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Ornette Coleman: The Complete Science Fiction Sessions

David Adler By

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Listening to the first moments of "What Reason Could I Give," the lead-off track on this valuable reissue, one is reminded of Ornette Coleman's pervasive influence on present-day jazz composition. The expanded ensemble, the busy rhythms percolating underneath sustained chords and melodic figures, the dream-like vocals by Asha Puthli: all of it brims with the kind of tradition/anti-tradition dialectic found in much of today's best new music.

This two-disc package includes not only 1971's Science Fiction (with two alternate takes), but also the more disjointed Broken Shadows, an album recorded during the same few days but unreleased until 1982. The music finds Coleman in transition. Several of the Science Fiction cuts feature his classic quartet with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins, but others feature a variety of additional elements: timpani, poetry (recited by David Henderson), dual drum sets (Higgins and Ed Blackwell), and a smoking quintet with Dewey Redman on tenor sax and Bobby Bradford on trumpet. On tracks like "Science Fiction" and "Rock the Clock," Coleman appears to be searching for the next "new thing." David Henderson's voice is processed electronically on the former, and some sort of fuzz bass effect is heard on the latter, which brings it at least as close to Parliament/Funkadelic as to any sort of jazz.

Most of Broken Shadows follows in a similar vein, with pieces for quartet, quintet, and septet. There's a more substantial dose of the Higgins-Blackwell double drum set, and a few of Coleman's most distinctive themes, including "School Work," "Happy House," and the marvelous title cut. The last two tracks veer off in another direction, however: both "Good Girl Blues" and "Is It Forever" feature crooner Webster Armstrong, an anonymous woodwind quintet, and—of all people—Cedar Walton and Jim Hall. While "Is It Forever" offers a rare glimpse into Coleman's ballad writing, neither track quite seems to belong, and neither features Walton or Hall in any substantial way.

These sessions may not rank among the best of Coleman's works, but they offer an important glimpse into the evolution of one of modern jazz's prophets.

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).

Title: The Complete Science Fiction Sessions | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Columbia Records


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