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on 3 July 2001
you probably haven't stumbled over this page - free jazz is one of those records you hear about sooner or later. for the record, it isn't half as 'difficult' as folks like to make out. theres even a kind of structure going on, a number of tags throughout the piece etc. evryone plays well here, ornette steals the show, but a special mention to eric dolphy who if memory serves played on about 3 or 4 utterly essential records - this one included - in the space of about a week i think. it also amuses me that the beatles were unheard of when ornette and chums put this out...
taken as a whole, free jazz strikes me - rather like ascension - like a sun; a bright burning mass of energy that flares up in various, seemingly random places, but that does have an internal logic once you get inside it. repeated listenings will be rewarded with something new each time and an overall joy you only get from the best stuff. go on xxx
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on 11 October 2006
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.
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on 5 July 2011
Funnily enough I hadn't listened to Coleman's music until recently - while being quite familiar with jazz territory in general and the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker in particular.

I bought this record in a 5cd-box (original album series) and while I liked "The shape of jazz to come" and subsequent records, I was quite surprised and delighted by 'Free Jazz'.

The record starts without any niceties and plunges you right into the thick of collective improvisation. With this kind of approach and keeping in mind the length of the track, an impressive and imposing 37 minutes, I really was wondering whether the musicians would be able to sustain the level of playing and hold my attention. I was really pleased to discover that they did pull it off.

Comparisons have been made with John Coltrane's 'Ascension', which is a record I'm still struggling with. I think comparisons are justified, and personally I think Ornette Coleman's effort is the better, despite my great admiration for Coltrane.
This may be a challenging record, but I found it surprisingly easy to digest. Certainly my cuppa tea! Pulsing and flowing all the time like seacurrents it may be an alternative for all who, like me, find 'Ascension' a bit too austere.
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on 7 March 2008
When this came out on vinyl I managed to get a gatefold import copy from Dobell's Record shop in London. I was stunned. Fabulous group improv and easily as good as Coltrane's Ascension but not comparable as they approach improvisational jazz in a different way. The best solution, if you like these performers is to have both. Well worth making sure that your copy of "Free Jazz" has the alternate shorter take which is just as good. Highly recommended if you like Ornette. Give it a miss if you don't.
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From the spluttering, primal opening chord, through layer upon layer of rising ecstatic tension to the ferocious closing rhythmic passages, this is a truly great recording. The more closely you listen, the more deeply transcendental the music sounds; the first crossing of the border between jazz and mysticism which others (like John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders) would later reformulate and expand to dizzying heights. Eric Dolphy's bass clarinet pushes the music into unusual and very un-jazz shapes and Don Cherry's remarkably unconventional trumpet contributes to the rhythm of the piece as much as the bass or drums but it's Ornette's beautiful and unpretentious alto which keeps the listener's attention throughout. I think I'll go and listen to it again right now
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on 7 January 2007
Free Jazz often works best in small groups and only works when you switch off the ego. Amazingly 2 quartets of Free Jazz Super-stars show how it is done. 37 minutes of straight improvisation featuring Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry, Ed Blackwell. Some reviewers seem to complain it isn't Mozart, funny that since it is titled "Free Jazz"! Strange mistake to make.
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I can understand Hemley's review, but his problem may arise from his lack of experience listening to the music of Ornette Coleman especially from this period (1960). When I first heard OC fifty five years ago I shared his opinion that the music was a cacophony. But I was young and inexperienced; I was still listening to British trad bands! However in due course I found modern jazz, and very much later plucked up the courage to listen to OC again. Certainly what was outrageous in 1959 (The Shape of Jazz to Come) now seemed far less threatening, indeed even pedestrian. I later tried this album. It certainly is not "easy listening" (and was never intended to be so). However to the patient listener this is far from being cacophonous.
The whole concept seems to be outrageous: two separate quartets freely improvising together at the same time. The quartets were: OC, Donald Cherry, Scott LaFaro and Billy Higgins and Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell.
The music is not entirely without structure but it is the leader OC to introduce themes which the other musicians develope. The first take lasted nearly twenty minutes (here as a bonus) whilst the second (and subsequently released) take lasted twice as long.
The whole concept of free music almost seems an oxymoron, but with eight well tuned musicians each with sensitivity to what the others are playing form develops spontaneously. There are not eight independent "voices" here. The concept is that the musicians while free to play as they wish are equally trying to support each other.
I have every sympathy with the doubters but I urge you to give this album a try.
On the otherhand I have never got on with John Coltrane's "Ascension" based on the same concept.
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on 3 June 2014
It's a very exiting music with one of my favorite player Eric Dolphy and scot LaFaro too. I love the first Ornette records.
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on 10 June 2014
Hardly surprising that this is one of the most influentiañ jazz albums of all time. Superlative. WHAT MORE CAN BE SAID?
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on 19 July 2015
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