Saxophonist Coleman recorded Ornette! about a month after his milestone Free Jazz sessions, retaining bassist Scott LaFaro, drummer Ed Blackwell, and the amazing Don Cherry on pocket trumpet. Four tracks, each titled with an acronym, from the original 1962 release are supplemented by a fifth, “Proof Readers,” for this reissue.
Ornette! uniquely blends musical tradition and revolution. Most arrangements sound almost conventional now, with melody statements leading into and out of each piece. Coleman honks out a surprising number of familiar-sounding R&B expressions, and Cherry burns through some Dizzy bop chops, on “W.R.U.”
How they employ them is, of course, an entirely different matter. “W.R.U.” also sounds extremely difficult for the rhythm section, particularly the bassist, to navigate, and “R.P.D.D.” sounds like it’s missing its pianist, though not from lack of LaFaro’s rhythmic and harmonic effort.
“C. & D.” scales the session’s peak: LaFaro tumbles through his walking basslines like a gymnast underneath Cherry as Blackwell impeccably rings out time on his cymbals, playing free but never feeling out of control—the freedom of discipline. Although sometimes viewed as musically dour, Coleman sounds positively joyous in its middle section, while Cherry also suggests Kenny Dorham and even the inscrutable Miles.
It is tribute to Coleman’s vision that, four decades after its release, Ornette! does not sound as menacing or subversive as once it might.
W.R.U., T. & T., C. & D., R.P.D.D., Proof Readers
Ornette Coleman, alto sax; Donald Cherry, pocket trumpet; Scott LaFaro, bass; Ed Blackwell, drums.
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