Up front, I have to admit that Ornette Coleman’s music challenges me. Greatly, I might add. It attacks everything I know about music, turning it on its head and leaving me grasping for that elusive comprehension. What is he saying? What does that mean? Where did the melody go?
That’s the thing about jazz. It demands you, the listener, to open your mind and preconceptions of what music can be. Not what it should be, mind you, but what it can be. Music is about possibilities. Melody, chordal progressions, rhythm are all a part of that mosaic of possibilities. Yet, you can also find music in the murmur of a crowded room or the sound of traffic, and you can certainly find it on this record by Ornette Coleman.
With his debut album, Something Else!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman, he threw down the gauntlet. Coleman gave people an idea of what was to come with the songs and structure of those songs, and how he wanted to break free of what he viewed as constraints placed on what was music. He didn’t run pell mell into what he was hearing in his own mind. It was a progression, but the hints and groundwork are there on this record.
Coleman was paired with trumpet player Don Cherry and joined by the rhythm secion of Don Payne on bass, Billy Higgins on drums and Walter Norris on piano. It would be the last time Coleman recorded with a piano player for years. Still, this album has a swagger missing from others released at the time. Rooted by the solid pairing of Payne and Higgins, Coleman and Cherry honk, squeal and flat out blow through the opening salvo, underpinned by the progressions played by Norris. There’s a drum solo that breaks things up in the first track, “Invisible,” while “The Blessing” slows down in tempo but not intensity or exploration.
The real eye-opener is the album’s closing track, “Sphinx.” It points the way Coleman is going to go, and these ideas are further explored on his subsequent release Tomorrow is the Question. But Something Else certainly was and is. It’s a debut album that set jazz on its ears and opened the way for one of the legends in the field to start his path. Something Else!!! The Music of Ornette Coleman is well worth a listen.