Most folks when they thing of music expect melody, rhythm, discernible sections like choruses and verses. Confronted with "Free Jazz" they are often baffled or take refuge, imagining that "intellectuals" are delighting themselves, thinking themselves oh-so-very-clever over something that isn't there. (see the review below). "Free Jazz" ain't easy, but why should all music be easy? Is poetry, film or prose?
Ornette Coleman had blasted onto the jazz scene, abandoning traditional structures for the primal cry of unmediated freeform jazz, in the 1950s. In so doing he went against the "less-is-more" style of Miles Davis and inspired many already-famous musicians, such as John Coltrane. "Free Jazz" is the logical expression of Coleman's revolution. 8 musicians (a double quartet) freeform, whilst each horn takes in turn to be the dominant instrument. The other horns are free to interject or comment, but they must avoid cliche and play more than what was in their traditional "bag". This was a voyage to the musical unknown.
The playing is in fact fairly easily discernible - Coleman is the dominant soloist, while there are parts like most of the horns laughing, a car-horn peeping, and so on. There are several guiding posts, leitmotifs, to indicate the beginning or end of a solists section, so there are discernible signposts to guide the listener. The CD has a useful introduction t the album, saying who plays when.
Overall the piece lacks the power of the similar "Ascension" - Coltrane was a massivel more authoritive player than Coleman. It feels like flushes of energy at varying frequencies (depending on the horn) washing across your perceptions, a flux of energies and forces, as in an Abstract Expressionist painting (the cover is no accident!). It is not "easy listening" but it is a fascinating document and well-worth repeated hearings.