Ornette Coleman Body Meta LP (Artist House, 1978)
You read many jazz guides? Yeah, me neither. I used to. When I was first getting into jazz, they were valuable for figuring out where to turn next. With many artists, especially the Legends, the guides were good to find the "essential" records. Every guide hyped Miles's Sketches of Spain, Monk's Brilliant Corners, and Coltrane's Giant Steps, as they should. Those records are fantastic! However there were also great records that the critics were not kind to , so they either never made it into a guide or where downplayed ("Eh, kid, you don't want to listen to that). On the Corner by Miles Davis is a pretty great example. Shat upon for years by the critics, On the Corner was passionately possessed by underground music freaks, avant punkers, deep funksters, and the college dejay crowd. These folks not only kept it alive but championed it so much that the record finally got reevaluated by the jazz establishment and is now given its due as a groundbreaking record.
Today we have another example of a record that needs to be taken out and played to fresh ears. Although a few people have taken up for Ornette Coleman's Body Meta, it is still not a record that is considered remarkable, by even die hard Ornette fans. "Hard to listen to" is the complaint I hear when I bring it up. I admit it is not an easy listening record. There is a challenge here, but not only is that part of the fun, to get caught up in the "difficulty" of this record means missing lots of great things.
First, lets start off with the overall sound. Some folks have called this fusion, some funk jazz. If it is either, it is as sideway an attack on fusion and I've ever heard. Funky, yeah it is, but again, this is a funk of angles and corners, not round pulses and fluid curves. Recorded in 1975, this predates No Wave by a few years, though its funkiness is as aggressive as The Contrortions, and certainly could have served as a template or at least an influence of any of the early No Wave bands. Second, the playing on this is mind-boggling. The two guitarists, Bern Nix and Charlie Ellerbee, create wire sculptures of sound, twisting notes in on themselves, weaving tight like a mutant steel cable. The rhythm section should be as heralded as the individual players are, for the razored groove that Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Shannon Jackson establish is a great example of something deceptively primitive and off the cuff. Ornette comes in and attacks the song, then plays with it. Soon he gets inside and is out again. He picks the sound apart from up high (you figure out what that mean, cuz I sure don't know!). And this goes on song after song, even when things "mellow out."
I've pushed Body Meta on many people and now you get the pushing. Some recoil in pain, some react with glee. I don't know anyone who has heard this record that doesn't have an opinion on it.