It would be a mistake to say that one of the main innovations of Ornette Coleman was the lack of a piano player in his bands as changes in harmony, melody, and rhythm from the saxophonist were far more significant. Still the lack of a musician tickling the keys in many units lead by Coleman has lead to unique sounds and deserves some mention in the history of jazz. It certainly lead to a situation where the piano became, to a large extent, an auxiliary instrument amongst the avant-garde as opposed to an essential item. There have been enough great players like Cecil Taylor, Marilyn Crispell, and Matthew Shipp to keep the instrument from totally vanishing but it has hardly been at the forefront.
Given all of this, it was a bit surprising to see Matthew Goodheart dedicate one of the tracks on Songs from the Time of Great Questioning to Coleman. The disc is after all a solo piano performance recorded live in San Francisco on November 7, 1996. But on this recording Goodheart gets beyond instrumentation constraints and captures a good deal of musical vitality associated with Coleman. In the process he shows that in a few years we just might be including his name with the previously mentioned stars whenever we talk about great avant-garde pianists.
Goodheart displays a great deal of dramatic flair on this recording. He wonderfully utilizes brief bits of silence to illuminate but more importantly he shows complete command of the keys. Able to produce both long rhythmic runs and slow haunts, Goodheart possesses the one quality that seems required for a successful solo piano recording, the ability to sound as if you have more than hands. Such a skill gives this recording the false sense that more than one musical mind is at work. The over 12 minute long "Structure for Piano No. 2" comes across more as a duet than a solo piece. Dangling notes are met by quite deliberate and punchy counterparts in this highly melodic but not very restful number.’
This isn’t the easy disc to get a handle on. A good deal of the material is relatively abstract and sounds as if must be coming from a highly focused and deliberate mind. Nothing else seems to matter to Goodheart. Listening to this disc, I could imagine an unkempt pianist in shabby clothes hovering over a piano. Fully devoted to the music, the pianist takes great pains to extract just the right sound but at the same time is a beholden his desires and random occurrences. The impulsive pianist in my mind gets caught up in the music and can’t let go. Goodheart may very well have appeared quite differently in his actual performance of this material but that hardly matters. Songs from the Time of Great Questioning is an aural portrait of a mad scientist at work in his musical laboratory.