Ornette Coleman: Tomorrow Is The Question!
Craft Recordings CR00396
Tomorrow Is The Question!
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Review by Mark Werlin - February 15, 2023
Critical attention to Ornette Coleman’s first LP, Ornette Coleman: Something Else!!!!, sustained Coleman through another year of composing and practicing with his musical allies. Drummer Billy Higgins, who had participated in the Something Else!!!! sessions, was playing with Paul Bley’s group at the Hillcrest Club in Los Angeles. Coleman and Don Cherry joined Higgins for that engagement, during which Coleman became acquainted with a young bassist named Charlie Haden who had recently arrived in Los Angeles. The lineup of Coleman’s soon-to-be working quartet, Cherry, Haden, and Higgins, fell into place.
At Contemporary Records’ studio on January 16 and February 23, 1959, Coleman and Cherry were joined by Red Mitchell on bass and Shelly Manne on drums. Biographers report that Mitchell didn’t connect with Coleman’s music, though his presence on the album doesn’t distract from the quality of Coleman’s open-ended blues-based compositions. With only three tunes recorded over two session days, Coleman was determined to change the direction of the album. Coleman and Cherry traveled to San Francisco, where the Modern Jazz Quartet were performing, in hopes of persuading bassist Percy Heath to replace Red Mitchell for the next recording session.
This proved to be a turning point in Coleman’s career. MJQ pianist-composer John Lewis invited Coleman and Cherry to play on the stand. Lewis was so impressed with what he heard that he asked Atlantic Records chief Neshui Ertegun to offer scholarships to Coleman and Cherry to attend the Summer 1959 Lenox School of Jazz in Connecticut. Percy Heath consented to help Coleman complete his new album.
Back in L.A., Coleman, Cherry, Heath and Manne recorded six tunes on March 9–10, 1959. The absence of a piano did not entirely untether the grounding that Heath and Manne provided, but on one tune especially, “Tears Inside”, Percy Heath follows the meandering path that Coleman leads, rather than holding to a conventional harmonic structure.
Coleman was emerging from the shadow of Charlie Parker. The majority of the tunes on “Tomorrow” are played at mid-tempo rather than the fast bebop pace of “Something Else!!!!”, and the compositions are straining against the strictures of fixed chord progressions. Coleman’s own playing is more soulful and unselfconscious; his phrases move effortlessly from impulse to expression. His playing in “Mind and Time” and “Compassion”, like the titles of the pieces, encapsulates the moods he is now able to convey. He has grown fully into a unique voice on the alto saxophone.
In all four 1959 recording sessions, engineer Roy DuNann captured the sound of the group in vivid detail. Shelly Manne’s drums sound warm and full, his snare hits propulsive. Red Mitchell and Percy Heath’s instruments are clearly distinct; even if you didn’t know which one was playing, you could hear the differences in their instrumental timbres. Coleman and Cherry are recorded close to the microphones, with a sheen of plate reverb that positions them in the stereo mix with added depth.
Bernie Grundman's first-rate remastering makes this one of the best-sounding transfers of any jazz album recorded in the period that I’ve had the pleasure to hear. It belongs alongside Contemporary’s best albums, including the audiophile perennial favorite Sonny Rollins: Way Out West.
This SACD is unreservedly recommended.
Copyright © 2023 Mark Werlin and HRAudio.net