Under the direction of John Corbett, Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series is not only preserving creative music documents but is writing the history of a woefully under documented time. Freedom & Unity
, the latest in this series by little known trombonist/trumpeter Claude Thornton, is a natural extension of the music of Ornette Coleman.
Recorded one day after John Coltrane’s funeral, this session features Trane sideman Jimmy Garrison on two tracks and Joe McPhee (playing trumpet) on three. Thornton, who rehearsed across the hall from Ornette’s trio, certainly was listening. His piano-less quintet and extended New Art Ensemble pursue Coleman’s breakthroughs in melody and rhythm with different instrumentation. They certainly prove that free principals can be applied to the vibes, as Karl Berger does here and on later recordings with Don Cherry. Alto saxophonist Sonny King (we should find out more about this guy) tears through songs bridging bebop and freedom principles.
Thornton’s valve trombone is the payday here. He floats lines, setting moods or barking replies to the cornet. Thornton’s trombone later recorded with Sunny Murray, Sun Ra and Archie Shepp. The liner notes point out he was denied a visa to enter France because they suspected him of belonging to the Black Panthers. His revolutionary music and self-produced LP’s received little attention in the mainstream press, as he had no access to distribute his music, and in the late 1960s and 1970s, American record companies were withdrawing their support of creative music. The Cecil Taylors, Anthony Braxtons and Joe McPhees of this world either became exiles or recorded for small foreign labels. Clifford Thornton moved to Europe and died in relative obscurity in the mid-80s. This document of significant music calls for further exploration of the ever-neglected free jazz past.