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This review is from: Ornette on Tenor (Audio CD)
Ornette Coleman is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most influential musicians of the last century; but like many true originals he had to endure a great deal of hostility when he first appeared on the scene 45 years ago - from those who either resented, didn't understand or just didn't like the way he chose to ignore rules which they considered fundamental to jazz (and which many established musicians had devoted countless hours of practice to learning)....
Coleman's musical vision (which came to be known as harmolodics) defies easy categorisation and his own attempts to explain it have been frustratingly vague. Basically he wanted to free his playing from the restrictions of harmonic and rhythmic conventions prevalent in the jazz of the 1950's - and crucially, to create improvisations using the melodic line as a starting point which were not dependent on chord changes. Although his name will always be associated with "free jazz", Coleman's music is far from "free" and contains an abundance of logic, melody and rhythm, as well as being deeply rooted in the blues.
Despite causing so many waves among the jazz establishment (or maybe because of it) Coleman also managed to attract a hardcore of devotees and win the support of other young musicians looking for new ideas and fresh approaches to playing (Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Scott La Faro, Billy Higgins, Ed Blackwell and others). The core of his most influential output was recorded during numerous sessions for the Atlantic label between 1959 and 1961, including groundbreaking albums like "The shape of jazz to come", "Change of the century", "This is our music", "Free jazz" etc....
The complete recordings can be found in chronological order on the 6 cd set "Beauty is a rare thing", but if your budget doesn't stretch that far, "Ornette on tenor" from 1961 is as good an example as any of Coleman's music from this period. Although he usually plays alto sax, Coleman switched to the tenor for this album because in his opinion "the best statements Negroes have made of what their soul is have been on tenor saxophone"....
Like nearly all the Atlantic sessions, it's a quartet recording and features sublime performances from the leader with great support from Don Cherry on trumpet, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. With no piano in the line-up (the omission of which was still pretty revolutionary in those days) Garrison and Blackwell's role is as much melodic and interactive as it is rhythmic - and their choice of phrases sometimes suggest new directions for Coleman and Cherry, who both play with incredible fluency and almost telepathic understanding. Coleman's expressive solos make full use of the tenor's deeper range, while Cherry's contributions are generally more subtle (particularly on the awesome "Cross breeding", when after the leader's stunning solo there's not much left to say).
There seems to be an endless amount of space in this music - so many melodic possibilities for the players to explore and four decades on it still sounds remarkably fresh and contemporary. Not just great jazz but great music, period.