Archive for Don Cherry

Old and New Dreams

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on February 3, 2021 by telescoper

I was just relaxing by listening to the superb album Old and New Dreams (vintage 1977) and thought I’d share a track here given the ongoing prevalence of lockdown dreams. This album was actually the debut album by the Quartet of the same name that featured Dewey Redman on tenor sax, Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Harden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. I love the balance they achieved between free improvisation and swing and the interplay between the different instruments. Just listen to Charlie Haden’s playing on this, holding everything together rhythmically but also leading it in so many different directions! This is called Augmented

This Is Our Music – A tribute to Charlie Haden

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on July 14, 2014 by telescoper

I was saddened at the weekend to hear of the death, on Friday 11th July, at the age of 76, of the great jazz bassist, Charlie Haden. I always associate Charlie Haden with a series of great records he made with Ornett Coleman and Don Cherry during the late 50s and early 60s, including The Shape of Jazz to Come and Change of the Century, both of which I’ve blogged about already. I thought I’d pay a little tribute to Charlie Haden by writing about another of these masterpieces, a disc called This Is Our Music. As with the other two, this is also available in full on Youtube so you can listen to it here:

When he first arrived on the jazz scene the licence Coleman allowed himself in his improvisations drew criticism bordering on abuse from several prominent musicians. This a view echoed, for example, by the great Charles Mingus in quote I got from another blog about Ornette Coleman

Now aside from the fact that I doubt he can even play a C scale in whole notes—tied whole notes, a couple of bars apiece—in tune, the fact remains that his notes and lines are so fresh. So when [the jazz dj] Symphony Sid played his record, it made everything else he was playing, even my own record that he played, sound terrible.

Although he clearly admired his originality, Mingus may have been right about the very young Ornette Coleman’s technical ability; but I don’t think any unbiased listener could argue that he lacked mastery of his instrument by the time this record was made, in 1960. His skill in sustaining notes (always difficult on alto sax, which he plays throughout this album) is especially evident on this album in the standard Embraceable You whilst the precision of his articulation at any temp makes it quite clear that he really had little to learn in any aspect of control of his instrument. The slurs and distortions that are so much a part of his style are beautifully managed, and combine with his daring tonal approach to give the impression of great freedom that he strove to convey in his music.

It used to be question whether the liberties in which Coleman indulged were not so as extreme as to preclude overall unity, yet for all his virtuosity in rhythmic and melodic invention, he displays a genuine continuity of line in everything he does on this record. On Blues Connation, for example, his solo evolves with impeccable logic, each phrase growing almost inexorably out of the one before, whilst the general melodic shape bears continuous affinity to the theme. Moreover, his music boasts an intensity of feeling that no charlatan could ever hope to achieve. As I hear it, the dominant emotion in his playing at fast tempo is not love, as some have claimed, so much as fear, although this mood is often relieved by flashes of lyrical sadness. In the slower pieces, such as Beauty is a Rare Thing and Embraceable You, and the medium-paced Humpty Dumpty, the latter sentiment comes through even more strongly.

Don Cherry was an ideal partner, for his work is cast in a similar mould, but at this stage in his own development he did tend to stand in Coleman’s shadow. Drummer Ed Blackwell is very good throughout, but Charlie Haden is nothing short of brilliant, which is why I chose this as a tribute piece for him.

The bassist Haden not only displays all the classic jazz virtues expected of him, but also possesses an amazing sense of anticipation that enables him to work hand in glove with the two hornmen. Blackwell is neither a loud nor an aggressive drummer, but he evinces genuine drive and the interweaving mobility he and Haden achieve together is truly remarkable in its own right as well as fitting well with the richness of the leader’s own work.

Had I the time, I could write a lot more about this album in particular and about Charlie Haden in general, but all I can do his suggest that you listen to the LP for yourself. Coleman was still refining his concept of how his Quartet should function, so it’s a little rough around the edges in places, and in any case I know many devout jazz fans who find this kind of music challenging. It is worth it, though. Charlie Haden was only 22 when This Is Our Music was recorded. He went on to many great things during his subsequent career. Sadly that spark has now gone out, but he will live on in our hearts through his music.

Rest in Peace, Charlie Haden, Jazz legend (1937-2014).

The Shape of Jazz to Come

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on February 8, 2014 by telescoper

The other night I was listening to the Ornette Coleman album The Shape of Jazz to Come and decided that I really should write something about it on here. Released in 1959, this was Ornette Coleman’s third album but it was the first to issue a fully coherent statement of his musical intentions and it was from this work that his influence began to spread. The prophetic title proved to be extremely accurate; what remains astonishing is that such a radical album was recorded as long ago as 1959, in what I consider to be a Golden Age of musical innovation.

What Coleman did in this album was truly revolutionary. The fundamental change involved was a complete rejection of conventional harmonic progression, i.e. the sequences of chords which underpinned and connected earlier jazz improvisations with a repeating cycle that imposed not only its own order but also its own formal restrictions. By rejecting these, Coleman gave his music complete freedom of melodic movement. His intentions are signalled even by the choice of band members. Consisting Coleman on alto saxophone, Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass and Billy Higgins on drums, the quartet did not involve any chord-playing instruments at all. With the wider latitude allowed by this approach the melodic patterns are bolder and less predictable than in earlier forms of Jazz. The thematic phrases do not conform to the traditional 4 or 8-bar norms involved in traditional tunes. Freed of the necessity of catching up the next chord as it comes up in the accompaniment, improvisation can range further, crossing bar-lines at will. The resulting music was considered almost shocking in 1959, but although unconventional by the standards of the time, it can be heard to carry its own force and logic, respecting the fundamental laws of jazz improvisation while at the same time calling into question many of the assumptions on which these laws had been thought to rest.The rejection of harmonic dominance also altered other aspects of the music. Coleman’s melodic inventiveness was even enhanced by a (partial) rejection of equal-temperament tuning.

None of these changes was made just for the sake of it, and in many fundamental respects the music isn’t radical at all. The horns open and close each performance in fairly conventional style and they play clearly delineated solos. Billy Higgins keeps a steady beat going throughout, and Haden plays in between that beat and the trumpet and saxophone.  But that disguises some important differences in responsibility, especially for the bass player, Charlie Haden. Instead of following a chord sequence and knowing roughly what his line would be throughout the piece, he has to listen to the soloist and improvise a line to fit.  As always, increased freedom brings increased responsibility.

All four men are generous with their talents on this album, which is a feast of beauty and originality as well as skill and daring. It would be wrong to single out any particular track, which is why I’ve linked to the whole album, but I’d have to mention Peace, which is a lovely performance emerging from a statement of mood rather than a chord sequence; Don Cherry’s trumpet solo on that track is really remarkable. In an entirely different vein there’s Congeniality, which was the first in a long line of superbly swinging up-tempo numbers hitting a groove that Coleman was to make his own in subsequent years. There’s also Lonely Woman, which is the one tune on this album that became  a Jazz standard.

An album of extraordinary genius that was (and probably still is) way ahead of its time, The Shape of Jazz to Come is a must-have album for any serious Jazz enthusiast.

Change of the Century

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on December 4, 2010 by telescoper

It’s cold and rainy outside so I thought I’d indulge myself by posting a bit of music. When I was in Oxford last week I was treated to a glass or two of wine after my seminar and during the conversation I was mildy castigated by Pedro Ferreira for not posting enough “modern jazz”, and especially not enough Ornette Coleman. I explained that I always feel like I’m cheating when I just put up a bit of music without actually writing something about it at the same time, and I especially feel that way about pieces that some people might find a bit challenging.

Anyway, I went through my collection just now and found the pioneering album Change of the Century which is well represented on Youtube (and not cursed by the copyright mafia), so here we go…

Coleman’s music must have sounded strange and dissonant for listeners in the late 1950s but it was soon assimilated and became part of the language of jazz from the 1960s onwards. This album dates from 1959, right at the start of his acceptance as a major artist. This album is actually also one of his most listenable LPs and contains a number of tunes which are catchy and even singable. There are obvious overtones of Charlie Parker throughout, but Ornette is already introducing some novel features, especially the use of suspended rhythmic figures which Miles Davis was to call the “stopping and swinging” approach to improvisation.

The album also features Don Cherry on trumpet, Billy Higgins on drums and the superb Charlie Haden on bass so it’s by no means a solo vehicle for Ornette Coleman’s alto saxophone. Indeed, some of the most exciting moments in the album belong to the intricate alto-trumpet unison passages, which are so complicated but played with unbelievable accuracy by the musicians. The following track, simply called Free, provides good examples.

Ornette Coleman’s playing, though, is truly remarkable: agile, constantly moving and full of nervous energy, but also bursting away from the constraints of the bar lines and sometimes taking ideas over the boundary between one chorus and the next. In this respect he was fortunate to have Haden and Higgins playing behind him because they seem to be able to sense the direction of these spontaneous departures, giving the music a close-knit unity which sets it apart from so many other groups recorded at the same time.

If you’re interested in modern jazz you really should get this album. It’s consistently brilliant. As a taster, here’s the track called Free, which is my favourite.

Don Cherry and Billy Higgins are sadly no longer with us, but Ornette Coleman is still going strong. I hope to post some reflections on his later work in due course.