My knowledge of jazz is limited. I have a few records by Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane, but what do I know? There’s so many different styles out there that when I peruse the jazz section at the record store, hoping to find something wonderful, I usually end up leaving empty handed.
Ornette Coleman is an especially difficult case. He plays what I guess is called Freestyle or Free jazz: loose, frenetic, totally deconstructed notions of jazz and composition. The term used to scare me, back when I associated Freestyle with combos like Spyro Gyra.
But one day I read an article in The Reader by some unknown writer who said he played Coleman’s Free Jazz whenever he wanted to clear people from his college dorm room.
That, of course, was back in 1961. People were more accustomed to the easy sounds of California West Coast Cool Jazz-guys like Chet Baker and Stan Getz. I can imagine that Coleman’s music gave them all headaches. The music is ugly. It’s malevolent. It doesn’t digest well and it isn’t meant to. Maybe it’s not even jazz.
Coleman gathered together two quartets; two saxophonists (Coleman, himself, on alto), two brass men, two bassists, and two drummers. He set them up in a room and let them improvise for 36 minutes and 23 seconds. Then they finished up and went on to other projects.
And that’s the beauty of the album – chaos recorded for a little over half-an-hour and never touched again. It’s like a candid snapshot – a single fragment of time that will never again materialize.