Ornette Coleman: Genesis Of Genius – The Contemporary Albums

The Craft label combines two albums which together document the saxophonist's move from a bebop setting towards free improvisation


Here are the two albums Ornette Coleman recorded for Contemporary in 1958-9 before departing for New York: Something Else! and Tomorrow Is The Question! They represent the culmination of ideas Coleman developed in the 1950s, challenging the established ideas of jazz, like bebop had done previously in the mid 40s. Rooted in the blues and bebop, this music was to inspire a future generation of players to develop in a different direction, giving greater harmonic and rhythmic freedom.

The presence of pianist Walter Norris on Something Else! shows how close the music was to basic bebop, and the now-familiar compositions in the Coleman canon are there – Invisible, The Blessing and When Will The Blues Leave. There’s also the joyous Jayne, written for Coleman’s wife, the poet Jayne Cortez, and the fast bebop of Chippie.

Whilst Something Else! tests the water, Tomorrow Is The Question! sees the music in at the deep end. The horns remain the same – by now irrevocably linked – but the change of personnel sees more experienced players (Red Mitchell, Percy Heath and Shelly Manne) used. More importantly, the lack of a pianist takes the emphasis away from established chordal progression and opens the music up more. Some have questioned the replacement of Billy Higgins (who demonstrated how he could retain the feeling of swing) by the more formal Manne, but the latter’s contribution (as on Compassion, where he busily and closely follows the leader’s direction) shows how open he was to aspects of the music outside his usual repertoire.

Tears Inside and Turnaround exemplify the way in which Coleman and Cherry re-established the blues in modern jazz, slightly raw and rough–edged, as does Lorraine, a wonderfully moody blues (and foretaste of Lonely Woman) that suddenly jumps to attention, turns on a sixpence and ends. Mind And Time, Giggin’ and the fiery Rejoicing give an inkling of a more free-form dimension Coleman and Cherry were adopting, their interaction close and tight, their solos expansive.

It’s an attractively boxed set, the discs in replicas of the original covers (magnifying glass needed to read Nat Hentoff’s sleeve notes!), with the discs themselves having the form of the original black Contemporary label, accompanied by a 44-page booklet in which Ashley Kahn outlines the early history of Coleman, the context in which the saxophonist found himself when moving to California, and the events leading up to the recordings and the subsequent relocation to New York. Excellent.

CD1: (1) Invisible; The Blessing; Jayne; Chippie; The Disguise; Angel Voice; Alpha; When Will The Blues Leave?; The Sphinx (42.17)
CD2: (2) Tomorrow Is The Question!; Tears Inside; Mind And Time; Compassion; Giggin’; Rejoicing; Lorraine; Turnaround; Endless (42.11)
(1) Coleman (as); Don Cherry (t); Walter Norris (p); Don Payne (b); Billy Higgins (d). Los Angeles, February and March 1958.
(2) Coleman & Cherry with: (1-6) Red Mitchell (b); (7-9) Percy Heath (b); Shelly Manne (d). Los Angeles, January to March 1959.
Craft Recordings 7217153