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Reassessing

Ornette Coleman: The Missing Years, 1968-1972

By Published: February 22, 2012
Three of the album's five tracks eschew traditional solos. The plaintive "Broken Shadows" employs a constantly repeated theme over which Cherry, Redman, and Ornette trade obbligato passages to rather soul-stirring effect. "Trouble in the East" and "Space Jungle" are collective improvisations (though the former suffers from particularly poor recording quality). By contrast, Haden's "Song for Che" is given a more conventional treatment than it received on the bassist's own Liberation Music Orchestra (Impulse!, 1972). In his book, Ornette Coleman: A Harmolodic Life (William Morrow, 1993), John Litweiler calls the Crisis version "the finest performance of this loveliest of all Haden songs." Those more accustomed to LMO version may be inclined to disagree; without the ahead-of-its time folk-song sample, and with less room for Haden's solo to breathe, the piece loses something of its Latin essence. It becomes instead a blowing vehicle—which is not to say that Coleman and Redman are not up to the task. Coleman, in particular, provides a spirited solo.

Ornette Coleman

Friends and Neighbors

Flying Dutchman Records

2011 (1970)

Crisis marked the end of an exceedingly brief tenure with Impulse!. 1970's Friends and Neighbors, released on the Flying Dutchman label and reissued on vinyl in 2011, is now the most easily obtainable Coleman recording of the period—even while (apparently) remaining (technically) unauthorized—but also, unfortunately, his least inspiring. Perhaps the imposing heights reached on Coleman's Impulse! sides make a certain amount of disappointment inevitable, but Friends and Neighbors represents an oddly traditional retreat—all swinging exuberance maintained by a constant beat, with relatively little in the way of collective improv—especially surprising given its status as the sole available document of Coleman's short-lived Artists House in Soho, a sort of failed experiment in combining music and living space. Redman and Haden return, Cherry is gone and Ed Blackwell
Ed Blackwell
Ed Blackwell
1929 - 1992
drums
replaces Denardo. The African polyrhythms in Blackwell's musical DNA shine through in playful interaction with Coleman's alto on "Long Time No See," an album highlight if not a redeeming moment following the embarrassing amateur chorus on the title track ("friends and neighbors; that's where it's at").

Ornette Coleman

Live in Paris 1971

Jazz Row

2008

Perhaps a better bookend to this consideration of unsung era in Coleman's music would be the quartet's European tour of November 1971 (two months after the main Science Fiction sessions), by which time the men functioned as a well-oiled machine, quite possibly comparable to the 1959-61 Atlantic groupings. Three concerts exist on CD—Belgrade, Berlin—under the title Whom Do You Work For? (Get Back, 2007)—and Paris—with significant overlap in track listings. "Street Woman" and "Written Word" are performed on all three; so is "Rock the Clock." The latter is especially interesting in comparison with the Science Fiction studio take, which makes its point—Ornette, on violin, and trumpet and Redman, on musette and tenor, freely chart a course to the Space Jungle, brought back down to Earth only by the timely interjections of Haden's jarringly wah-wah'd funk/rock bass line—in scarcely more than three minutes. The concert versions carry on for as long as 15 minutes, exploring some rather violent textures but not without an overall loss of focus: Haden uses the wah-wah pedal in Paris, complimenting a surprisingly funky tenor solo; in Berlin and Belgrade, however, the bass is barely audible, with all deliberate distortion seemingly shifted to Coleman's violin.

It is doubtful that anyone, apart from the most ardent fan would require all three of the live 1971 recordings in their collection. Live in Paris 1971 enjoys the best sound quality and packaging, and also includes an interesting performance of Love Call's "Airborne," albeit mis-titled "Silhouette"—an oversight strangely unnoted in Peter Niklas Wilon's excellent volume Ornette Coleman: His Life and Music (Berkeley Hills, 1999). Backtracking two years, Belgium 1969 (Gambit, 2008)—also known as Broken Shadows from the days when it circulated on LP—is another European concert available on CD and well worth hearing. The program largely duplicates Crisis, minus Cherry and Denardo, and with Friends and Neighbors' "Tomorrow" substituted for "Trouble in the East." Immediately prior to this last track, there's a snippet, as brief as it is unexpected, capturing the soft-voiced Coleman in what appears to be a rant, rendered fragmentary and almost incomprehensible by the quality of the recording. He complains that not enough people are hearing his work, that he has to do everything himself, that he also has to spend time taking care of things that don't involve music.
"If it wasn't for that, you know, it would be... everything would be beauty—"


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