with Ornette Coleman

“Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry & Billy Higgins and I were lucky enough to have met at the same time as we were feeling the same way about music and that feeling was to play music as if we were hearing it for the first time and creating a new chord structure as we improvised…playing with Ornette was a learning experience, definitely. I had to really listen to everything that he played because he was always modulating from one key to another and I was the only chordal instrument in the band. There was no piano or guitar playing chords and so I had to play chords in my basslines and learn how to create new chord structures. It was a great band.” – Charlie Haden


Beauty Is A Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic recordings (Atlantic/1993)
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The opportunity to possess–in one convenient package–every recording Ornette Coleman made for Atlantic is an opportunity most fans of modern jazz would be hard pressed to turn down. But for Coleman fans, this collection is an embarrassment of riches. Arranged chronologically by recording date, the set collects music from 1959 to 1961, the period many consider Ornette’s most vital. Included are sessions from Free Jazz, Ornette!, The Shape of Jazz to Come, Twins, The Art of the Improvisers, Change of the Century, To Whom Who Keeps a Record, and This Is Our Music. As a bonus, producers have also included a handful of previously unreleased tracks. Beauty is a terrific package. But what really sets this collection apart is how clearly the spirit of the music is visible. (Amazon.com)

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In All Languages (Caravan of Dreams/1987)
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Originally issued as a two-LP attempt to give the skinny on Ornette Coleman’s very different electric and acoustic musical languages, this set catches the “classic” acoustic quartet and the electric Prime Time band as alter egos of one another. Coleman’s compression of harmony and melody in the acoustic quartet was always groundbreaking and remains no less so in this slightly varnished recording of the group (with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins). Without the raw production qualities of the Atlantic-era quartet LPs, the quartet sounds strangely clean but still paints Coleman as a top-drawer harmonic (er, harmolodic) theorist. The bouncing gait of the tunes and their irrepressible fun is about all that remains constant once guitarist Bern Nix, Jamaaldeen Tacuma, and the other Prime Timers plug in, playing many of the same songs the quartet play on the CD’s first half. Coleman’s electric funk band managed to sound wiry and fuzzy in equal (large) portions, and here they paddle in lakes of rhythms that will energize James Brown fans and West African percussion aficionados. Its odd studio polish aside, this is a stunner. (Amazon.com)


Soapsuds, Soapsuds (Artists House/1977)
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This recording is intense. It really shows the profound musical chemistry of theses two influential creative artists. Both Ornette and Charlie Haden are at the top of their musical powers. There is an incredible focus of all their musical ideas in this recording. (Amazon.com)

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To Whom Who Keeps A Record (Water Music/1975)
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Despite being released in 1975 (and in Japan ONLY) with a crazy cover, it actually dates from two Atlantic sessions between 1959-1960 featuring Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell (Blackwell replaced Higgins in the 1960 sessions). The first portion was recorded during the same studio period of Change Of The Century and the rest was done shortly after This Is Our Music recordings. What makes this all worth while is hearing the music flow out of the speakers and into ears with tremendous joy. It will not disappoint. (Amazon.com)


Broken Shadows (Columbia/1972)
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Coleman produces some great sets with his brief Columbia sessions. Science Fiction, has more of a spacey and electronic aesthetic, where as Broken Shadows is more reminiscent of the Atlantic recordings but perhaps a bit more aggressive. Besides the aggressiveness, you get all the boogie and swinging and positivity you’d expect. Tracks like “School Work” leave dancing melodies in your head. (thisshapeofjazz.blogspot.com)


Science Fiction (Columbia/1971)
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Ornette Coleman’s first album for Columbia. Science Fiction was his creative rebirth, a stunningly inventive and appropriately alien-sounding blast of manic energy. Coleman pulls out all the stops, working with a variety of different lineups and cramming the record full of fresh ideas and memorable themes. Bassist Charlie Haden and drummers Billy Higgins and/or Ed Blackwell are absolutely indispensable to the overall effect, playing with a frightening, whirlwind intensity throughout.


Friends and Neighbors (Flying Dutchman/1970)
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This disc contains one of Ornette Coleman’s lesser-known sessions. In addition to his own alto (and occasional trumpet and violin), Coleman is joined by Dewey Redman on tenor, bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Ed Blackwell, and (on one of the two versions of “Friends and Neighbors”) a variety of friends who sing along as best they can. Actually, the most notable tracks are the two extended pieces, “Long Time No See” and “Tomorrow.” The music is typically adventurous, melodic in its own way, yet still pretty futuristic. (AllMusic.com)


Ornette Coleman – Ornette at 12 (Impulse!/1969)
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Ornette Coleman had always retained a childlike sense of innocence about his music, so his choice for a drummer on this date may have been, in retrospect, not a surprise — but it was a decision that stirred major controversy in jazz circles at the time and continued to do so for decades afterwards. That drummer was his son, Ornette Denardo, at the time 12 years old. Jazz fans and critics, accustomed to a level of professionalism even in the freest playing situations, found his crude, flailing drum style just this side of ridiculous and also complained that it gave ammunition to conservative observers who had always proclaimed about free jazz that “anyone could do it.” Listened to anew, however, one is impressed with the freshness of his sound, as well as his avoidance of the ruts (perhaps because of his inability to do so?) of other drummers who were more content to follow an easy lead and play by rules buried deep enough that they were unaware of obeying them. Which is to say that Ornette Denardo sounds just fine. If anything, the controversy obscured other fine aspects of the session, including the superb playing of recent Coleman associate Dewey Redman, whose vocalized sound on tenor sax provided a wonderful, gritty foil for the altoist. Mirroring somewhat his son’s task, Coleman also makes early use of trumpet and violin where, like his protégé, he succeeds in creating deeply beautiful sounds without the benefit of “standard” technical ability. Don’t be put off by the critics; Ornette at 12 is a fine, enjoyable album. (AllMusic.com)


Ornette Coleman – Crisis (Impulse!/1969)
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A superb and under-recognized recording, Crisis is one-third of a trilogy of extraordinary albums — the others being Broken Shadows and Science Fiction — by Coleman’s small groups of the late ’60s and early ’70s. A rendition of the piece “Broken Shadows” itself, a dirge of astonishing beauty second only to his “Lonely Woman,” opens the live performance and offers solos of deep and poignant probity from Coleman and tenorist Dewey Redman, whose earthy growled tones counterbalanced the leader’s so well for so long. “Comme Il Faut,” with its own plaintive melodic thrust, provides the base elements from which Charlie Haden excavates gold, setting the stage for his own classic composition “Song for Che,” which is given one of its very finest readings. Don Cherry is in wonderful, sandblasting form throughout, bringing in thematic material from his own recent investigations into Indian and African music, and Coleman’s son, Ornette Denardo, has audibly matured both in technical prowess and comfort level. Crisis somehow lacks the reputation of the revolutionary Coleman albums from early in his career, but on purely musical grounds it ranks among his most satisfying works. (AllMusic.com)


The Empty Foxhole (Blue Note/1966)
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Ornette Coleman’s brief tenure at Blue Note was neither as seminal as his Atlantic output nor as brazenly ambitious as his early-’70s work for Columbia and later with Prime Time. Still, the period did produce some quality music, and The Empty Foxhole is one of his most intriguing efforts. Coleman hadn’t entered a recording studio in over four years when he returned — with his ten-year-old son Denardo on drums. Coleman says in the liner notes that Denardo was ready to make a record the previous year, and he’s not overestimating; Denardo’s percussive coloring and shading never sounds lost or confused, and his stream-of-consciousness flow of ideas keeps up surprisingly well with his father and bassist Charlie Haden. The communal energy keeps flowing throughout the session, and the trio members play off of each other with an easygoing enthusiasm. Most evocative are the funereal military march of the title track, where Ornette’s mournful trumpet plays off of Denardo’s deliberate cadence, and “Sound Gravitation,” a feature for Coleman’s scratchy, percussive violin. Of the alto-driven pieces, “Good Old Days” has the fieriest flow of ideas, but he seems energized by his son’s presence, and his playing is fairly exciting throughout. (AllMusic.com)


Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (Atlantic/1961)
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As jazz’s first extended, continuous free improvisation LP, Free Jazz practically defies superlatives in its historical importance. Ornette Coleman’s music had already been tagged “free,” but this album took the term to a whole new level. The lineup was expanded to a double-quartet format, split into one quartet for each stereo channel: Ornette, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Scott LaFaro, and drummer Billy Higgins on the left; trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Ed Blackwell on the right. The rhythm sections all play at once, anchoring the whole improvisation with a steady, driving pulse. Since there was no road map for this kind of recording, each player simply brought his already established style to the table. The album was enormously controversial in its bare-bones structure and lack of repeated themes. Jazz had long prided itself on reflecting American freedom and democracy and, with Free Jazz, Coleman simply took those ideals to the next level. A staggering achievement. (AllMusic.com)

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This Is Our Music (Atlantic/1960)
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With two landmark albums already under its belt, the Ornette Coleman Quartet spent nearly a year out of the studio before reconvening for This Is Our Music. This time, Billy Higgins is replaced on drums by Ed Blackwell, who has a similar knack for anticipating the ensemble’s direction, and proves a more fiery presence. The session is also notable for containing the only standard Coleman recorded during his tenure with Atlantic — Gershwin’s “Embraceable You,” which is given a lyrical interpretation and even a rather old-time, sentimental intro. Anyone can improvise whenever he feels like it, and the players share such empathy that each knows how to add to the feeling of the ensemble without undermining its egalitarian sense of give and take. All in all, This Is Our Music keeps one of the hottest creative streaks in jazz history going strong. (AllMusic.com)


Change of the Century (Atlantic/1960)
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The second album by Ornette Coleman’s legendary quartet featuring Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins, Change of the Century is every bit the equal of the monumental The Shape of Jazz to Come, showcasing a group that was growing ever more confident in its revolutionary approach and the chemistry in the bandmembers’ interplay. (AllMusic.com)


The Shape Of Jazz To Come (Atlantic/1959)
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Ornette Coleman’s Atlantic debut, The Shape of Jazz to Come, was a watershed event in the genesis of avant-garde jazz, profoundly steering its future course and throwing down a gauntlet that some still haven’t come to grips with. The record shattered traditional concepts of harmony in jazz, getting rid of not only the piano player but the whole idea of concretely outlined chord changes. The pieces here follow almost no predetermined harmonic structure, which allows Coleman and partner Don Cherry an unprecedented freedom to take the melodies of their solo lines wherever they felt like going in the moment, regardless of what the piece’s tonal center had seemed to be. Plus, this was the first time Coleman recorded with a rhythm section — bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins — that was loose and open-eared enough to follow his already controversial conception. Any understanding of jazz’s avant-garde should begin here. (AllMusic.com)

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