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Ornette and the skies of London

Fifty years ago today, at 10 o’clock on the morning of Monday 17 April 1972, the photographer Val Wilmer and I arrived at Abbey Road Studios to hear Ornette Coleman recording The Skies of America with the London Symphony Orchestra. It was the first of four three-hour sessions, held on consecutive days, during which the entire work was committed to tape. Here’s one of Val’s pictures, reproduced by her kind permission, and my report, published in the Melody Maker later that week.

“This is The Skies of America, take one.” The smoothly modulated voice of Paul Myers, the head of CBS Records’ classical department, halts a conversation among the second violins.

David Measham, the conductor, counts off a bar, and the orchestra launches itself into a jagged ensemble in which it’s hard to perceive a lead voice. But Measham hears a goof, and drags it to a halt.

“We’ll do it without the trumpets and trombones,” he says. “Are the horns comfortable with this?”

“No more uncomfortable than anywhere else,” mutters a youngish, bespectacled musician, one hand wedged firmly up the bell of his French horn.

He seems to be expressing the consensual view of the London Symphony Orchestra. Mild bewilderment and a certain amount of genteel exasperation are mingled with rather smaller amounts of genuine interest and curiosity about the nature of the work that confronts them this morning in the famous Studio No 2.

This is quite an unusual day in the life of the LSO. The Skies of America is a new work, and they are recording it in the presence of the composer, Ornette Coleman. It’s his first symphonic piece. And it seems to be quite unlike anything the musicians have had to face before.

Some of the problems have been caused by the composer. Certain passages of the work, which consists of 21 short sections and will last about 40 minutes, are almost impossible to play. The strain on the trumpeters, for instance, is such that they’ve made an agreement between themselves to alternate the high-note passages, in order to save their lips from damage.

This is the first day of recording. Last week there were three days of rehearsal, but the parts are still causing trouble. Poor copying, for example, has led the tuba-player to confuse his sharps and flats. “You just have to approximate it,” he sighs. Is it hard? “Bloody impossible.”

The work was to have been recorded with the LSO and Coleman’s quartet, but Musicians’ Union restrictions prevented the use of the American players. “So then we wanted to take the tapes back to New York and overdub the quartet,” Coleman explains, “but they wouldn’t let us even do that. And I always thought electronics were supposed to make things quicker and easier, didn’t you?”

During the takes, Ornette sits on his upturned saxophone case, next to the conductor’s rostrum. He’s wearing a charcoal mohair suit with a flared flap in the back, and a silky cream shirt. His boots are made of multicoloured patchwork leather. As has been his habit for many years, he designed them himself. Beside him, there’s a table. On it lie his packet of Gauloises, his cup of coffee, a red telephone which connects him with the producer in the control room, and his alto saxophone.

Every so often he makes quiet suggestions to Measham or goes over to the drum booth to discuss some point or other with Mike Frye, the LSO’s young percussionist, who is playing a part intended for Ed Blackwell. Frye has never heard of Blackwell, the brilliant drummer from New Orleans who played in the quartet with which Coleman set the jazz scene on its ear a dozen years ago. But he’s doing fine, particularly in view of the fact that what he’s being called upon to play bears only the most tenuous of explicit relationships to the patterns written for the rest of the orchestra.

“We need three conductors, really,” he remarks gravely to Ornette, who nods.

At one point, Ornette takes up the sticks to give Frye a practical demonstration of what he wants. He plays a couple of brief phrases on the snare and top tom-tom, and the immediate resemblance to Blackwell’s unique top-of-the-beat style is startling.

Seated around Coleman, Measham and Frye are 26 violins, 10 violas, eight cellos, six double basses, four flutes, four oboes, four bassoons, four clarinets, four trumpets, four trombones, four French horns, a tuba, a harp and a tympanist. It is, of course, the biggest ensemble Coleman has ever been involved with. This is a man who played on the chitlin’ circuit in his youth, honking out the simple phrases of rabble-rousing rhythm and blues, and who then became the most compelling figure to emerge from the avant-garde of the late ’50s, when his quartet made a series of recordings that seemed to embody both extreme complexity and a love of unfettered melody and irresistible rhythm, implying that perhaps sophistication and naturalness were not polar opposites but could co-exist within music. In the ’60s he also took his first steps into music written for chamber groups — which, on the rare occasions it was recorded or performed in concert, was generally received with a mixture of bafflement and disapproval.

As the orchestra struggles through another section, it’s hard to describe how the music sounds. There are broad melodies which seem never to repeat themselves, and fast staccato phrases which give the trumpets no end of trouble. But in the control booth, even in this rough state, the impression is hugely striking.

“It’s not meant to be a symphony orchestra playing,” Ornette explains, in his characteristically elliptical way, during a break. “Not that particular sound. It’s just supposed to be the way these instruments sound when they play together. In fact it’s not supposed to sound like particular instruments at all. It’s written so that you can’t tell who’s playing what. Listen to that high note. You can’t tell whether it’s the strings or the brass.”

In the booth, he talks about his attitude to melody. He prefers to work with instrumental melody because it allows a more open interpretation. Listeners have to put something of themselves into it in order to get something out. “It’s like this part, here. If you and I were singing it, we’d probably sing different notes, because it sounds different to each of us. You can’t do that with song form. I think that’s one reason why classical music is so unpopular. Working people don’t have the time to put themselves into this music.”

The orchestra returns. While some of the musicians tune up, others read books and magazines propped on their music stands. A few of them return to their reading matter even during eight-bar rests.

Next they’re going to tackle a section that begins with a small section of the strings and the woodwind, playing a long seamless line that wanders without retracing its steps. The spare voicing and muted timbre make it sound like something by Charles Ives — Central Park in the Dark, maybe. Gradually the rest of the orchestra joins in, building on the slow line in a lengthy and deliberate crescendo which has an air of wonderment and discovery. “Like a flower opening,” Ornette remarks.

They get a good take, and Ornette rushes up to the booth. “That part after the melody — where it’s reversed — does it sound too dark? It’s supposed to be like night, with the stars shining through.”

No, he’s told, it’s fine. Even Measham agrees, although he’s been constantly troubled by a conductor’s score that doesn’t tally with some of the individual parts. “It’s such a waste of time when that happens,” he says. “It costs a of money on a session this size. But Ornette is amazing. He knows every note of music on this score by memory. And there’s a lot of music in it.”

The digital clock flicks over to 13:00 and the session is at an end. The musicians pack up and head for the door. Ornette hooks his alto to his sling and walks around the emptying floor, playing a handful of lyrical phrases in that tone which prompted a participant in one of his early recording sessions, the drummer Shelly Manne, to say that “he sounds like a person laughing, and a person crying.”

He pauses and takes the horn from his mouth. “Hey,” he says. “We’re getting there, aren’t we? And we’ll do better tomorrow.”

* The following evening, at the BBC TV Centre, I interviewed Ornette live on an edition of The Old Grey Whistle Test that also featured music by the Stooges, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Linda Lewis. Two months later I heard him play The Skies of America with his quartet and the American Symphony Orchestra at Philharmonic Hall in New York, a world premiere coinciding with the album release. In 1988, before a London performance of a revised version with Prime Time and the Philharmonia Orchestra, Ornette told me about how the idea for the piece had come to him on a visit to a Native American reservation in Montana in the 1960s: “I participated in their sacred rites, and it made me think about the many different elements existing in America, in relation to its causes, purpose and destiny. For some reason, I got that feeling from the sky. I feel that everything that has ever happened in America, from way before the Europeans arrived, is still intact as far as the sky is concerned.”

Ornette Coleman 1930-2015

Ornette by Ian DuryIt was 1961 when I first heard the sound of Ornette Coleman. I was 14 years old and I’d somehow scraped together the money to buy This Is Our Music, his latest release. I’d been getting interested in jazz, devouring anything I could find. Every word I read about Ornette, even the scornfully dismissive stuff that was about at the time, made him sound interesting. And, of course, I loved the cover, with its Lee Friedlander photograph of four young men — Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell, Ornette, and Charlie Haden — looking impossibly cool.

So I took it home, put it on the Dansette, switched off the lights, and lay down on the floor. For the next 40 minutes I moved only to get up and turn it over. And then I listened to it again. The effect has never gone away.

To me, Ornette’s music sounded like the most natural thing in the world. Nothing about it — the raw timbre of the horns, the lack of conventional chord sequences — bothered me in the slightest. What it had, apart from undoubted modernity, was the “cry” that went back to the origins of the blues.

(That sound impressed me so much that three or four years later I bought a white plastic Grafton alto saxophone, just like Ornette’s, and invested in some lessons with the lead altoist in a local dance band, who also worked the music shop from which I bought it, and was more of a Paul Desmond man. I didn’t get far. Particularly after the night when, during a club gig with the R&B band in which I played, I got up from behind the drums and attempted to insert a bit of free-form improvising into the middle of a Bo Diddley medley. This was 1965: eat your hearts out, Magic Band, Contortions, Pop Group. And even Prime Time, come to that. But it didn’t go down well, and I couldn’t afford to keep the horn. I think I got £30 for it. They’re rare now, not least because they stopped making them in the ’60s, after which the tools and jigs were destroyed. If you dropped them, they cracked and couldn’t be repaired. The last one I saw for sale in a shop, a couple of years ago, had a price tag of £1,500.)

Later on I was fortunate enough to meet Ornette several times, and to discover his unusual mode of verbal expression. Like Captain Beefheart and Van Dyke Parks, he had a way of answering your questions by taking off in a wholly unexpected direction, making several detours, and finally ending up with a completely logical pay-off. That process could take several minutes, and you had to align yourself to the cadences of his thinking if you wanted to get the most from it.

The most striking encounter was at Abbey Road in 1972, when he was recording The Skies of America, his extended orchestral piece, with the LSO, conducted by David Measham. The work had been written to feature his quartet alongside the orchestra, but union rules made that an impossibility. So it was just Ornette and the straight players, some of whom displayed a ready disdain for his score. To be fair, it did make some unorthodox and occasionally severe demands — usually in terms of the upper range of the wind instruments — on a bunch of players including one or two who liked to fill the gaps between takes by propping a copy of the FT on their music stands and checking the progress of their shares. Some inaccurate copying of the parts didn’t help.

The trumpeters made an informal deal between themselves to alternate the highest notes in order to save their lips from damage. At one point, after the orchestra’s percussionist had observed, quite seriously, that it would help to have three conductors working simultaneously, Ornette took a pair of sticks and showed him exactly what he wanted.

So a degree of pain and struggle was certainly involved in the recording, but it sounded marvellous as the composer took out his alto to play along with them. He was wearing a charcoal mohair suit with a flared flap in the back, a silky cream shirt, and multicoloured patchwork leather boots. Ornette’s self-designed wardrobe was just another facet of his originality.

When the album appeared, it was with a sleeve note in which Ornette wrote: “The skies of America have had more changes to occur under them this century than any other country: assassinations, political wars, gangster wars, racial wars, space races, women’s rights, sex, drugs and the death of god, all for the betterment of the American people.” And somehow he managed to get a sense of all that into his 41 minutes of pure American music.

I heard it performed live a couple of times in New York and London, featuring the quartet with the larger ensemble, as originally intended. As time went by it was gussied up a little to smooth away some of the rough edges and make the orchestra players’ lives a little easier, but I don’t think it ever sounded nearly as good. It needed those tensions to bring out the ideas behind its conception. To me, it still sounds like a masterpiece, the product of a mind in which simplicity and complexity achieved a perfect coexistence.

* The image of Ornette Coleman is from Ian Dury’s design for the first UK edition of Four Lives in the Bebop Business, A.B. Spellman’s classic portrait of Ornette, Herbie Nichols, Jackie McLean and Cecil Taylor, published by MacGibbon and Kee in 1967. You can find a short piece I wrote about Ornette’s significance for the Guardian’s music blog here: http://bit.ly/1FbgxSA

Cecil Taylor, himself

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(Photograph: Francis Wolff)

Today’s news of the death of the great musical revolutionary Cecil Taylor at the age of 89 brought back the impact of his early recordings and the experience of hearing him live on several occasions across the decades. It also reminded me of the night I gave him a lift back to his hotel after his London debut in November 1969. My car at the time was a much-loved old Fiat 500, so small that you could have fitted it into the trunk of a New York taxi cab. Hardly a limo. Barely even a car at all, by American standards. Luckily, Cecil fitted quite neatly into its confined passenger seat and talked cheerfully on the drive from Hammersmith Odeon into the West End.

His set during that night’s concert — part of Jazz Expo 69, on a bill shared with Cleo Laine and the most desultory quartet Thelonious Monk ever led — had been nothing less than staggering. With Jimmy Lyons on alto, Sam Rivers on tenor and Andrew Cyrille on drums, he reshaped my understanding of focused intensity. The two saxophonists worked their way through Cecil’s intricate unison lines against the jabbing commentary of the leader’s piano and the shifting thunder and lightning provided by Cyrille. Occasionally the skies would clear for a brief passage of shining lyricism before the storm returned, seemingly redoubled in force.

I remember two things from later in the evening. The first followed my remark that such performances must be physically draining. No, Cecil said. “You don’t notice it. Let’s go and find a discothèque — it’s good for the feet.” The second, not unrelated, came when I accompanied him to his room at the Strand Palace Hotel for a short interview. On a table was a small record player, with a Stevie Wonder album on the deck. I was surprised — maybe I’d been expecting Bartók. “Stevie Wonder is tremendous — he reminds me of a preacher,” he said. “The arrangements have the excitement of Dizzy’s old band.” He meant Dizzy Gillespie’s incendiary big band of 1947; it was a strikingly unexpected comparison.

A few years later I heard a phenomenal solo set at Carnegie Hall and then, just after the turn of the millennium, a poetry recital, shared with Amiri Baraka, at St Mark’s-in-the-Bowery in the East Village. Baraka read “A Modest Proposal for Giuliani’s Disposal (41 verses which are also curses)”, a lacerating tirade inspired by the killing of Amadou Diallo. Cecil read skeins of words that came from some private place. The last time I heard him, in a duo with Tony Oxley at the Village Vanguard maybe five years ago, he read and played, and on that particular night the music seemed to have taken up residency in that same private place.

I suppose the records I love best are the earlier ones: the free-swinging “Charge ‘Em Blues” from Jazz Advance, the whole of Looking Ahead, “Pots” and “Bulbs” from Into the Hot, the epic “D Trad, That’s What” from the Café Montmartre album, all of Conquistador. Also Dark to Themselves from the ’70s and It Is In the Brewing Luminous from the ’80s. Above all, though, the monumental “This Nearly Was Mine”, a radical meditation on Richard Rodgers’ South Pacific ballad, from The World of Cecil Taylor, now almost 60 years old. I once asked the record producer Alan Douglas (who supervised Money Jungle and the Last Poets’ debut) which album he would most like to make. “Cecil Taylor playing standards,” he said, and I knew what he meant.

Here’s a clip of a performance at the memorial service for Ornette Coleman two years ago (I was led to it by a fine piece on Ethan Iverson’s blog, Do the Math). It’s a good way to remember Cecil as well: the piano playing slowed down to mortal pace for the occasion but every note tipped with obsidian, coming at you from angles that belonged only to to this most fearless and uncompromisingly original member of the avant-garde.

Liberation Music Orchestra

liberation-music-orchEight years ago I was fortunate enough to be at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village to hear Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra on the night of the US presidential election, and then again the following night after it had been confirmed that Barack Obama would be serving as America’s first black president. The anxious optimism of the first night and the joy and relief of the second could hardly have formed a greater contrast with the current mood of the world, in which the orchestra — minus Charlie, who died two years ago, and now directed by his long-time collaborator Carla Bley — arrived in London to play at Cadogan Hall as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

I don’t think I was the only one to find their music even more emotionally charged than usual, which is saying something for a band that began life in 1969 delivering an uncompromising musical protest against the evils of the age, with a line-up including Don Cherry, Gato Barbieri and Roswell Rudd. Tonight’s 90-minute set maintained the tradition by concentrating on the concerns of the hour and consisted of material from their last two studio recordings: Not in My Name (2004) and the new Time/Life (Song for the Whales and Other Beings), the environmental album on which they were working before Haden’s death, and which was completed under Bley’s supervision. All of it resonated powerfully.

The new pieces included Bley’s beautifully plain arrangement of “Blue in Green”, her own “Silent Spring” and Haden’s “Song for the Whales”, which featured a lovely passage for Seneca Black’s trumpet, Tony Malaby’s tenor saxophone, Darak Oles’s double bass and Matt Wilson’s drums. Bill Frisell’s gorgeous, slow-burning “Throughout” made a lovely encore. The evening was sprinkled with fine solos from Malaby and his fellow tenorist Chris Cheek, Loren Stillman on alto, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Marshall Gilkes on trombone, Vincent Chauncey on French horn, Earl McIntyre on tuba and Steve Cardenas on guitar. Oles, who perhaps had the hardest gig of the night, did the right thing by playing Haden’s parts and evoking his spirit without trying to be him.

But the heart of the concert came in the long, carefully wrought medley of “America the Beautiful”, “Lift Every Heart and Sing” and Ornette Coleman’s “Skies of America”, and particularly in the arrangement of “Amazing Grace” to which Bley brings every bit of her great and precious expertise at making highly schooled musicians sound like the world’s greatest town brass band. As they played it, investing every note with humanity, I couldn’t help thinking of Obama’s sudden decision, during his address to the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a US senator, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June last year, to sing the song as part of his eulogy to the priest and the eight other victims murdered by a white supremacist during a Bible study class. It’s a different world now.

* Time/Life is out now on the Impulse label.

Charlie Haden 1937-2014

Charlie HadenThe night before Barack Obama’s first US presidential election, back in November 2008, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra opened a week’s residency at the Blue Note on West 3rd Street in Greenwich Village. It was 40 years since the ensemble had begun its mission of performing politically conscious music, and before the first set began Charlie told the audience about a remark made by Joe Daley, the band’s long-serving tuba player, in the dressing room while they were readying themselves. “If Obama gets elected,” Daley asked Haden, “can we call it a day?”

Everyone laughed, not least the band. And when I went back the following night, with Obama’s success assured, the set was infused with a special sense of joy. But there was no question of calling it a day. Six months later most of them were in London, chosen by Ornette Coleman to appear during the Meltdown festival at the Festival Hall, where their numbers were rounded out by Jason Yarde (alto), Andy Grappy (tuba), the incandescent young Shabaka Hutchings (tenor) and Robert Wyatt, who sang Silvio Rodriguez’s “Rabo de Nube” and played cornet on a spellbinding version of Haden’s “Song for Che”, first heard on the band’s self-titled debut album, which is one of the great classics of large-ensemble jazz (or any kind of jazz, for that matter). 

Both in New York and London they concentrated on material from what I guess will turn out to be their final album, 2005’s Not in Our Name, with which they brought their protests home in pieces like Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays and David Bowie’s “This Is Not America”, Ornette’s “Skies of America”, a sardonic treatment of “America the Beautiful”, a wonderful recasting of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for strings, and Bill Frisell’s “Throughout”, which at the Blue Note featured the tenors of Chris Cheek and the amazing Tony Malaby. As ever, the music was arranged by Carla Bley.

Charlie Haden died on Friday, aged 76. For more than 50 years he was one of the most important musical figures in my life, ever since I first clapped eyes on him as the skinny white kid over on the right hand side of the Lee Friedlander’s photograph on the cover of Ornette’s This Is Our Music. It’s still probably the coolest picture of a group of musicians ever taken, but there was much more it than that. I loved his sound on the double bass, which was dark without being heavy, the resolute economy (probably no great modern bassist played fewer notes) that sometimes gave way to dark strummed solos, and the way he seemed to be able to follow the improvisations of Ornette and Don Cherry so closely despite the absence of formal guidelines. (If you want to know how that happened, read Ethan Iverson’s fascinating 2008 interview with Haden here.)

Mostly, however, it was the sheer weight of emotion he conveyed in every note he played and in everything played by any band he led or with whom he performed. The Atlantic recordings of Ornette’s 1959-60 quartet are up there with Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens and Parker’s Dials and Savoys, of course. But I also loved the way his Quartet West delved into the noir moods of post-war Los Angeles (particularly on Haunted Heart in 1991 and Always Say Goodbye in 1993), his collaborations with pianists such as Paul Bley, Hampton Hawes, Hank Jones, Chris Anderson, Kenny Barron and Keith Jarrett (notably on the recently released Last Dance), and the albums by Old and New Dreams in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

And, of course, there are the Liberation Music Orchestra’s five albums, four made in the studio and one live, essential documents reflecting current and historical liberation struggles in Spain, Central and South America, South Africa, Portugal and its colonies Mozambique, Angola and Guinea, and elsewhere. Here were the songs and hymns of the International Brigade, the Sandinistas, the MPLA, the ANC: this was music that mattered, its attention firmly fixed a greater scheme of things. It was an attitude that got Haden arrested by the Portuguese secret police while on tour with Coleman in 1971.

He was unique, absolutely, but he was also completely emblematic of the very best of America’s musical gift to the world. Born in Shenandoah, Iowa, he spent much of his childhood singing country and folk songs with the Haden Family Band, a background he revisited six years ago in Ramblin’ Boy, a well received album that featured his son, Josh, who leads the band Spain, his triplet daughters, Rachel, Petra and Tanya (whose own bluegrass album appeared a few months ago), and many other guests, including Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Jerry Douglas and Bruce Hornsby. From those beginnings he made his way to the leading edge of jazz at a very early age.

He had a wonderful life and a marvellous career, despite health problems that began with childhood polio, and he left so much for us to enjoy and to contemplate. I suppose if any single performance sums him up, it must be his playing on Ornette’s “Ramblin'”, recorded in October 1959 and released the following year on Change of the Century. Haden had just turned 22, and no one had heard anything like this before: the daring combination of harmonically free 4/4 walking and a powerful strumming that seemed to carry the echoes of all sorts of folk music. That combination of sophistication and deep soulfulness turned out to be typical. Thanks, Charlie, for all of it.

The home of the hits

RW & Ornette

Since everybody else seems to have shared their memories of Television Centre, the home of most of the BBC’s visual output for the past half-century, which the corporation finally abandoned to the developers today, I might as well join in. It was from that distinctive building in Shepherds Bush that the first series of The Old Grey Whistle Test, which I presented, was broadcast live on Tuesday nights in 1971-72, and here is a photograph (by Robert Ellis) of Ornette Coleman being interviewed by me on the programme in 1972.

Ornette was not your typical OGWT guest. He was in London to record his symphonic work, Skies of America, at Abbey Road with the LSO, and I had to plead a bit with the producer, Mike Appleton, to get him on the show. It was one of my happiest moments of the series, along with the appearances of Curtis Mayfield and John Martyn, and the night Dr John came into the studio and, in the guise of Mac Rebennack, sat down at an upright piano and spent a mesmerising 10 minutes working his way through the history of New Orleans keyboard styles. And who would not have cherished the night Captain Beefheart arrived to present his paintings to the world? They were strikingly excellent, and gave an indication of the direction he would take when he re-adopted the identity of Don Van Vliet a few years later.

A lot of the series wasn’t so much fun for me, particularly some of interviews (notably those with a near-psychotic Jerry Lee Lewis, a sneery Mick Jagger and a sarky Randy Newman — each one no doubt a justified response to my indifferent interrogational technique). That’s why I called it quits at the end of the first series and returned to the typewriter. I thought the programme needed someone more extrovert to front it. Mike, however, chose to hand the baton to Whispering Bob, who was even quieter than me. It wasn’t for a couple of decades that Jools Holland and his producer Mark Cooper came along with Later, which in its early days was almost exactly the kind of programme I’d have liked the OGWT to be: musicians playing live, without many restrictions.

That first series was broadcast from a studio called Presentation B, which measured 32ft by 22ft and had been designed for reading the news. Somehow bands managed to crowd into it, along with a couple of big old 1950s-style cameras, while the production staff occupied a control room the size of a phone box. And Curtis Mayfield’s wonderful band turned their amps all the way down to 1 but managed to make their short set sound and feel like the best gig happening anywhere in the world that night.

Grooving on a tone row

StockhausenThe name of Karlheinz Stockhausen was a cool one to drop in the more advanced zones of rock and jazz at the end of the ’60s. Thanks to the British cellist and arranger Paul Buckmaster, the effect of the German composer’s thinking was even felt by Miles Davis. When Buckmaster introduced the trumpeter to works including Gruppen, for three orchestras, the electronic piece Telemusik, and Hymnen and Mixtur, which blended both approaches, the consequences could be heard in On the Corner, the 1972 album in which Miles (and his producer, Teo Macero) applied new ideas about structuring recorded music to the trumpeter’s rapidly evolving love of funk.

Stockhausen died in 2007, aged 79. Some of his pieces will be featured at the South Bank in London later this year as part of the festival titled The Rest is Noise, after Alex Ross’s best-selling history of classical music in the 20th century. And now comes a version of his Tierkreis, written in 1974-75, arranged for jazz sextet by the UK-based pianist Bruno Heinen and released on the Babel label.

TierkreisTierkreis is a 12-tone composition based on the signs of the zodiac: 12 separate movements, each based on its own tone row. It was originally written for a dozen musical boxes, as part of a theatre piece, which is probably why its individual melodies are uncharacteristically approachable (and have been sneered at as being childish). Stockhausen stipulated that it could be played by any instrument or combination of instruments, and there are recorded versions for solo piccolo, trumpet, double bass, violin, guitar and trombone, and many sizes and types of ensemble, from a duo of tenor voice and synthesiser to the Strasbourg percussion group and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It is, perhaps, the most popular single work to have issued from the famously knotty world of dodecaphony.

The rare attempts to bring jazz and serialism together have not always ended happily, although the 1964 album New Directions by the British composer David Mack (and featuring the flugelhornist Shake Keane) has its admirers. Bruno Heinen’s version of Tierkreis meets the challenge of serialism while remaining extremely approachable, not least because the voicings for trumpet (Fulvio Sigurta), tenor saxophone (Tom Challenger) and bass clarinet (James Allsopp), and the grooves supplied by Andrea di Biase’s bass and Jon Scott’s drums, are not a million miles away from the result of Herbie Hancock’s decision to pare away some of the shock elements of the Miles Davis Quintet of the mid-’60s, of which he was a member, and produce the beguiling and much-imitated melodicism of the Maiden Voyage album.

If that makes it sound a bit bland and derivative, it’s neither of those things. Heinen, whose English mother, a violinist, and German father, a cellist, both worked with Stockhausen, and who now teaches at the Guildhall School of Music, sounds completely at ease with the challenge. He also has a handful of interesting soloists: Sigurta delivers his agile, unpredictable phrases with a bright, cornet-like tone, Scott shows himself capable of producing an unusually absorbing drum solo, and Allsopp could be the latest in a short line of bass clarinettists — Eric Dolphy, John Surman, Rudi Mahall — to give the instrument an authentic and original jazz voice.

It’s more than half a century since Gunther Schuller presided over the Third Stream movement, a short-lived attempt to bring jazz and classical music together in mutually fruitful collaboration, often derided despite successes with John Lewis’s “Three Little Feelings”, George Russell’s “All About Rosie” and Ornette Coleman’s Jazz Abstractions LP. But where frontal assault failed, stealth and individual initiative eventually succeeded: works like Russell’s subsequent Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature (written in 1968), Coleman’s symphonic Skies of America (1972), Wadada Leo Smith’s majestic Ten Freedom Summers (released last year) and this new version of Tierkreis show that the instinct was fundamentally sound.