Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet
Alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's masterpiece, Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet, is one of the hinges of jazz evolution. As a musical hinge, Free Jazz, heard from this side of its development, is a bit of an anticlimax compared with the two-label, five album prelude to this point: Something Else!!!! (Contemporary, 1958), Tomorrow is the Question! (Contemporary, 1959), The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic, 1959), Change of the Century (Atlantic, 1959) and This is Our Music (Atlantic, 1959). Had Coleman done nothing else but release these first five recordings, his legacy as one of the pioneers of free jazz would still be assured. But on Free Jazz Coleman took that final step into the chaos of untethered group improvisation and in doing so took the "free" in free jazz as far as it would go. Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, taking his own route, would do the same five years later with Ascension (Impulse!, 1966).
If following the cause-and-effect explanation for the development of free jazz, Coleman's music was an evolved response to the highly structured be bop of the late 1940s and early 1950s and swing-era big band jazz before that. Unlike Coltrane, free jazz's other high priest, Coleman did not have a slew of recordings before he began disassembling the genre. Coleman emerged anxious and impatient with the music when he started to record in 1958. Coleman's creative evolution in free jazz lasted a mere three years and was dense and rapid.