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Ornette Coleman: Tomorrow is the Question!

C. Michael Bailey By

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Ornette Coleman

Tomorrow is the Question



Shaking out of the contractual obligation forcing him to employ a pianist on his debut, Something Else!!!! (Contemporary, 1958), alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman dispensed with the instrument altogether on 1959's Tomorrow is the Question!, causing a bit of consternation on the part of the mainstream jazz media. This was Coleman's committed step forward toward a harmonically less restrictive sound, en route to the joyful chaos of Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1961). Following, in form, Gerry Mulligan's famous piano-less quartet of the early 1950s, Coleman greatly liberated his solo and rhythm instruments, taking a quantum greater advantage of this freedom compared with Mulligan, had the baritone saxophonist been so inclined.

At the same time, the ensemble writing on Tomorrow is the Question! comes off more precise and filigreed than on Something Else!!!! and considerably more musical. Heard by today's ears, it is not so jarring a progression. Novel at the time was Coleman and trumpeter Don Cherry's tearing loose from harmonic convention in their solos, like Coleman's refractive muse on the title piece (sounding like a Jungian analysis of traditional New Orleans jazz) and, "Mind and Time" (an angular Thelonious Monk-like piece taken to the next level). Coleman shares his space with Cherry, who tends to stay melodically closer to home, providing a tether to Coleman's dissonant flights of fancy and imagination. Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane's later path to harmonic freedom followed approximately this same arc, from Live at Birdland (Impulse!, 1963) through A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1964),, on to Ascension (Impulse!, 1965).

"Tears Inside" approximates the funk achieved by tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley on his "Funk in the Deep Freeze," from Hank Mobley Quintet (Blue Note, 1957). A jangling head gives way to a blues well-grounded by drummer Shelly Manne and bassist Jimmy Heath, both playing more conservatively than Coleman or Cherry. The piece was also covered shortly after by saxophonist Art Pepper on his ironically titled Smack Up (Contemporary, 1960), the altoist straightening out Coleman's crooks, casting the piece as a straight-ahead blues and possibly offering a window into Coleman's otherwise enigmatic composing and playing.

"Compassion" echoes pianist Dave Brubeck's 1959 "Blue Rondo a la Turk," From Time Out (Columbia, 1959), with its off-time playing alternating with the straight 4/4. It is a bit of complicated playing that mixes up the rhythm direction without steering the show off the road. The presence of Manne and Heath somewhat grounds Coleman in a way bassist Don Payne and drummer Billy Higgins resisted on Something Else!!!!, with the pair finally loosening up on the jubilant "Rejoicing."

Bassist Red Mitchell replaces Heath on the disc's final three cuts. "Lorraine" could be classified as a ballad, but it would be one of a new variety, differing in temperament to the conventional ballad. Coleman's alto playing turns blue on this piece, with Cherry's tart trumpet curling the edges of the charts. "Lorraine" prepares the recording for its bluest moment, "Turnabout." Coleman elongates his solo notes into primal screams as opposed to furious flurries of manically expressed ideas, reaching a groove and maintaining it.

The disc closer, "Endless," bounces back to bebop, while breaking completely from the clean turnarounds and brief, pungent solos. Coleman and Cherry reveal that they are not going back to the old ways, but that they are carefully considering where they are going and how they are changing jazz music. Much here sounds like standard bebop/hard bop of the period, but there is an undercurrent of creative anxiety, a nervous tension that continues to build progressively and would be heard more clearly in Coleman's later recordings.

Tracks: Tomorrow Is the Question!; Tears Inside See All; Mind And Time; Compassion; Giggin'; Rejoicing; Lorraine; Turnabout; Endless.

Personnel: Ornette Coleman: alto saxophone; Don Cherry: trumpet; Percy Heath: bass (1-6); Red Mitchell: bass (7-9); Shelly Mann: drums.

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