Monday, February 06, 2006

Lonely Woman

'Lonely Woman' is possibly the most famous track recorded by free-jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. It was featured on his 1959 Atlantic LP 'The Shape Of Jazz To Come'. Coleman's band at that time included Don Cherry & Charlie Haden, although he also played with Ed Blackwell and Dewey Redman at around the same time.

So I was delighted to discover this version of the track, recorded by Cherry (cornet), Redman (tenor), Haden (bass) and Blackwell (drums). They recorded together for many years under the name 'Old And New Dreams', for several labels including ECM. In fact it was on their self-titled ECM debut in 1979 (ECM 1154) that they recorded this version of Coleman's classic (the group recorded Coleman compositions almost exclusively).

As you may expect given the lineup, it sounds remarkably similar to the original. Haden's ominous presence on the bass and Blackwell's rolling and tumbling polyrhythms act as a backdrop to Cherry, who reprises his supporting role from 1959 while also getting considerably more solo space. Redman is on good form - he's no Coleman - but consistently invents throughout. Man of the match, though, is Haden, with an outstanding solo from around 8:00 onwards.

The piece is stretched out from it's original 5 minutes to over 12, but you'd hardly notice - so compelling is the performance that it's over too soon. If there is a criticism, it's that there is a little less rhythmic drive than on the 1959 version - although with the intervening developments in the jazz avant-garde, the concept of rhythm was more flexible 20 years on. In addition, there was no longer any need to try and pander to the hard-bop mainstream in order to get heard, as Coleman must have had to do in the 1950s.

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