This is Our Mystic

1) Interview with Gunther Schuller (part one) -- the official interview commissioned by Jazz on 3, mostly about Third Stream

2) Interview with Gunther Schuller (part two) -- Gunther's classical compositions, his magic row, and listening to Contours

3) Commentary and more from George Schuller -- Including pictures and video of The Visitation

4) Forms and Sounds -- Gunther talks to Ornette Coleman in 1960, along with my own speculation about Harmolodics

5) This is Our Mystic --  Early Ornette Coleman

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Ornette Coleman’s door has always been open to other musicians, and a few years ago I spent a couple of afternoons with my favorite melodist.  Among many other things, he told me that the first time he picked up the saxophone he played pretty much the way he does today.  I can believe it, since, regardless of the context, Ornette Coleman has always played in the same way, in the same style, always based on melody of abstract yet natural beauty.

Charlie Parker was at his peak when Ornette came of age.  Therefore, the immediate material this mystic of melody had to use was early 1950’s jazz:  swinging bop-type heads with a standard rhythm section featuring discursive solos on semi-complex chord changes.  Ornette learned more kinds of music later, but jazz is what initially caught his ear, and his first recording from early 1958 has swinging bop-type heads with a standard rhythm section featuring discursive solos on semi-complex chord changes.

Since melody was Ornette’s birthright, his music is structured from the top down.  Long before he came up with the name Harmolodics, his bands huddled around the blast furnace of his melodic genius and were inspired to create the rest of the arrangement.

Each member of the group was required to take a lot of initiative.  The biggest problem with most critical discussion of Ornette is how little consideration is given to his ensemble.  For example, in Gunther Schuller’s long introduction to his Coleman transcriptions (later reprinted in Musings) Don Cherry’s name isn’t mentioned.   This post focuses on the bass and piano, so I’m not going to do Cherry justice here, either.  But on every track discussed in detail below, Cherry plays the head in perfect unison and harmony with Ornette. Their phrasing is precisely together.  I’m sure the overall swing and rhythmic authority present on the Contemporary albums is due in large part to Cherry. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cherry was actually the go-between for people like Red Mitchell and Percy Heath.

I’m not saying that Ornette isn’t the alpha male or a powerful leader, which he obviously is. Many of Ornette’s musicians have never played better than with him.  He also does some shaping of his performances, which I experienced first hand when he taught me his ballad, “Once Only.”  I learned the melody, wrote it down, and then began harmonizing as he played. After the first phrase, he stopped. “What are you playing in that first bar? A-flat dominant?”  It was A-flat dominant. “Try E major instead.”  Ah—that was better. But then we played it for quite a while, and he had no further corrections.  The lovely harmony played by Greg Cohen on Sound Grammar’s “Once Only” is not like what I played, although Cohen does begin in E major/B Major.

Obviously, I shouldn’t extrapolate too much from one afternoon’s casual reading of a ballad.   But even before rehearsing with Ornette a little bit, I already believed that the Ornette we know and love wouldn’t exist without the first Five Spot band with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins. (Ed Blackwell and Dewey Redman are the two other most significant collaborators, but David Izenzon, Charles Moffett, Bobby Bradford, Jimmy Garrison, Scott LaFaro and Denardo Coleman have also played with Ornette in a sympathetic way.  Probably the members of Prime Time have also mostly made up their own parts.)

It’s a shame that interviewers have seldom asked Ornette about his musicians, since he is not secretive about the collaboration process.  One of the earliest longer pieces about Ornette is in A.B. Spellman’s Four Lives in the Bebop Business. Compared to the profiles of Jackie McLean, Cecil Taylor, and Herbie Nichols, it seems that Ornette is trying to go the extra mile in communicating to  Spellman how important his sidemen were.  For example, there’s really quite a lot about Ornette’s bassists, and none at all about Jackie McLean’s, although, admittedly, the slant throughout the whole book is more sociological than musical. ( Ornette:  “David Izenzon has a lot of background. I mean, he knows that he’s Jewish…”)

I asked Ornette about Haden, and he said that Charlie had the biggest ears.  When we talked about Don Cherry, Ornette began nearly weeping, saying that Don understood him better than anybody, and how much he missed him.  Ed Blackwell?  “He played the most perfect phrases. No one else could phrase the melodies that correctly, except now Denardo can too.”  Dewey Redman? “Dewey could play the keys off the saxophone.”  Ornette was also quoted in DownBeat’s Redman obituary: “Dewey’s creativity was one of the highest forms of spirituality I ever experienced.”

Haden, Blackwell, Dewey, Cherry:  These are Ornette’s people.

Unfortunately, the first two Ornette Coleman records on Contemporary have Walter Norris, Don Payne, Percy Heath, Red Mitchell, and Shelly Manne.  These are not Ornette’s people. But this doesn't prevent them from being a full part of the collaboration process.  Norris, Payne, Heath, Mitchell, and Manne all made up their own parts and played what they wanted. Perhaps part of problem with Ornette’s early career is that Something Else and Tomorrow is the Question were in stores when Ornette was changing the century at the Five Spot.  If the first Ornette record on the shelves had been the masterpiece The Shape of Jazz to Come (with Cherry, Haden, Higgins and the transcendent opening track “Lonely Woman”) he would have had a better chance of being understood by the jazz community at large.  Certainly, The Shape of Jazz to Come ensemble was the band that blew the mind of every serious New York musician, not the Contemporary records.  This must be the only time in jazz history when so many major artists reassessed their music based on a recent arrival:  Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis were all directly influenced by the Five Spot band.  If Ornette had been there with Walter Norris and Don Payne, do you think that Rollins, Coltrane, Mingus, and Davis would have kept going down to see the latest thing?

Norris and Payne are certainly good enough conventional jazz musicians. Something Else is mostly a collection of conventional forms, and when Ornette isn’t playing, Norris and Payne sound fine.  “The Disguise,” “Alpha,” and “When Will the Blues Leave” are blues, “Chippie,” “Angel Voice,” and “The Sphinx,” are more or less rhythm changes, “Jayne” is “Out of Nowhere” in the solos, and “The Blessing” and “Invisible” have new but non-challenging boppish chord progressions.

Ornette is quoted in the liner notes:

I always write the melody line first because several different chords can fit the same melody line. In fact, I would prefer it if musicians would play my tunes with different changes as they take a new chorus so that there’d be all the more variety in the performance. On this recording, the changes finally decided on for the tunes are a combination of some I suggested and some the musicians suggested.

I suspect that Norris came up with most of the chord changes on Something Else, changes that more or less fit the brilliant, instantly memorable and idiosyncratic Coleman lines.   Does Ornette improvise on those Norris chords on Something Else?  To my ears, he is just floating over the conservative Norris harmony without accepting those changes as true.  “Jayne” has gone down in history as the tune Ornette wrote on “Out of Nowhere,” but it’s a simple fact that the melody of “Jayne” is not on the changes of “Nowhere.”  The first 8 bars of “Jayne” never leave G major, whereas “Nowhere” is distinguished by a big out-of-key II/V in bar 3

06 Jayne (melody)

However, Norris and Payne do use the changes of “Nowhere” for solos, which is an aesthetic error. If I were a working jazz musician when this record came out and heard Ornette’s solo on those familiar changes, I would say, “This guy cannot find his ass using both hands even if there was a hot brick in his back pocket.”

07 Jayne (Ornette)

Since I am a modern-day Ornette Coleman fanatic, I listen to this solo and say, “Wow! He proposes those notes as acceptable on these changes…it doesn’t work, though, he needs his cats backing him up.” Charlie Haden brought up this tune in our interview.

CH:  Sometimes the changes he had for the written parts didn't always fit, so I would look for the right note, even if it wasn't the root of the tonal center.

EI:   Dewey Redman told me once that he was looking at a piece of Ornette's music and thought he heard some changes in there. He asked Ornette what the structure was, and Ornette responded by putting a chord symbol on every eighth note! He made sure never to ask Ornette that question again.

CH:   Yeah, NEVER ask Ornette about the changes!

EI:   So, you were making up the harmony. On some of the early music like "Lonely Woman," "Ramblin'", and "Una Muy Bonita," there is also a strong melody in the bass. I have a strong suspicion that those are yours too.

CH:   Sometimes I would play what I was hearing instead of what he had written and he usually accepted it.

EI:   Most performances of "Lonely Woman" leave off your first bass melody, which is a shame, since it is so beautiful. In general, I think that Ornette's music is more democratic than most people realize. Just listen to the first two records on Contemporary without you.

CH:   Yeah, Walter Norris and Don Payne played those "Out of Nowhere" changes behind Ornette. You can't do that!

EI:   If I had heard that song, "Jayne," on the radio in the fifties, I would have thought that Ornette was a charlatan instead of a genius. He needs to be supported the right way.

CH:   They didn't know what he was doing. Not that they couldn't play: Walter Norris was great, man. I loved this gig I had back then playing for a burlesque with Norris, Frank Butler, and a great alto player who died too young, Joe Maini. But as much as he knew about harmony, Norris couldn't forget it when he played with Ornette.

EI:   Ornette is not going to bend to you.

CH:   No, you have got to bend to him. I am always waiting for Ornette to play a tonal center so I can contrast it or play with it to make it sound really good.

 

On two of the rhythm changes tunes on Something Else, “Chippie” and “Alpha,” the bridge is improvised, without a written melody. This was common practice already: famous examples include Sonny Rollins's “Oleo” and Dizzy Gillespie's “Wee.” I asked Ornette about this, and he said that the bridge of rhythm changes was how he first knew how to leave the home key. A light bulb went on my head, and I thought, “Bridge of rhythm changes = start of free jazz.” This makes a lot of sense, and explains why there are so many improvised bridges in his early music.

We can hear this embryonic free jazz in Ornette's first solo on “Angel Voice.” He mostly plays in the tonic key on the beginning and ending A sections and leaves that key (and normal bridge changes) behind for the whole bridge.

05 Angel Voice (Ornette)

You can almost hear the language of jazz react in shock and bewilderment:  “What was THAT? Actually, that felt pretty good!”

The only composed bridge on near-rhythm changes is on “The Sphinx.”  It is also the only rubato music on Something Else. Unlike “Angel Voice” or “Chippie,” “The Sphinx” doesn’t really sound like rhythm changes at the top of the tune:  It’s a blinding succession of off-kilter lines in pure diatonic G major, so Norris and Payne decide to play it as a rhythm-ish rotation around the tonic sort of like Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t.”  That makes good sense.  But the superb rubato bridge is rendered as a collection of II/Vs starting on C-sharp half-diminished for blowing.  That’s not so good.   Someone should try to reclaim “The Sphinx” with no changes whatsoever.

Actually, Steve Kuhn almost got there in the Lenox jazz concert (mentioned in the previous post).  Kuhn starts with some of the best piano comping I’ve heard behind Ornette, just riffing discreetly on one note and giving the soloist a nice bluesy texture to work with.  On the bridge he plays a simple C-sharp octave, not a fat half-diminished chord.   That spareness is a good choice, but probably the band shouldn’t have gone to a bridge at all.  They should have stayed with the initial texture until it moved on naturally, following Ornette’s lead.  Ironically, in this performance where the band is trying to keep the AABA going, the drummer is out of his depth and manages to help Ornette derail the form before the end of the first chorus.  They play something like only 29 bars instead of 32 before starting over.

12 The Sphinx (Ornette)

Ornette clearly doesn’t mind this, and in fact I’m sure he loved it, since his solo picks up heat beginning at that moment. Kuhn, on the other hand, probably didn’t love that error:  he keeps relentlessly at that bridge behind the other soloists, and in his own chorus the bridge sounds like George Shearing.

I wonder how Kuhn knew to start the bridge on C-sharp, anyway, since he harmonizes the the melody with straight D dominant.

10 The Sphinx (Kuhn bridge)

Norris’s version with passing chords was better, and does begin on C-sharp half-diminished.

11 The Sphinx (Norris bridge)

Norris and Kuhn are great pianists, but they needed more time to get up to speed.  The most coherent early Coleman recording with piano is 65 minutes of Paul Bley, Ornette, Cherry, Haden, and Higgins recorded live at the Hillcrest club in October/November 1958.   Bley either plays interactively behind Ornette or lays out.  The other musicians are the first great Ornette quartet. These too-little known recordings are the most informative source about Ornette’s relationship to conventional jazz.

"Klactoveesedstene" (Charlie Parker) Ornette and Don play the same intro, head, and tempo as Bird did.  Ornette solos first, on the form, with Bley laying out.  Unfortunately (or intentionally!?!) Bley comes in on the third bridge in the wrong place, and the form is kind of a free-for-all afterwards, although they don’t leave B-flat much, and there seems to be at least one more clear bridge. Cherry’s brief comments behind Ornette’s solo include the melody of “Congeniality.”  The most astonishing moment is the rubato unison line that Ornette and Don play to conclude the solo.  On his rare versions of other people’s music, Ornette always includes some original material.

"The Blessing" (Ornette Coleman) This has a great laid-back alto solo mostly in the home key with casual tangents to weird II-V’s. At 3:30, we look into the abyss. The master then wraps it up with a blues cry.  Throughout, Bley and Haden play the obvious harmonization of the melody but without the strictness of Norris/Payne on Something Else.  There’s no way not to hear the opening phrase of the tune as F-sharp minor to B7, but after that it could go different ways to get to G.  That’s just how Bley and Haden play it: open, with options.  See also the version of “The Blessing” discussed below on The Avant-Garde.

08 The Blessing (Ornette)

"I Remember Harlem" (Roy Eldridge) A piano feature with composed lines for the horns.  Bley’s most famous solo record, Open to Love, features a themeless version of Eldridge’s anthem.

"Free" (Ornette Coleman) is the first proper recording of the dominant style of his Atlantic years, up-tempo and no changes, although this bridge is conservative compared to the wild one on Change of the Century.  The head is a horn-only call.

When Will the Blues Leave? (Ornette Coleman) In his autobiography, Paul Bley says that when Billy Higgins and Charlie first met, they were playing so well together that they played a whole set at a jam session duo, just the two of them, swinging. Haden and Higgins get to show off that deep groove on “When Will the Blues Leave,” where Ornette delivers his most conservative, form-filled jazz performance on record.  He is also swinging like crazy! 

Check out the killer Horace-Silver-on-acid horn interludes after the first head and before the last head (not on Something Else).  Bley’s comping is right with Ornette, hooking him up. Around 3:30 the mystic has had enough jazz, and turns the dial on his time machine.

14 When WIll the Blues Leave (Ornette)

"Ramblin'" (Ornette Coleman) It’s instructive to compare the canonical version from Change of the Century with the live one made a year earlier.  The arrangement is almost the same, but on the Hillcrest version Billy Higgins plays much more aggressively on the head.   Haden plays the 12-bar blues throughout the horn solos here but in the studio he wouldn’t follow the form as exactly. In both versions, Ornette barely departs from the home key.

"Crossroads" (Ornette Coleman) This is the most avant-garde piece from the Hillcrest material: there is no rhythm section when the horns and piano improvise!  The band’s excitement at such transgression is palpable, and at the end they are rewarded with the most enthusiastic applause of any of the eight songs.  A second theme was added to “Crossroads” and became “The Circle with the Hole in the Middle” on The Art of The Improvisers.

"How Deep Is the Ocean" (Irving Berlin) A beautiful long Coleman line for just the horns introduces trumpet and piano solos.  Coleman doesn’t solo, but he does some in-key background noodling for a few bars before the long written line takes it out.  It is suddenly clear that the line is derived from the last eight bars of the tune, and Ornette gets a brief cadenza.

There are no more significant Coleman performances with piano until much later.  His next studio visits in the first three months of 1959 produced Tomorrow is the Question, which unfortunately doesn’t have Billy Higgins.  In his place was Shelly Manne, a great player who is not an Ornette Coleman musician.  Likewise, Red Mitchell and Percy Heath are two great bass players that don’t know how to improvise without changes.  Instead Mitchell and Heath, like Norris and Payne before them, create forms to play on that the soloists don’t always relate to.

“Tears Inside” and “Turnaround” are blues and "Tomorrow is the Question,” “Rejoicing,” “Endless” are rhythm changes. On both “Mind and Time” and “Giggin’,” Heath creates twelve bar forms to walk on but neither is a blues.  ("Mind and Time” has a really weird 7 + 5 bass motion.) “Compassion” and “Lorraine” are the most avant-garde pieces and probably the most successful overall. Indeed, on “Lorraine,” Mitchell and Manne play the unusual form with rubato melodies and changes of tempo not just on the head but also behind both soloists.   This is the most Ornette-sounding track -- Red Mitchell plays wonderfully!

Without a piano, Ornette’s concept immediately sounds less “wrong,” so Tomorrow is the Question is a better record than Something Else.  It helps that Ornette and Don are more confident by this time as well. However, this rhythm section cannot follow Ornette either, and keeping the form behind Ornette usually doesn’t work.  How symbolic when Manne and Mitchell get a bar off of each other on “Rejoicing”!  I doubt if these professionals ever got lost playing C rhythm changes before or since.

Both blues are good examples of the Ornette/band conflict.  Don Cherry plays the forms on them beautifully, hurrying back to hold our hand if we think he is lost.  But Ornette is done with handholding.  Ornette's solos have wonderful blues phrases and those magical leaps away into new keys, but the rigorous bassists don’t support his digressions. The feeling gets diffuse and directionless.  Ornette’s solo on “Tears Inside” ends awkwardly, and on “Turnaround” there’s a terrible edit as the head comes back in.

(Manne’s drumming is particularly wrong and cute on “Turnaround.”  Again, I’m mostly dealing with the bass in this essay, but the drums are vitally important, too.  I wonder what Tomorrow is the Question would have sounded like with Billy Higgins aboard.)

If Charlie Haden had been on this date, he would have solved these formal issues.  There is no studio recording of "Turnaround" with Ornette and Charlie together, but it was part of the repertoire on the Song X tour (Pat Metheny, Ornette, Haden, Jack DeJohnette, Denardo Coleman). Bootlegs are revealing:  Metheny plays the 12-bar form on “Turnaround” accurately, just like with the same rhythm section on 80-81.  When Ornette solos, Haden and Ornette leave the form to soar in great whoops of blues.  It's incredibly swinging -- not just the beat, but the overall feel:  It's not just blues, it's all of humanity blues.

13 Turnaround (Ornette)

The latest version of “Turnaround” on Sound Grammar also ignores the 12-bar form after the melody. Probably this is way Ornette wanted to play with Red Mitchell, too.

There are those that swear by Tomorrow is the Question. It certainly has some wonderful Don Cherry, stronger than on Something Else or even at the Hillcrest.  Metheny must have an opinion: In addition to frequently playing “Turnaround,” for Rejoicing he programmed “Tears Inside” and the title track.  But for me, Tomorrow is the Question just a fun curiosity except for the brilliant melodies.   I need Charlie Haden back for the language to make total sense.

An obvious place to hear Haden’s importance is John Coltrane and Don Cherry’s contemporaneous The Avant-Garde with Ed Blackwell and either Haden or Heath.  While the tracks with Heath have a similar feel to Tomorrow is the Question, good but a little disconnected, the tracks with Charlie Haden are something else. 

On “The Blessing,” Haden’s marvelous walking lines are above, below, and just alongside the changes.  It is pure melody in the bass. On “Cherryco,” Haden begins with fast tempo in free harmony behind Cherry.  At the start of Coltrane’s solo, Haden begins in the same place, but since Coltrane keeps strongly suggesting E-flat minor, Charlie eventually goes to him -- although he never gives up on the chromaticism strongly suggested by “Cherryco”’s theme. (A decade later Haden would play free for Dewey Redman and on the form for Keith Jarrett on the same song, for example on “Shades of Jazz.”)

It’s too bad that Haden isn’t on “Invisible,” which has an astonishing discordance between Coltrane and Heath. Heath plays the last two bars of every “A” section as C major, like how Norris and Payne play it on Something Else. Coltrane plays it as D-flat. Every time!

09 The Invisible (Coltrane_Heath)

I don’t know why Coltrane thought it was D-flat, but the fact that he does says something about the fluidity of Ornette’s early music with changes—again, changes that Ornette probably had little to do with. If Charlie Haden been on “Invisible,” he would have heard Coltrane and the final two bars would have been D-flat.

Haden’s great early run with Ornette was on the Atlantic discs The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, and This is Our Music.  On pieces with an obvious harmonic structure, like “Lonely Woman,” “Una Muy Bonita,” “Ramblin’,” and “Beauty Is A Rare Thing,” those structures were almost certainly created democratically and none of them cycle consistently.  As far as I can tell, there is no common-practice blowing over changes by anybody, although they hint at it sometimes.

“Bird Food” from Change of the Century is a kind of rhythm changes tune strongly reminiscent of some of the “rhythm” pieces from the Contemporary albums.   It’s boppish in B-flat with an AABA form. The A sections stay close to the tonic and the 8-bar bridge is improvised with Coleman and Haden even starting on D dominant.  Between the key, the form, and the title, it is clear that “Bird Food” is Ornette’s avant interpretation of rhythm changes.  However, the band does not improvise on rhythm changes, just the idea of it.  The first soloist is Don Cherry. For a chorus or so, it sounds like they might be actually be playing real rhythm changes, since both Cherry and Charlie Haden are playing a lot in B-flat and leave it on the first bridge.  But they are not, they are just playing in the style of bop without really doing it.  Once in a while Billy Higgins does something that demarcates form, like the "ones" at 2:15 and 2:30.  The band responds to those demarcations (especially Haden) and the result is a spontaneous but convincing structure.

“Embraceable You” from This is Our Music is probably the ultimate Rorschach test for Ornette’s fans and skeptics. I sympathize with anyone not being able to get next to it because I didn’t always like it either. These days I no longer hear the form as constantly getting lost, but instead as a through-composed collective improvisation. Ornette uses pure melody to shape his solo. Haden is right there, abstracting the tune’s changes without judgment and humbly serving Ornette’s broken-hearted smear. Blackwell’s mallets are perfect (although the first time he uses patterns on the toms it is a real time warp between him and Haden). The searing, Coleman-composed introduction may be better than the Gershwin tune.  It’s a performance that requires compassion to be understood.

The last two small group albums on Atlantic   are in the same style as the previous three but with either Scott LaFaro and Jimmy Garrison in place of Haden.  It’s seems like LaFaro must have rehearsed a lot with Ornette, since he knows the heads intimately, even playing a couple them in unison with the horns.  On “W.R.U” his opening C pedal has become one of the standard ways to play the tune.  Garrison doesn’t know the heads as well -- a few times he doesn’t quite finish soon enough -- but the hook-up with Blackwell is intense. Some musicians say that Ornette on Tenor has one of the greatest recorded bass and drum feels ever.

After the run of canonical Atlantic records, Ornette’s music changed.  I wrote at the beginning of this post, “The material this mystic of melody had to use was very circumscribed:  1950’s jazz was swinging bop-type heads with a standard rhythm section featuring discursive solos on semi-complex chord changes.”   But by 1962 Ornette had been exposed to other things. In my interview with Gunther Schuller I suggest that Ornette’s new trio was informed by Schuller and Third Stream.  Whatever the extant of Schuller’s literal influence, it seems clear that this trio assimilated modernist classical music:  bassist David Izenzon frequently used the bow and Ornette played noise violin.  (Of course, Izenzon and Charles Moffett must also have contributed to the technical details of this repertoire.)  It’s a tribute to the mystic of melody that any of Ornette’s “noise” pieces with this trio (“Falling Stars”) or later bands (“Rock the Clock”) hold up better than a lot of the same era’s unrelievedly dissonant music from European and American classical composers.

After taking on bebop and modernist classical music, Ornette went all the way back to rhythm without professional experience. “Come Il Faut,” off of Crisis, shows 12 year-old Denardo Coleman at his best.  Perhaps Charlie Haden learned something from Denardo:  on The Empty Foxhole, Haden tries to walk quarter notes against Denardo’s free rhythm with mixed results.   However, by the time of Crisis, Haden plays free time throughout.

As great as his music has been so far, a kind of apex is reached from 1969—1972, when Ornette’s core quartet consisted of Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell.  Bebop, European modernism, and free rhythm are all assimilated and liquified.  Ornette and Blackwell are playing better than ever, Dewey’s voice was natural, and Haden become louder and stronger with an amp.  Although his first quartet turned out the Five Spot, this group’s music had a howling, epic quality, a quality hard to confine to smaller spaces. They were meant for the concert hall. Sure, Friends and Neighbors at Ornette’s loft is excellent,  but several bootlegs from big European stages rank as some of the greatest music ever recorded.

For that band’s lone sojourn into a proper studio, Science Fiction, the epic quality is captured by huge amplified bass and a weirdly “split” alto tone, almost as if Ornette is double-tracked. It’s a joyous assemblage of all the best musicians associated with Ornette:  not just the 1969-‘72 quartet, but Cherry, Higgins, and Bobby Bradford too.  For the first time, Ornette takes on lyrics.  Thanks to Asha Puthli, the results are as memorable as his melodies.

What reason could I give

to live

only that

I love you

How many times

must I die

for love

only when

I'm without you

Where will the clouds be

if not in the sky

when I die

Unfortunately Science Fiction was the last record of Ornette with his peers for the remainder of the the decade.  His response to fusion, Prime Time, didn’t seem to leave room for much else.  The magnificent consolation prize was Old and New Dreams, the 1969-’72 quartet with Don Cherry in place of Ornette.  Their greatest work is at the level of the best Ornette.

There were seldom pre-conceived cyclic forms for Ornette’s 1969-’72 quartet or Old and New Dreams except “Broken Shadows,” which was recorded by both bands and also during the hair-raising NYU performance released on Crisis.  As far as I know this is the only post-1959 example of Coleman composing something meant to have a repeating AABA cycle.  While there aren’t really chord changes as such - Haden's low counterpoint suggests but does not confirm harmony - or steady tempo, the AABA is always marked by one or two horns continually playing the tune.   Ornette and the rest of the horns are free to improvise whatever they hear without ever conflicting with the ensemble.

Even though it is strictly AABA, "Broken Shadows" uses a kind of "flexible platform for the free-form soloist" that conservative early groups like on the Contemporary albums were unable to deliver.  Ornette never changed.   He played the same way since birth and waited for others to catch up.

09/19/2010