With Ornette Coleman’s passing on Thursday at the age of 85, it seemed appropriate to revisit his work this week. I won’t add any more to what I’ve already written about free jazz or Coleman’s impact on it, particularly since this is kind of somber occasion and we should get to the music, but a few words about this album, recorded in 1960 and one of Coleman’s real masterpieces, must be said. This is an album that benefits not just from the fantastic performances by the musicians on it, but also from the way in which those musicians were selected and then recorded; the full group is technically an octet, but Coleman divided them into two quartets, one with Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Charlie Haden (bass), and Ed Blackwell (drums), and the other with Coleman, Don Cherry (pocket trumpet), Scott LaFaro (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums). Then he had each quartet recorded into a different channel, so you’ll hear, for example, Coleman coming out of one stereo speaker and Dolphy coming out of the other. The effect is most striking when both quartets are playing together, and you get dueling basses and drummers. The entire ~37 minute album plays as one long suite, featuring extended periods of collective improvisation that are simply astonishing.
Free Jazz is rightly acknowledged as a musical triumph and a must hear if you have any appreciation for the movement to which it gave its name (yes, the album gave its name to the movement, not the other way around). Please enjoy: