Given the canonization of saxophonist, composer, and musical revolutionary Ornette Coleman, it’s pretty astonishing that two recordings he made for the prestigious Impulse label could’ve remained out of print for more than four decades. Thankfully, last month reissue imprint Real Gone Music collected those albums, Ornette at 12 and Crisis (recorded live in 1968 and 1969, respectively), on a single CD—the first time either has been available in the format. While neither is considered an essential entry in his vast catalog, they’re both excellent, and they chronicle an important transitory period in his career.
Both albums feature Coleman’s young son, Denardo, on drums—a divisive choice. (Denardo’s middle name is Ornette, which explains the title of the earlier record.) Coleman first enlisted him to drum on the 1966 album The Empty Foxhole, when he was only ten years old, and both were pilloried for the lack of sophistication and chops in Denardo’s performance.
In the two years between The Empty Foxhole and Ornette at 12, Denardo clearly worked his ass off. Though you won’t confuse him with Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell (his father’s two go-to drummers), he gets the job done, maintaining a roiling pulse and injecting surprisingly effective disruptions. When I was younger, I sometimes dismissed Ornette at 12 because of his Denardo’s presence, but now I realize I was just being stupid. The band also features bassist Charlie Haden and tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, an old classmate of Coleman’s in Forth Worth, Texas, who’d recently joined his group. Coleman himself supplements his buoyant alto playing with art brut-style contributions on trumpet and violin, and his unschooled embrace of those instruments caused additional pushback from listeners. It was a wonderful decision, though, both politically and musically—while Coleman’s playing on those extra instruments lacked the finesse and agility of his alto work, his approach was unique and compelling, all about unfiltered expression.
Crisis had much the same lineup as Ornette at 12, except for the addition of trumpeter Don Cherry, Coleman’s essential front-line foil; he’d stepped away from their partnership for a few years to concentrate on his own burgeoning career as a bandleader. Coleman rarely performed anything but his own compositions, but Crisis features a magnificent exception—a powerful reading of Haden’s gorgeous lament “Song for Ché,” which you can hear below. The reissue includes an in-depth liner-note essay by Chicago jazz journalist Howard Mandel, who observes that these albums “sound to me as if they were recorded yesterday, or tomorrow.”
Jerusalem Quartet, Bela Bartók: String Quartets Nos. 2, 4 & 6 (Harmonia Mundi)
Game Theory, 2 Steps From the Middle Ages (Omnivore)
Mika Vainio, Life ( . . . It Eats You Up) (Editions Mego)
Anthony Braxton, Quintet (Basel) 1977 (Hatology)
The Hecks, The Hecks (Trouble in Mind)