Ornette Coleman: Round Trip: Ornette Coleman on Blue Note Album Review

Ornette Coleman revolutionized modern jazz with the six records he released on Atlantic Records between 1959 and 1961. Liberating improvisation from the confines of chordal changes—a shift accentuated by his omission of the piano, an instrument that had been an anchor in hard bop—the alto saxophonist pushed jazz into mercurial territory. His habit of allowing his tone to drift off center, as he found the space between notes, heightened the music’s melody-forward spontaneity. Producer Nesuhi Ertegun convinced Coleman to name his Atlantic debut The Shape of Jazz to Come, a title that carried a sense of prophecy. Indeed, an entire subsection of jazz would name itself after free jazz, the 1961 album where Coleman encouraged two quartets to tangle with each other. Groundbreaking at the time, the Atlantic albums can sound relatively conventional to modern ears; many musicians inspired by Coleman’s sense of exploration kept venturing further out. Such is the fate of a pioneer: Innovations become part of the shared vernacular.

Conversely, the six albums Ornette Coleman made for Blue Note between 1965 and 1968—two live sets, three studio sessions where he was a leader, and another where he was a sideman—still sound unusual, surprising in their sound and conception. Much of their oddness lies in the fact that it took a while for Coleman to re-emerge after releasing Ornette on Tenor in 1962. Coleman retreated from the spotlight after closing out his Atlantic contract, exhausted not from the act of creation but the nature of the record business. He spent those years in seclusion, woodshedding, pursuing a primal sound on his alto while teaching himself trumpet and violin.

Coleman’s work for Blue Note still carries a visceral jolt. Maybe these experiments and exercises don’t have the gravity of Coleman’s Atlantic records but their oddness is often invigorating, especially when they’re heard as a distinct body of work, as they are on Round Trip: Ornette Coleman on Blue Note. The box set is part of Blue Note’s boutique vinyl reissue series Tone Poet, an all-analog line curated and produced by Joe Harley and mastered by Kevin Gray of Cohearent Audio. As the first box set in the Tone Poet series, Round Trip is in keeping with the imprint’s emphasis on cult classics, rarities, and curios—the kind of records Coleman released on the label.

Coleman dispatched with the classic first, releasing the two-volume At the “Golden Circle” Stockholm, a live set recorded with his Ornette Coleman Trio in December 1965. Supported by bassist David Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett, Coleman sounds vigorous and unpredictable here, his tone deeper and edgier than on the Atlantic sessions, which were three years in the past at the time of its recording. The first volume of At the “Golden Circle” Stockholm bristles with energy; the rhythm section provides a propulsive kick that allows the saxophonist to circle between melodic phrases and out explorations. On the second set, Coleman introduces his rudimentary trumpet and violin on “Snowflakes and Sunshine,” and, coming after the full-blooded first set, the effect remains jarring: By using these instruments as noisemakers, he aims to unsettle, and he succeeds .

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