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December 21, 2010

Ornette Coleman’s Monumental "Free Jazz" Turns 50

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Ornette Coleman’s infamous double quartet date. A historical recording that not only coined the term, “Free Jazz”, describing the music which was to come throughout the following decades, but also the first ensemble of it’s kind. Eight musicians in a free for all spiral that culminated into a web of beauty. A monumental, extended, free improvisation that was unlike anything heard during it's era, Free Jazz revolutionized music then, and still does today.

Free Jazz was probably the third Coleman album I had ever heard. I loved it instantly. I was hooked to this “new sound” from then on out. Musicians playing off each other, inspiring each other in the moment, reacting to each other, supporting and challenging each other at the same time. With written areas arranged and conducted by Coleman that offered an anchor for the listener and the collective.

Think about the large ensemble pieces this has inspired. Coltrane’s Ascension, for one, an offspring that brought yet another revelation to the Avant-Garde. However, it still borrowed from the past -- down to Jazz’s roots. Similar to Dixieland and New Orleans ensembles that exhibited a similar nature. However, Coleman’s more modern approach eliminated chord changes and allowed orchestrated harmony to be unnecessary.

Coleman’s melodic playing keeps a listener engaged for the most part, and Eric Dolphy moans on the bass clarinet like a bird. Dolphy clearly leads his three other improvisers. Ed Blackwell, a double time wizard, offers a quadratic, sporadic approach to the rhythm, while Billy Higgins stays constant on the back beat. Acting as the spinal chord to this group. Don Cherry is of course his usual self on the pocket trumpet, and Freddie Hubbard sculpts his brassier tone, emulating the licks and lines of hard bop. Hubbard’s contrast is interesting compared to the slurring and emotional slabs of the other horn-men.

Free Jazz further involved another conceptual layer. Rather than a slew of eight players on mixed stereo, Coleman allowed each quartet [reed/brass/bass/drums] to exist on it’s own left or right specific channel. This interaction allows us to experience three recordings on one piece of vinyl. The left channel, the right, and the both mixed. Move back and forth between the two, spend time with each individually. It promotes one to pay attention to details that might otherwise be over heard.

Jazz, right now, is in an era of Renaissance. From the acoustic revolution that started in the 80s, to where we are now constantly honoring pivotal recordings on significant anniversaries. In 2009 we reembarked on sessions that produced Kind of Blue and The Shape of Jazz to Come. in 2010 we continue this new tradition with Free Jazz, A Collective Improvisation By The Ornette Coleman Double Quartet at 50 years.

Recorded 1960, Originally Issued 1961 - Atlantic.
Ornette Coleman - alto saxophone; Eric Dolphy - bass clarinet; Don Cherry - pocket trumpet; Freddie Hubbard -trumpet; Charlie Haden - bass; Scott LaFaro - bass; Billy Higgins - drums; Ed Blackwell - drums.

1 comment:

TSK said...

Thank you for pointing this out. Not the kind of thing that would've occurred to me. So I check my Beauty Is a Rare Thing box and indeed, First Take and Free Jazz were recorded on this date at A&R Studios, a session beginning at 8 pm and ending at 12:30 am. This calls for a synchronized celebration tonight.