Saxophonist Ornette Coleman, whose liberating style of jazz has been honored with a Pulitzer and a lifetime achievement Grammy within the last 12 months, unveiled five apparently new songs Wednesday at the opening of UCLA Live’s concert series. Coleman was in good, if not masterful, form, working his trademark darts and dashes in precise unity with his three bassists and drummer. Coleman was not interested in eloquence or going down any lengthy labyrinths on this night: The dazzling moments came when the intensity within the ensemble was deliberate.
“Following the Sound,” a new song, opened the show on conventional Coleman note. A mournful sound came out of one bass, as another drove a bebop line in tandem with Denardo Coleman’s racing drums.
With the conceit established, Ornette Coleman went on a series of assertive and fast-paced runs on his alto, boxing them in to give the song some shape without squeaking or squawking. Still, for this tune, he was rarely in the same line as his band.
Coleman said the “sound” in the title refers to a heartbeat and “love, happiness and security” — a fine sentiment even if it was tough to hear in that particular tune. Elsewhere, he got that point across, especially in another new tune, “911,” a bluesy number in which he alternates between soaring sax lines and trumpet blasts to creates a sound that dates back to Miles Davis’ early ’70s electric work.
“Song World,” which he has been playing for at least three years, had comforting nursery rhyme qualities that became springboards for demanding improvisation; the group unearthed lovely sentimental qualities within “Song X,” demonstrating their best ensemble playing of the night. He has also returned to the music of Bach, a favorite when he had his 1980s electric band Prime Time, pushing Tony Falanga’s bowed rendition of Suite No. 1 in G major into a bombastic crescendo.
Coleman has expanded his band by one, adding electric bassist Al McDowell to his two acoustic accompanists, Falanga and Charnett Moffett. They have roles that change infrequently during the 85 minutes of performance: Falanga, clearly the band leader, bows; Moffett delivers fierce walking lines and the occasional rumbling blasts; and McDowell emphasizes the guitar elements of the bass guitar, emphasizing chording possibilities.
The music from the album that garnered Coleman the Pulitzer for Music, “Sound Grammar,” had a rich lived-in feeling — especially the impeccably delivered “Out of Order” — as did the oldest tune in the set, “Turnaround,” which appeared on his 1959 album “Tomorrow is the Question.”
For “Turnaround,” Coleman exposed his Texas roots, shouting and honking within a blues format to which the band gave a measured Thelonious Monk-styled treatment.
“Lonely Woman,” Coleman’s most recognizable piece, was the encore that sent the audience home in a blissful mood.