ORNETTE COLEMAN — The Shape of Jazz to Come (aka Le Jazz De Demain)

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ORNETTE COLEMAN - The Shape of Jazz to Come (aka Le Jazz De Demain) cover
4.42 | 26 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1959

Filed under Post Bop


A1 Lonely Woman 4:59
A2 Eventually 4:20
A3 Peace 9:04
B1 Focus On Sanity 6:50
B2 Congeniality 6:41
B3 Chronology 6:05

Total Time: 38:14

7. Monk And The Nun(*)
8. Just For You(*)
(*)CD-only bonus track


Ornette Coleman – alto saxophone
Don Cherry – cornet
Charlie Haden – double bass
Billy Higgins – drums

About this release

Atlantic – SD 1317 (US)

Recorded at Radio Recorders, Los Angeles, California on May 22, 1959

Released in France same year as "Le Jazz De Demain"(Atlantic ‎– 332010)

Thanks to Abraxas, snobb, js for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

I suspect that Ornette Coleman was a genuine nonconformist from the moment he emerged from his mother’s womb in Ft. Worth, Texas. God bless him because we need as many of those individuals as we can get. For in all fields of human-produced art it is the rebellious that instigate drastic, needed change in the accepted patterns via their refusal to accept the status quo as law, preferring to rely on their own compass instead of standard issue. This is usually not because they frivolously opt to be square pegs in a round world but because they have to. Ornette is one of those people. The farther up the jazz ladder he ascended in the 50s the more his unorthodox techniques and radical approach to music in general garnered attention. His peers were somewhat divided in their opinions. Some thought he was a trouble-making maniac while others considered him a vitally important catalyst for releasing the genre from its self-imposed shackles. The passing of time has proven the latter view to be correct.

After two eyebrow-raising LPs on the Contemporary label (each of which created quite a stir in the jazz community) Coleman signed with Atlantic and proceeded to rattle even more cages with this, his landmark “The Shape of Jazz to Come” in ‘59. The record is now acknowledged as one of the first avant garde jazz albums ever unleashed upon the public and it effectively opened the flood gates for the “free jazz” movement to blossom in the 60s. Eschewing the obligatory piano altogether, Ornette put together a quartet consisting of his alto saxophone, Don Cherry’s cornet, Charlie Haden’s double bass and Billy Higgins’ drums and went into the studio on May 22, 1959 to make history. Keep in mind when you listen to the exploratory sounds they made that, while even relatively bold jazzers were suspicious of him and his cohorts, they scared the average American Joe of that era to death. The consensus deemed their music incomprehensible claptrap, that they were just making an infernal and intolerable racket for no reason. One glance at the top of the pop charts that year will tell you why. Johnny Horton’s hokey “Battle of New Orleans” was #1 and teen idols Frankie Avalon and Paul Anka had singles ranked in the top five. No wonder this record was vilified by many on the political right as being outrageous, semi-demonic and a detrimental influence on the youth of America. Just like Elvis.

With Coleman’s eclectic reputation in mind and the fact that unconventional jazz fare usually does very little for me I bravely ventured into “The Shape of Jazz to Come” with some trepidation. However, my fear was unfounded. What I discovered is an intriguing bridge over the river dividing the old regime’s boundaries and the more modern borders that jazz as an art form found itself running between as the 50s came to a close. The album begins with “Lonely Woman” and from the get-go I could tell that I’d entered a room in the jazz mansion where Picasso was the interior decorator. While not dissonant per se, musical notes bend and warp rather unnaturally and the effect is kinda discombobulating. Call it the funhouse effect. While still trying to digest that tune the next cut, “Eventually,” starts and its lightning-speed pace catches me totally off guard. Yet it isn’t frantic or unnerving at all. Ornette’s sax wails like a disturbed bird of prey and Don’s cornet zips and zooms like an excited hummingbird. My favorite song on the disc follows, “Peace.” The horns establish a much calmer atmosphere as they perform a complex melody while Charlie’s bowed bass soothes. The fact that there’s no solid chord structure to be found took some getting used to but there’s something quite alluring about what they’re doing that kept me tuned in. The song soon morphs into a more traditional “walking” rhythm but Billy’s drums are so subdued (on purpose, I’m sure) you can hardly tell he’s there so it’s not your average shuffle by any means. Coleman’s saxophone solo is seductive as a cobra and Cherry’s ride is as cool as a cone of shaved ice on a summer day. The number exits with the odd start & stop theme it made its entrance with.

Following an initial flurry of sound, “Focus on Sanity” opens with Haden stepping forward to assert his presence backed by Higgins’ sneaky tubs. In an abrupt startle, the horns blare and the rhythm section suddenly takes off in a full sprint as if hoping to stay a step ahead of Ornette’s dangerous sax before slowing up a bit to jog alongside Don’s cornet. Billy finally gets a chance to shine toward the end. The strange, off-the-reservation structure of “Congeniality” typifies what this record is all about. Yet, like all the music found here, there are enough vestiges of traditional jazz sensibilities involved to make it palatable for even the most conservative connoisseur. Coleman’s solo is very melodic while clearly maintaining independence from the norm and the same goes for Don when he takes his turn at the mike. Higgins’ drums are significantly inventive while maintaining a low profile. “Chronology” is characterized by cleverly positioned outbursts of notes and a busy foundation flowing underneath. The saxophone and cornet exude a certain scat mentality in their deliveries that’s both engaging and captivatingly rhythmic at the same time. Exhilarating comes closest to describing the song.

As a child growing up during the 50s I recall that music this “out there” was only heard when TV comedians were making fun of it, its practitioners or a combination thereof. But “civilized” society didn’t single out abstract trends in jazz exclusively for their ridicule. Those popular parodies extended into the fields of painting, sculpture, fashion and even folk music with equal amounts of sarcasm. Being an impressionable kid, though, I thought of it all as being wonderfully provocative and inspiring because all that craziness belonged to “my generation” and we were going to take things to places and levels unimagined by our stodgy parents. Their silly mimicry only made me want to hear the real thing. So when experiencing “The Shape of Jazz to Come” revel in the knowledge that it was pioneers like Ornette Coleman that had the guts to force new life into jazz when it most needed it, making it possible for the genre to not only revive and thrive but to expand exponentially.

Members reviews

Since the first grooves, "The shape of jazz to come" (1959) shows all the alloy of a masterpiece. A son, this one by Ornette and Donald, lovely brooded by two creations that came before: "Something else!!!!" and "Tomorrow is the question". Should both vinyls be listened to - and loved - linked together, as the two moments have common roots, and that's more than a story or a concept: it's the developement of a large extended view. As Bob Palmer of "Rolling Stones" will write on the back of Ornette's "Science Fiction" at the beginning of the Seventies, the first thing in Ornette's appearing "is that it grabs you inside before you 'undestand' it intellectually. Ornette doesn't wait for introduction". At the same time all that should be unattainable and dumb without Coleman and friend's "years of discipline and determination". Here we are more on a Davis' side than on a Coltrane's, and we certainly don't speak of abnegation and sacrifice (taken for granted) , but of clearness of purposes. Being, the aim, in Ornette and Miles, the return to the core of music, to the African root: well different the shape of path, but very similar under the "weight", the proportions, the rigour of the output (in the meantime Trane "lays out" meditating on the meaning of it all). The '59 masterpiece (in this case "The Shape...", not "Kind of Blue"!) finds brilliantly and easily the prints let in "Tomorrow...": first tune, "Lonely woman", has that bitter taste found in "Lorraine", with its funeral march atmosphere (that will be unbeatable in "Beauty is a rare thing" from "This is our music"); and from "Focus on Sanity" (also in "The Avant Garde" with Coltrane and Cherry) to the ending "Chronology", Coleman's "speech" gives demonstration of itself without any need of utter explanation. At the same time, the severe placement of mics for capturing the sound of the combo, finds a sort of acoustic resolution of the project. Each horn a channel, the rest for sublime machine Haden and Higgins, immune from the fear of empty spaces. Here the silence is coinceived like a 5th sideman, or more. And silence has been one of great Miles' best friends too...

siLLy puPPy
The first thing I thought after listening to this album for the very first time was – why is this considered so shocking? After hearing my share of extreme metal, progressive rock, avant-garde and indie rock and even avant jazz such as John Zorn, this actually seemed pretty tame. Then it hit me. This came out in 1959 – the “Leave It To Beaver” years. A long time before all that other stuff. I wasn't even close to being a twinkle in my parents' eyes and had to put myself in the context of the time.

Somehow jazz had morphed from the frantic fantastic tapestry of Dixieland Jazz of the 20s and the complexity had been tamed and shined into perfect marketable packages. The big bands of the 40s and bop of the 50s were enjoyable listens for their controlled uniformity but after years of sameness, it must have been getting a little cliché. Then 1959 hit and several notable releases by Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck and Ornette Coleman changed the music landscape forever. Of the previously mentioned Coleman was the one who released the first avant-garde jazz release. This was very daring and profound and shook up the world of jazz and influenced the freeness that would eventually explode in the 60s.

Although I didn't find this shocking in the least, I did find it a great listen. It is still rooted in the traditional bop of the 50s but gave permission to break free from the expected phrasing that accompanied it. Although I haven't explored much of Ornette's canon, I am very eager to do so after hearing this landmark release.

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