Ornette Coleman – Town Hall 1962

Posted by Jim on Jan 2nd, 2009
Jan 2

Ornette Coleman - Town Hall, 1962In 1959 and 1960 Ornette Coleman was at the forefront of the free jazz movement.  His albums for Atlantic Records during this period were as revolutionary as they were controversial.  The name of the movement itself came from the title of one of his albums. After a few sessions in early 1961, Coleman would take a hiatus from recording, not releasing any new material until 1965, except for this partial document of his December 21, 1962 concert at New York City’s Town Hall.  For this performance, Coleman used a new trio, not the group featured on his Atlantic recordings.  David Izenzon playing the upright bass and the drummer Charles Moffett would also form the heart of Coleman’s group when he returned to the studio in 1965.

The album opens with two standard (for Ornette Coleman) songs.  Of course, the Coleman standard was unlike anything else in jazz.  Doughnut and Sadness (both Coleman compositions) clock in at nine and a half and four and a half minutes in length.  Doughnuts features exceptional alto playing by Coleman and frantic yet stabilizing drumming by Moffett.  Much of Coleman’s playing features fast honking phrases that he had become known for.  The shorter piece, Sadness, finds Izenzon using a bow on his bass to play long, deep notes.  Coleman also extends his playing, by using fewer notes but holding them for much longer.  It provides the song with a haunting feeling perfectly captured in its title.

The third cut, Dedication To Poets And Writers, is a Coleman composition, but the author does not play on it.  In fact, Coleman commissioned a string quartet to perform his piece.  Although sonically it is drastically different from the horn playing heard so far on the album, the piece has the undeniable feeling of Coleman.  The music is both furious and piercing, yet extremely listenable.  Interestingly, it features no improvisation, which is unlike Coleman’s other work.  This album features the only available version of the song; Coleman never adapted the piece for a jazz combo.

The album ends with a track that took up the entirety of side 2 of the original LP: The Ark.  This is the cut that shows why Coleman was at the top of his game as he went into his self-imposed exile from recording.  It begins with loud sax phrases and continuous cymbil work over calm bowed bass tones and continues on for neary 24 minutes.  The rhythm section drops out occasionally to give Coleman room to improvise alone.  Coleman returns the favor, allowing each of his sidemen solo passages.  Near the end of the piece, Moffett gets a long section to himself to bring the piece to a wild close just a Coleman reappears to wrap things up, with the final notes coming from Izenzon vibrating bass.  Its a remarkable performance containing the finest elements of Coleman’s advanced work for Atlantic, yet stripped down to the bare essentials with this new trio.

Town Hall 1962 was originally released on ESP as ESP Disc 1006.  It is available digitally through eMusic.  Session information (including songs performed at the concert but not released on this disc) is availble through the Jazz Discography Project.