Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Album Review: Ornette Coleman - Genesis of Genius: The Contemporary Albums

Ornette Coleman
Genesis of Genius: The Contemporary Albums
****and1/2 out of *****

This deluxe two album box set from Craft Recordings contains remastered versions of Ornette Coleman's first two albums as a band leader. Something Else!!!! and Tomorrow is the Question! Complete with exclamation marks, the albums are back in full sonic glory as the label presents the original versions recorded by Ray DuNann and newly mastered by Bernie Grundman. The sound and extensive new liner notes by Grammy Award-winning music historian Ashley Kahnmake make this release a stunner but of course it is the playing of Coleman and his band that is the real highlight. 

Starting with Something Else!!!! (which was met with mixed reviews upon it's original release) Coleman's alto sax leads the charge along with Don Cherry – cornet Walter Norris – piano Don Payne – double bass Billy Higgins – drums. The nine Coleman original tracks are dense and moving and signified a breaking of norms at the time, opening up a more freewheeling jazz style.  The hard bop tempo of opener "Invisible" pushes forward on bass, pianos and drums but Coleman's alto busts out of melody to zoom all over. 

The blues basics with the unique Coleman runs are the backbone of Something Else!!! "The Blessing" is a slower tempo shuffle but swings with ease while Cherry's cornet work is a highlight. The zenith of the whole album is the stretched out "Jayne" which shows where the soon to be famous saxophonist was heading with free jazz blows careening out of his saxophone over organic beats. 

"Chippie" uses the hard bop formula with Coleman and Cherry squealing speedily throughout while the brief spurting "The Disguise" keeps things energetic before "Angel Voice" blissfully shines with charismatic brass runs in blues fashion. The frantic lines Coleman delivers on "Alpha" certainly puts him in charge while "When Will The Blues Leave" lightly bounces along, allowing Coleman go anywhere before Cherry's cornet pops. Closer "The Sphinx" is an exhilarating rollercoaster ride of sound that wraps up the album.      

Tomorrow is the Question! has one important lineup subtraction as there is no piano on the record, freeing both Coleman and Cherry up to weave their horns melodically even more. The new quartet is manned by Percy Heath/Red Mitchell individually contributing bass on certain tracks and Shelley Manne on skins.  

The production and overall tone may be a bit softer, but the intricate horn lines get more angular as the opening title track attests. Coleman and partner in crime Cherry are lighting quick zigzagging around their instruments as they cook into "Tears Inside" which mixes swing and the blues around Heath's strong bass lines. 

Not as consistent as the more traditionally based Something Else!!!, Tomorrow is the Question! feels more transitional with a few misses (the brief "Mind in Time") and a few extraordinary hits (such as the hip as all hell "Giggin'"). "Rejoicing" is a classic as Coleman goes on an otherworldly flight of fancy as he riffs up and down scales with glee and no restraint. Closer "Endless" is also a stunning display of Coleman's strengths and playing without a net as he and the quartet bang around with frivolity and musical joy.  

These albums were the start of Coleman's movement to 'Free Jazz'. While his next few releases (everything from the classics The Shape of Jazz to Come through the amazing Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation and beyond) Coleman would turn the jazz world on it's ear with controversial and better albums then the ones showcased in this box set. 

However, these albums from the Contemporary label are a vital piece of Colemans blossoming into one of the all-time legends of music; this loving collection does the origins of his career justice. 
Support the artist, buy the album and peeps some video below:

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