant yet incredibly sensitive wall of sound that ebbed and flowed with Coleman's lines like some pulsating amoeba. Coleman's genius lies not only in an amazingly complex simplicity, when it comes to his harmonic and melodic sense, but also in his ability to shift the context provided by his musicians with his immaculate phrasing. To say that he plays an instrument is truly an understatement when one is presented with his ability to create a fluid composition by the way he plays in and with a band. Denardo Coleman's drumming was a phenomenal display of how to play ferociously all the time yet be totally musical and supportive within the group. Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga tag-teamed the bottom end, providing everything from trad jazz bass grooves to bowed 20th century classical riffs to North African ghembri/blues hollers. The evening was capped with an encore of "Lonely Woman," with Ornette blowing a bittersweet solo that had the audience spellbound. All in all, one of the best shows this year.