Listening to Free Jazz seems to be a bit of a game of spot the jazz element amidst the chaos. It is certain that there is not a strong sense of traditional jazz structure or functional jazz harmony in the form of a recognisable chord progression. In fact, we don’t hear chord playing instruments at all (piano, guitar). That is not to say we do not hear chords outlined by either a bass line or soloist, we do, they are for the most part stand alone events that do not form part of a functional progression like a ii, V, I usual in a jazz composition. Other than these moments, the jazz elements we hear, in order of appearance are as follows.

The choice of instrumentation is two trumpets, saxophone, two drum kits, two bass players and bass clarinet. The players were divided into two quartets, recorded left and right, hence the need for multiple drum kits and bassists. The pitch choices are most often jazz based; we hear jazz scales and the outlining of chords in the soloist material. This is especially evident in the use of walking bass patterns by both bassists, the left bassist preferring a higher tessitura. The lack of a chord progression results in a large amount of dissonance reminiscent of twentieth century western art music compositions and proponents of the free jazz genre were influenced by these composers. Finally, solos as dialogues between other members of the orchestra is a technique found in bebop and can be heard as a significant unifying feature of this piece.

Knowing that this piece was improvised in one recording take with only an agreed up order of solos as a structure, how do you feel this influenced the sound of the piece?

Ornette Coleman – Free Jazz – Parts 1 & 2 LP Version – Spotify

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