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Before the arrival of this recent reissue Ornette Coleman's brief, but fertile stint for Columbia Records was spread across a hopelessly convoluted morass of LPs and CDs, import and domestic. The folks at Columbia, who have over the past few years re-hipped themselves to the wealth of music bursting the seams in their vaults, targeted their efforts toward cleaning up the mess and have done an admirable job. The resulting set, which gathers all of the material from a handful of sessions Coleman waxed in the company of both long-standing and nascent associates, covers a broad range of the bandleaders interests. But in true harmolodic fashion all of the participants are active agents in the birthing of the music.
The hodgepodge nature of the sessions is reflected most clearly in the diversity of ensemble groupings: Coleman's classic quartet (with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins), an augmented septet with Dewey Redman, Bobby Bradford and Ed Blackwell, another septet featuring Jim Hall and Cedar Walton, these are but a few of the combinations. There's also a gathering of vocal numbers that range from the spaced out poetics of the title track to the slick jump blues shouting of "Good Girl Blues." A fair share of weird studio experiments also creep in like "Rock The Clock" where heavy wah-wah amplification is injected into the mix beneath Coleman's seesaw violin and Redman's barnstorming tenor/musette abstractions. Throughout the light amplification on Haden's strings slathers his bass lines with even more rubbery bottom-end grease. Blackwell and Higgins fan a continuous rhythmic flame that refuses to be extinguished even in the face of the most blustery of melodic and harmonic gusts from the other instruments.
The standout tracks are those that reunite the two variants of Coleman's classic quartet (with either Higgins or Blackwell, or both, on drums) and round out its original dimensions with the addition of Bradford and/or Redman. This type of aggregation is most excitingly deployed on "Happy House," which opens disc two. The vocal tunes prove to be the least satisfying aspects of the program and their lyrical content does not often flow well with the free-form improvisations designed to support them musically. Documentation on the set is top-notch and in addition to all the discographical minutiae two essays culled from original album pressings along with a third penned by Michael Cuscuna for the new edition are included.
In many ways the Science Fiction sessions were a summation of Coleman's music to datea crossroads where old and new ideas and compatriots converged, reflected upon the past and cast an expeditious gaze to the future. Having all of the music in one conveniently accessible place makes the breadth of Coleman's vision all the more arresting and the team over at Columbia should be commended for their efforts expended in returning this material to widespread circulation. For Coleman, the time is and always has been now.
Track Listing: CD1: What Passion Could I Give; Civilization Day; Street Woman;
Science Fiction; Rock The Clock; All My Life; Law Years; The Jungle
Is A Skyscraper; School Work; Country Town Blues; Street Woman
(alternate); Civilization Day. CD2: Happy House; Elizabeth; Written
Word; Broken Shadows; Rubber Gloves; Good Girl Blues; Is It Forever.
Personnel: Ornette Coleman: alto sax, violin, trumpet; Dewey Redman: tenor
saxophone, musette; Don Cherry: pocket trumpet; Bobby Bradford:
trumpet; Charlie Haden, bass; Billy Higgins: drums and timpani; Ed
Blackwell: drums; Carmine Fonarotto: trumpet (CD1#1, CD1#6);
Gerard Schwarz, trumpet (CD1#1, CD1#6); Asha Puthli, vocals
(CD1#1, CD1#6); David Henderson: poet (CD1#4); Jim Hall: guitar
(CD2#6, CD2#7); Cedar Walton: piano (CD2#6, CD2#7); Webster
Armstrong: vocals (CD2#6, CD2#7); unidentified flute, clarinet,
oboe, bassoon, French horn (CD2#6, CD2#7).