"The Shape of Jazz to Come," 40 Years On
When Ornette Coleman recorded "The Shape of Jazz to Come" in 1959, he was a semi-unknown jazz maverick plying his trade in Los Angeles, winning the admiration of a select few while shocking the jazz establishment. Coleman's two prior recordings, "Tomorrow Is the Question" and "Something Else!", had barely scratched the surface that he would soon scrabble with a searing tone and lean, new concept for group playing. Furthermore, Coleman's Atlantic Records contract was recognized as a mark of success, even if his music was thoroughly uncompromising. With "Shape of Jazz to Come," Coleman reached a point of artistic fullness, and this was at least in part thanks to his likeminded band--Don Cherry on cornet (and later pocket trumpet), Charlie Haden on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums. His early band members continued on to do great, varied work.
"The Shape of Jazz to Come" More details
"Tomorrow Is the Question" More details
"Something Else!" More details
The Shape of Ornette's Brass: Don Cherry
Don Cherry was perhaps Ornette Coleman's most important collaborator. Just as Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan intertwined their horn lines to magical effect, so too did Cherry and Coleman pair up on melody lines that sang and danced with grit and joy. Cherry moved on to record a classic date with John Coltrane, a few dates of his own, an album with Albert Ayler, and more. He also ventured deeply into world music, showing excellence at piano, flute, percussion, and, especially, the art of educating children and others about international music. He would revisit his Coleman quartet days with the collective Old and New Dreams, which featured Coleman's tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden, and another Coleman veteran, drummer Ed Blackwell. The group played dreamier music, integrating Haden and Cherry's political commentaries and their world-music interests. Cherry continued his world-music explorations with percussionists Nana Vasconcelos and Collin Walcott as Codona, a trio whose debut album was their finest. Still later, Cherry delivered a stellar, straight-ahead jazz quintet album with a Swedish band, Dona Nostra. Pianist Bobo Stenson makes a great foil for Cherry, prompting him to creatively bend and slur notes.
Dona Nostra (with Cherry) More details
Old and New Dreams (2) More details
Codona More details
The Shape of Ornette's Beats: Billy Higgins
A Los Angeleno by birth, Billy Higgins came to Ornette Coleman's band as a replacement for his one-time tutor, Ed Blackwell. Higgins adopted Blackwell's skillfully hushed, rhythmic pulse, giving the quartet a flexibility that allowed floating (as on "Lonely Woman," first recorded for "Shape of Jazz to Come") and pouncing (as on "Focus on Sanity," also first recorded for "Shape"). Higgins went on to become a staple for both mainstream bands in the hard-bop genre and boundary-testing avant-gardists. As a session drummer, Higgins played on countless recordings, always finding suitable shapes. He fits snugly into Steve Lacy's twisty nod to Thelonious Monk, "Evidence." In 1963, he contributed some of the era's most unforgettable beats on trumpeter Lee Morgan's funky "Sidewinder." Here, Higgins is far crisper but he never showboats. By the 1970s, Higgins had been an acknowledged master for a decade or more. That he paired up with Art Pepper, a fellow Southern Californian, for the blazing "Straight Life" in 1979 is apt testimony to both players' expertise. Higgins plays a more driving role as Pepper grapples with a heated urgency.
Steve Lacy, "Evidence" More details
Lee Morgan, "Sidewinder" More details
Art Pepper, "Straight Life" More details
The Shape of Ornette's Bass: Charlie Haden
It might seem a tad unfair to pigeonhole bassist Charlie Haden as Ornette Coleman's bassist. He held the position for only a couple years (1958-60) steadily and then intermittently thereafter. Haden's gone on to establish himself in several guises, all of them compelling. His Liberation Music Orchestra began as a politically radical vehicle performing songs from Latin American political struggles and progressed into a mature semi-big band, featuring a virtual roll call of post-'60s greats. Their "Ballad of the Fallen" is spectacularly recorded and heartfelt. Haden also formed Quartet West, a group devoted to noir jazz.
Liberation Music Orchestra, "The Ballad of the Fallen" More details
Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden, "Beyond the Missouri Sky" More details
Charlie Haden Quartet West, "Haunted Heart" More details
For Further Listening: Tributes to Ornette Coleman
Jazz is a tribute-based art, one where songs become standards as people play them more and more, vary their structure and make new tunes based on the old. Furthermore, the composer and player's profiles are bolstered by the tributes, the nod that enshrines one as a point of influence or a subject for meditation. Here are some fine, if stylistically varied, tributes to Ornette Coleman:
John Zorn, "Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman" More details
"Music Speaks Louder than Words: James 'Blood' Ulmer Plays the Music of Ornette Coleman" More details
Borah Bergman and Hamid Drake, "Reflections on Ornette Coleman and the Stone House" More details
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