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The 1960s Avant Garde - An Album Comparison

Title Title Title
Free Jazz by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet Ascension by John Coltrane Unit Structures by Cecil Taylor
Discographical Information Discographical Information Discographical Information
Recording company and number: Atlantic SD1364
Place recorded: New York City
Date recorded: December 21, 1960
Time of Album: 36 min. 23 sec.
Recording company: Impulse A(S) 95
Place recorded: New York City
Date recorded: June 28, 1965
Time of album: 37 min. 50 sec.
Recording company and number: Blue Note BLP 4237
Place recorded: New York City
Date recorded: May 19, 1966
Time of album: Unlike the other two albums, this album consists of a number of individual pieces: Steps: Enter/Evening (Soft Line Structure); Unit Structure/As Of A Now/Section; and Tales (8 Whisps), of which only Unit Structure/As Of A Now/Section will be discussed.

Time of Unit Structure/As Of A Now/Section: 17 min. 01 sec.
Instrumentation and Personnel Instrumentation and Personnel Instrumentation and Personnel
Double quartet (eight players), consisting of two trumpets (Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Don Cherry, pocket trumpet), two reeds (Ornette Coleman, alto saxophone; Eric Dolphy, bass clarinet), two basses (Charlie Haden and Scott La Faro), and two drummers (Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins). Eleven players, consisting of two trumpets (Freddie Hubbard and Dewey Johnson), two alto saxophones (Marion Brown and John Tchicai), three tenor saxophones (John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, and Archie Shepp), piano (McCoy Tyner), two basses (Jimmy Garrison and Art Davis), and drums (Elvin Jones). Seven players, including trumpet (Eddie Gale Stevens, Jr.), alto saxophone (Jimmy Lyons), bass clarinet (Ken McIntyre), piano (Cecil Taylor), two basses (Henry Grimes and Alan Silva), and drums (Andrew Cyrille).
Important Innovations Important Innovations Important Innovations
This album named the era. It was the first album in modern jazz to depend primarally on collective improvisation, and was the album largely responsible for moving jazz away from the solo performer to a collective conversation. Ornette observed in the liner notes, "The most important thing was for us to play together, all at the same time, without getting in each other's way, and also to have enough room for each player to ad lib alone -- and to follow this idea for the duration of the album. When the soloist played something that suggested a musical idea or direction to me, I played that behind him in my style. He continued his own way in his solo, of course." This was one of the first albums to lead jazz away from melodic and motivic improvisation to sound or color oriented improvisation; it effected a balance between the two. In the liner notes Archie Shepp observed,"The emphasis was on textures rather than the making of an organizational entity. There was unity, but it was a unity of sounds and textures rather than like an A B A approach. You can hear, in the saxophones especially, a reaching for sound and an exploration of the possibilities of sound." And further, "Free Jazz created a new form, and Ascension is a further step in the development of that form." The record set the precedent in jazz for divorcing timbre from pitch. "By demonstrating that spontaneity and constructionism need not be mutually exclusive, Taylor shows that the freedom of free jazz does not mean the complete abstention from every kind of musical organization. Freedom lies, first and foremost, in the opportunity to make a conscious choice from boundless material. Further, the idea is to shape that material in such a way that the end result is not only a psychogram of the musicians involved, but a musical structure, balancing in equal measure emotion and intellect, energy and form."
speakerspacer Lonely Woman - Ornette Coleman

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