Back in 1970, Ornette Coleman, one of the most innovative musicians and composers of the free jazz movement, found himself without a record company. He’d just left Impulse Records, having released Ornette at 12 in 1969. However, he wouldn’t be without a record label for long. Bob Thiele, who’d been the A&R man at Impulse, had decided to form his own label, Flying Dutchman in 1969. Flying Dutchman would become home to Ornette.

Founded in 1969, Flying Dutchman would be home for some of music’s mavericks and innovators. Among them, were Gil Scott Heron, Leon Thomas, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Louis Armstrong and Lonnie Liston Smith and His Cosmic Echoes. Creative, forward thinking and visionaries, that’s the perfect way to describe Flying Dutchman Records’ roster. It’s also the perfect way to describe their latest signing Ornette Coleman. Between recording contracts, Ornette signed a one-album deal. This was no ordinary album. Instead, it was an innovative and influential live album, Friends and Neighbors-Ornette Live At Prince Street, which was recently released by BGP Records.

Ornette Coleman was born Randolph Dernard Ornette Coleman on March 9th, 1930. He was born and brought up in Forth Worth, Texas, where his musical skills were apparent from an early age. A true multi-instrumentalist, Ornette played saxophone, violin and trumpet and composed music. His trademark sound is blues-based, with a crying, keening timbre. Growing up, Ornette played in his high school band, but was thrown-out, for jamming during a rendition of Washington Post.

As a teenager, Ornette formed a band, with fellow students Prince Lasha and Charles Moffett. Then in 1949, he started playing with Silas Green, in his R&B show. It was during a show in Baton Rouge, that Ornette was assaulted and his saxophone destroyed. This resulted in Ornette changing to alto-saxophone. After the Baton Rouge assault, Ornette decided to leave Silas Green’s band.

After leaving Silas Green’s band, Ornette joined Pee Wee Crayton’s band. When he wasn’t making music, Ornette worked a variety of jobs, including lift operator. Still, he was determined to make a living playing music. Other musicians, however, didn’t understand Ornette’s style of music.

From his high school days, Ornette had a unique musical style. Schooled in R&B and bebop, Ornette’s approach to chord progression and harmony was very different. It was much more fluid. He played what heard in his head, which coupled with his blues’ influence, may have resulted in the rawness in Ornette’s playing. For some musicians, they thought Ornette was out-of-tune. That wasn’t the case. Unlike them, Ornette was a visionary, an innovator, a musician who’d become one of the giants of free jazz.

Even though many musicians didn’t understand Ornette Coleman, he was gradually building up a group of influential supporters. This included pianist Paul Bley, who later collaborate with Ornette. Paul however, didn’t feature on Ornette’s 1958 debut album Something Else. Released on Contemporary Records, Something Else featured Don Cherry on trumpet and Walter Norris on piano, as be bop combined with free jazz. Ornette released his sophomore album in 1959s. Tomorrow Is The Question was also released on Contemporary Records. All of sudden, people were taking notice of Ornette Coleman. They were “getting” Ornette’s unique sound and approach to jazz. 

Atlantic Records was home to Ornette between 1959 and 1962. During that time, he released three albums. The first was 1959s The Shape Of Jazz To Come, 1960s Charge Of The Century and 1962s Ornette On Tenor. After that, Ornette became something of a musical nomad. He flitted between labels, never spending long at any label. Briefly, Columbia and Impulse were home to Ornette. The exception was Blue Note, where he released three albums, including 1966s The Empty Foxhole, plus 1968s New York Is Now and Love Call. A year later, in 1969, Ornette Coleman’s career was at a crossroad. He’d just released Ornette at 12, for Impulse Records, but found himself without a record label. While labels recognized Ornette’s undoubtable skill, they seemed reluctant to sign him. 

One label that wasn’t reluctant to sign Ornette Coleman, was Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman. Realizing that in Ornette Coleman, here was one of the great free jazz musicians, Bob offered to sign Ornette. They settled on a one album deal. This wasn’t going to be an album with a difference. Eschewing the studio, Ornette decided to record a live album. However, rather than record the concert at one New York’s great concert halls or jazz clubs, Ornette, ever the innovator, decided on somewhere more intimate. This would be Ornette’s loft at 131 Prince Street, Manhattan.

Prince Street, Manhattan was very different back in the late-sixties, early seventies. The area was still rundown, and hadn’t yet been overrun by yuppies and dinkys. However, Manhattan with large empty warehouses, was the perfect place for jazz musicians to rehearse. Rehearsal spaces were plentiful and cheap. So, it made sense if Ornette was going to rehearse in Manhattan, to live their. It also made sense to record what became Friends and Neighbors-Ornette Live At Prince Street in Manhattan, which would become the heart of New York’s jazz loft scene.

For Friends and Neighbors-Ornette Live At Prince Street, Ornette put together a small, tight and talented band. Ornette played saxophone, violin and trumpet. He was joined by bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Ed Blackwell and Dewey Redman played tenor saxophone. Adding vocals, were Ornette’s friends and neighbors. Recording of Friends and Neighbors-Ornette Live At Prince Street took place in 1971, and the album was released later in 1970.

The best way to describe Friends and Neighbors-vocal, which opens Friends and Neighbors-Ornette Live At Prince Street, is as a track that veers between melodic, to frenzied, dramatic and innovative. Ornette’s friends and neighbors taking charge of the vocal as the track unfolds. Then, Ornette’s frenzied, wailing groaning saxophone enters. It’s played quickly, and with power and passion. Free jazz, avante garde and experimental music combine with blues and bebop to create a compelling track.

Driven along by bass and drums, it’s all change when dueling saxophones and violins enter Friends and Neighbors-Instrumental. Challenging, frantic and frenzied, describes this melting pot of sounds and influences. Layers of music fight for your attention. The violin and saxophone seem to be competing for your attention. Like children showing off, it’s a case of listen to me. The violins produce a  challenging, cacophony of sound. As for the saxophones, Ornette’s alto and Dewey’s tenor both challenge each other.  They then compliment each other, playing their part in a track that’s innovative and challenging.

Long Time No See is a mixture of bebop and free-jazz. Straight away, musical two musical genres, which are polar opposites. A captivating track, it’s one that’s futuristic but orthodox. It’s like a space-age, melodic musical journey. Driven along by the bass and drums, Ornette’s alto veers between blazing and brazing, to spacious and tender. Played with power, space is left between notes. It’s the equivalent of musical punctuation on this bold, dramatic and innovative musical journey, that features Ornette Coleman at his very best.

From the get-go, Let’s Play is a track that assails you. However, quickly, it’s inherent beauty is apparent. As you’re caught in the crossfire of the saxophones, drums pound and the bass helps propel the track along. It’s then, the beauty and drama of this passion strikes you. Played with passion and power, there’s a sadness to Ornette’s playing. This means title Let’s Play, is almost ironic, given the wistful, melancholy sound. It’s as if Ornette, wants to play joyously, but something’s stopping him. He’s on the outside looking in, as others play.

Forgotten Songs bursts into life. Briefly, there’s a vintage jazz sound. Soon, it’s all change. The track then heads in the direction of free-jazz. With Ornette’s saxophone taking centre-stage, he lays down a peerless solo. Hardly drawing breath, he plays with power and control. Rasping, blazing and growling, his blues, pleading saxophone dances across the arrangement, playing a starring role in a song that won’t be forgotten.

Closing Friends And Neighbors-Ornette Live At Prince Street is Tomorrow. At just over twelve minutes long, this is the longest track on the album. This gives Ornette a chance to deliver a dramatic, bounding braying saxophone solo. Soon, Dewey’s tenor saxophone joins the rhythm section in creating futuristic, experimental slice of free jazz. It’s dramatic, frenzied and played with power and passion. Later, the track returns to a much more traditional style. Regardless of which style Ornette is playing, he plays with panache, aplomb and confidence. There’s a swagger to his playing, which there should be. After all, by 1970, Ornette Coleman was one of the giants of jazz.

Without a record company, Friends And Neighbors-Ornette Live At Prince Street is Tomorrow gave Ornette Coleman the perfect opportunity to showcase his musical prowess. For record companies considering signing him, Friends And Neighbors-Ornette Live At Prince Street is Tomorrow showed that he’d lost none of his magic. That was certainly the case.

He was still one of jazz’s most innovative and inventive musicians and composers. Bold, and unafraid to produce cutting-edge music, Ornette Coleman produced music that was challenging music, music that challenged musical norms. Realizing musical rules were there to be broken, Ornette set about breaking these rules. However, Ornette knew when to break the rules. By breaking these rules, he created some of the most inventive, influential and innovative music in the history of jazz. This was music that fused various musical genres and influences. Bebop, free-jazz, blues, avant-garde and experimental music all influenced Ornette Coleman’s music. These genres and influences were thrown into the melting pot of one of the most creative and inventive musicians of the twentieth century. 

Each of these influences feature on Friends And Neighbors-Ornette Live At Prince Street, which was recently released by BGP Records. Although not the highest profile album Ornette Coleman released, Friends And Neighbors-Ornette Live At Prince Street features Ornette at the peak of his creativity, when he was one of the most innovative, influential and inventive jazz musicians and composers in the history of jazz. 



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