Naked Lunch, film and live soundtrack, Ornette Coleman Trio with Ulster Orchestra

 

Ornette Coleman stamped his mark on the Belfast Festival at Queen's by bearing witness to the still radical, provocative, and exhilarating possibilities of jazz.

First in the Whitla Hall with his rambunctious but ultimately unsuccessful experimental fusion of jazz and Irish music and, the same night, with a powerful exposition of music played free from normal structures but which offered great depth and creativity.

Then, on Friday night in the Waterfront Hall, a good-sized audience experienced a world premiere: the film of William S Burroughs' surrealist classic Naked Lunch, with a live soundtrack from Ornette on alto sax, his son Denardo on drums and Charnett Moffett on double bass, plus the full Ulster Orchestra.

Howard Shore, who, in collaboration with Ornette, composed the soundtrack for the early 1990s film directed by David Cronenberg, conducted on Friday. It was an ambitious enterprise, but it worked seamlessly: the movie had dialogue only, and occasionally subtitles, leaving Ornette and company free to weave music on the edge for a story on the edge.

In Naked Lunch, we have an aberrant blend of paranoia, hallucination and delusion. One of the characters describes the strange substances mentioned in the proceedings as delivering a "Kafka high". And that would be a fitting description of the role played by the orchestra: under Shore, it set the weird, fantastical mood.

The night featured a series of long alto sax solos from Coleman during key passages of the film. This was wonderfully pitched work. Just as in the Whitla Hall, one was mesmerised as much by the sheer quality of Ornette's musicianship as by the variety of his invention.

There was a bluesy, meanstreets, urban feel to the solos. There was even a certain structure to Ornette's playing. His sound was rich and clear. The mood he engendered was intense and dangerous, nightmarish and insane, perfectly in tune with the film and with what the orchestra was conjuring around his alto sax.

A "Kafka high" indeed.