JJ 02/69: Ornette Coleman – New York Is Now

First published Jazz Journal, February 1969


In view of the part that Coleman’s percussionists have played in the past, this record offers an interesting variation. Blackwell, Higgins and Moffett have had roles that are clearly defined. Coleman has required straightahead swing, with emphasis on a ringing high cymbal and with rhythmic fragmentation kept to a reasonable minimum. Such a policy is obviously alien to Jones and in the stylistic dichotomy that occurs, we find one explanation for the success of this excellent record. With the exception of Round Trip, where Jones simulates an almost Moffett-like rock, the drumming is brilliantly accented, its climax points never obvious and its tremendous swing often cloaked in a shroud of subtle complexity.

It is perhaps a little unfair to over-play this aspect of the record for, in all respects, it is very good. Dewey Redman is hardly from the same artistic area as Coleman, yet their playing coheres with unexpected ease. Redman’s big tone and legato approach has more in common with Archie Shepp’s romanticism than Coleman’s brand of terse comment. Nevertheless we are again confronted with a jazz contrast that works brilliantly in practice. Coleman is in very good form on all but Round Trip, where his solo resorts to the occasional safety of riffs and Commercial – a fantastic mix-up between violin and tenor where the wonderfully emotive atmosphere must be weighed against the rather chaotic direction it takes. Broadway is the stand-out track, with first class contributions from both horns. Coleman makes greater use of the theme than is usually the case. He does not, however, use it merely as a prop to give harmonic direction to his solo but rather as a fertile well from which to refurbish his free inventive flow.

Of the remaining tracks, it is Garden that also has outstanding solos from both saxophonists, while Toy is a thematic reminder of Coleman’s Atlantic period. It features the leader at his very best, producing an endless flow of cogent ideas and swinging with an ease that we have almost come to take for granted. Garrison, as if to allow for the density of the drum line, plays with greater economy than usual. The total outcome is a record presenting Coleman in a new and highly stimulating setting. No follower of contemporary jazz will want to be without this fine record.
Barry McRae

The Garden Of Souls; Toy Dance (21½ min)— We Now Interrupt For A Commercial; Broadway Blues; Round Trip (18½ min)
Ornette Coleman (alt/vln); Dewey Redman (ten); Jimmy Garrison (bs); Elvin Jones (dm). NY, c. January 1968.
(Blue Note BST 84287 47s 5d)