The last studio album Ornette coleman would record for Atlantic, "Ornette on Tenor" is unique in many ways, not the least of which is the feature of the leader on the tenor saxophone rather than the alto. In addition, replacing Scott LaFaro (who died before this album was recorded) is the not-yet legendary soon-to-be bassist for John Coltrane, Jimmy Garrison, joining trumpeter Don Cherry and drummer Ed Blackwell. The results of the session are a bit mixed-- for some reason, I always have fond memories of this record, but listening to it, I always find it somewhat less rewarding than my memories recall.
Largely, I suspect this is because of Garrison-- for someone who a few years later would be one of the most adventerous and exciting bassists on the planet, he is tentative on this recording-- his playing throughout shows he's not really embracing the music of Ornette Coleman. The rest of the band, however, performs admirably. With Coleman taking extended solos on tenor, Cherry assumes a much more aggressive stance than usual and seems concerned with filling his space more effectively. The result is both horns sounding drastically different than usual. The definite highlight is opener "Cross Breeding"-- even with Garrison's tentativeness, the catchy start-stop riff bleeds into a partially unaccompanied solo by Coleman full of grunts and growls before being joined by the rhythm section and switching to his more linear lines. Underneath Cherry's solo, Garrison finally "gets it" (this is a common thread-- he seems more comfortable playing under Cherry) and the whole thing comes together.
But the unusual instrument led to some odd experimentation that is less than successful-- "Mapa" feels uneven in its delivery and the "Ornette" sound is totally absent, and while "Enfant" feels more like a Coleman piece, it just lacks any particular energy to it. Admittedly, my two star rating is a bit harsh, but the Atlantic recordings are of such high quality, I have a tendency to look at it relative to those. Newcomers should start with the superlative "The Shape of Jazz to Come", converted may want to check this one out, it's a decent listen, just not as good as his other Atlantic work.