Saturday, June 13, 2015

Loss of the Century

Friends and neighbors: Ornette recording in his loft at 131 Prince Street in Manhattan, a session that was released on Flying Dutchman in 1970. Bob Thiele photo

Ornette's gone. It's hard to believe. The news came as a shock, as these things do. But I had grown up musically with Ornette's music and he seemed timeless, always there, always challenging expectations and surprising listeners. I suspect we all could say of Ornette, "I've waited all my life for you." Asha Puthli sang as much in her rendition of "All My Life," a Coleman composition that keeps playing in my head.

A colleague once complained to me that Ornette always played the same solo. I responded, "Yeah, but what a solo!" No one sounded like him, though there were many who were inspired by his music. Sonny Simmons, John Carter, Marion Brown, Giuseppe Logan, Oliver Lake, John Tchicai, to name just a few.

To celebrate this great American original, here's a performance from Germany, possibly a television broadcast, issued in the '70s on the Italian bootleg label, Unique Jazz. It features Ornette's second great quartet, the one with Dewey Redman on tenor. Dewey's singing through his horn, something that always sounded a little desperate to me, is particularly successful here, and he also does some effective playing on musette. Charlie Haden's beautiful "Song for Che" is an added treat. That fat bass sound!

Sound quality is good despite the monaural recording, with no cleaning required. What you hear is the quartet at its best, recorded just prior to the period when Coleman would begin work on his symphony, "Skies of America." Not long after that, he would introduce his electric group, Prime Time, and the jazz landscape would shift once again. From the original vinyl as always, people.

Ornette lives!

Quartet European Concert
Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman, as, tp; Dewey Redman, ts, mus; Charlie Hade, b; Ed Blackwell, d.
Berlin Philharmonic, Berlin, Germany; November 11, 1971

1. Street Woman
2. Song for Che
3. Whom Do You Work For?
4. Rock the Clock
5. Written Word

Find it here:


  1. An amazing find! I can't say this is my favourite Ornette ensemble, nor more than I could name my favourite child; this was a great period for the Shape of Jazz To Come and maybe more accessible than his later mostly-bass ensembles, maybe not, hard to say what the kids dig today ;) Thanks so much for posting.

  2. You got it, mrG. Glad you're an Ornette man like myself. "Science Fiction" is one my favorite OC discs and the band here is the core of that recording. Blackwell's presence is an added plus. Enjoy!

  3. David, Nice tribute to Ornette. I saw him at the Strata Concert Gallery in Detroit in June 1973, just after I turned 17 and it changed my life (I hesitated to write that because it's such an overused phrase, but it's true).

    1. Thanks, sunman. I first saw him around that time, too, but my life was already changed. Ornette just made me even more of a fanatic. I assume you saw him with the Redman, Haden, Blackwell/Higgins band? Lucky you. I missed that combination. He will be missed ...

    2. The group I saw was just Ornette, Charlie Haden & Ed Blackwell.