By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Likewise, when it comes to Beauty's six previously unreleased tracks, you can see why they were shelved. Most of them come from Ed Blackwell's first session back with the band replacing Billy Higgins. (Higgins had his cabaret card revoked and couldn't gig, but as it happened Blackwell was available, having skipped bail in New Orleans after being charged with cohabiting with a woman who was not black.) Blackwell was still rediscovering his place in the music, and the band whipped through nine selections in four hours. These tracks aren't dogs, but there's also nothing that really grabs your lapels, except maybe the bluesy folk-swing of "I Heard It Over the Radio," which Coleman may not have considered rad enough for his rep. Also deservedly unreleased is the stiff, chemistryless "Proof Readers," Scott La Faro's first shot in the studio replacing Charlie Haden. But La Faro warms up quickly, as the rest of the session shows.
In 1960, the quartet, shedding few tears over their departure from L.A., began performing and recording in New York. The change of scene and of drummers made for a change in Coleman's music as well: there was a new intensity, a near- complete abandonment of convention. Blackwell's rattling, multiaccented drumming looked backward to a tribal time before "jazz" and forward into the blind future. And the compositions had a new range, from the thoroughly mapped, logical but rolling and carefree "Humpty Dumpty" to the eye-popping rush and Manhattan surge of "Kaleidoscope." This was urban music, fueled by the tension of public controversy. Gil Evans: "He swings, and he's got a good feeling for melody." Roy Eldridge: "I think he's jiving, baby."
In New York, in 1960 still the nation's cultural and critical capital, Coleman finally graduated from nonentity to freak show. It was a variation on a theme Coleman was by now quite used to: "I'd always go somewhere where I thought I'd be accepted, and found out I'd be kicked in the ass." Plenty of people hated his music, and hardly anyone loved it, but thanks to a series of high-visibility gigs at the Five Spot, nobody could ignore it anymore, and many were changed by it. Another ear-opening John Litweiler book, The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958 on Da Capo Press, outlines the era's formula. Jazz was already being turned inside out by Miles Davis' "modal" period of extended blowing on one or two loose scales. Sun Ra was experimenting with atonality and free interludes. Most radical was Cecil Taylor, who fast-forwarded the percussive clusters of Thelonious Monk into condensed, shrieking piano symphonies. John Coltrane examined Coleman's music carefully, talked with him often, even recorded an album of mostly Coleman tunes with Coleman's band, and this revered leader's endorsement and subsequent plunge into the avant-garde gave the movement credibility and commercial life.
It was at this point that Coleman recorded Free Jazz, a title that was as much a command as a description. A Collective Improvisation (as it was subtitled) by eight musicians including Coleman, Cherry, Haden, Higgins, Blackwell, La Faro, Eric Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard, it offered another dimension beyond freedom of melody and rhythm: density. It wasn't Coleman's most advanced work compositionally -- that wasn't the point, just the opposite in fact. Though each musician had a traditional solo turn, Coleman encouraged them to play whenever they felt like it, leading to a feeling, especially among the drummers and bassists, of shifting masses in which the individual's contributions were felt subliminally, not through a distinct audit of his statement. This emphasis of emotion over line proved to be a main principle of "free" jazz.
From the Bill Evans Trio, Scott La Faro joined Coleman, Cherry and Blackwell for Coleman's next recording six weeks later, replacing his increasingly unreliable friend, Haden, who, unable to get his bass out of hock, had had to borrow one for the Free Jazz session. (Though the jazz may have been free, the musicians were frequently slaves to opiates in those days.) Litweiler: "La Faro was a strong player, possibly even as forceful as Haden, but his technical facility and his harmonic choices often made his lines appear merely ornamental, whereas Haden's had been integral." Still, the music didn't suffer, it just changed focus -- loose and extended on the model of Free Jazz and delivering at least one Coleman classic, the jaunty "C&D," to which La Faro's bowed bass solo adds depth and gravity.
The Ornette Coleman Quartet's last album for Atlantic, Ornette on Tenor (this time with bassist Jimmy Garrison, soon to join Coltrane), told more about Coleman's musical history than anything else he has ever recorded. And it goes down easy. As a teenager in Texas, Coleman started out playing alto, but switched to tenor for a while because it was easier to get jobs playing in R&B bands on the backstabbing after-hours gambling circuit. And in the Ornette on Tenor sessions, you hear that kid: not Coleman the theorist and experimenter, but Coleman the Texas blues player, honking and gyrating for the bombed night animals on the same stages with entertainers like Big Jay McNeely, who still plays an L.A. bar from time to time, cracked as ever. With On Tenor, Coleman's idiosyncratic riffage was nearly swallowed up by his sound, a way-down-in-the-throat gush, punctuated by percussive overblowing, that nailed his connection to Texas tenor men like Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb. (Arnett is the more common form for Ornette.) In contrast to Coleman's carnival alto, this was sex and boogie, and the rhythm section responded with a shot of Saturday-night forward motion.