Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ornette Not At Twelve Anymore

When you look back at Ornette Coleman's career and its reception by critics and music people, it can be hard to imagine how square some people were. His breakthrough band with Cherry, Haden, and Blackwell or Higgins was hailed by some, violently panned by others. He shook some people up! If you listen to those classic Atlantics, at least when I do, I can't imagine someone getting put out. There is so much that is rootsy. But some couldn't hear it. Then people got riled up when he formed a trio and added trumpet and violin to his arsenal of instruments. OK, in neither case was his playing of a technical polish. It was raw. But it was so together too. I listen to out violinists these days and I think they all owe something to what he began doing then.

Some people hooted and hollered about the electric funk band he put together later. That was after they hooted that he was playing in an older style and needed to update his rhythmic bag. Bitch, bitch, bitch.

Before that, though, they were put out when Ornette added his son, Ornette Denardo, on drums. Denardo was quite young, and played with a natural freedom that peed some people off. As time passed, Denardo became more versatile as a player. Those early recordings, though, show a kind of art brut sublimity.

So today I am talking about that period in Ornette's opus. One album that gets ignored often from then is the Impulse release Ornette at 12, recorded in 1968. I'll admit I didn't pay that much attention to it when I first heard it in the early '70s. But now I hear it and it blows me away. It has Ornette on all three of his instruments, a wry and bombastic Dewey Redman on tenor (underrated is too mild a term to describe the legacy of his reception), the wonderful Charlie Haden on bass, and Denardo on drums, who turned twelve that year (hence the title of the record).

It has some great Ornette pieces and damned fine improvisations from everybody. Yeah, and we look around now and Denardo is not twelve anymore. He's playing as well as he ever did though, mostly with his father. It's great music too. But don't forget At Twelve if you can find a copy.

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