Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!!

The altoist's bluesy debut shows his band waiting for freedom but already free-flowing over - or unconcerned by - tonal backgrounds

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Subtitled “The Music Of Ornette Coleman” this was his first album, a year before his Atlantic quartets began. In 1958 Ornette had been struggling, with nobody – including most musicians – prepared to even listen to his music.

It wasn’t until bassist Red Mitchell suggested that Coleman take his compositions to Lester Koenig of Contemporary Records to see if he might buy some, that real progress was made. Koenig asked Ornette to play some of his music and then offered him a gig. Something Else!!!! Was Ornette’s chance and he took it.

The music is similar to the tracks he made for Atlantic a year later although here Don Payne was his bassist, before Charlie Haden arrived on the scene. Walter Norris was on piano although he doesn’t seem to have got in Coleman’s way even if the altoist never used piano again after this session.

At this time Coleman was still working on tunes with a tonal centre which, he felt at the time, were more practical. This would hold until – he told Nat Hentoff for the sleeve note – he and his men feel “the entire freedom they are striving towards”.

In any event, these songs don’t sound very different to his later Atlantic music. The tunes are typical Coleman, attractively melodic and ideal for him and Don to improvise on. Invisible has a free-flowing line and The Blessing has an attractive melody, like others that he was always so gifted at composing. Coleman’s music was always about pretty melodies and blues with a good, driving rhythm section.

Coleman’s solos are raw and full of tonal manipulations, as was all his subsequent music. His unisons with trumpeter Cherry are marvels of instant togetherness. Norris takes several good boppish piano solos and keeps pretty much in the background as Ornette and Cherry solo. Bassist Payne may not have been quite as flexible as Charlie Haden, but his time is secure, and he gets a few bop solos as does Billy Higgins.

When Will The Blues Leave is a typical Coleman blues that swings smoothly and sounds like a forerunner to Ramblin’ on his second Atlantic LP. As to when the blues would leave, the answer – as far as Coleman’s music is concerned – is never.

Discography
Invisible; The Blessing; Jayne; Chippie; The Disguise; Angel Voice; Alpha; When Will The Blues Leave; The Sphinx (42.53)
Coleman (as); Don Cherry (t); Walter Norris (p); Don Payne (b); Billy Higgins (d). Los Angeles, 10 & 22 February & 24 March 1958.
Craft Contemporary CR00595