John Coltrane & Don Cherry: The Blessing
The Avant-Garde (Atlantic SD 1451)
Composed by Ornette Coleman.
Recorded: New York, June 28, 1960
Rating: 93/100 (learn more)
The Avant-Garde is John Coltrane's most literal encounter with the music of Ornette Coleman. It features several of Ornette's sidemen: trumpeter Don Cherry, drummer Ed Blackwell, and bassists Charlie Haden and Percy Heath. (Haden played on two tracks, including this one; Heath played on the other three.)
"The Blessing" was first recorded by Coleman on his debut LP, Something Else!!!!, which is arguably his most conservative album. Coltrane's approach to this tune seems similarly restrained. Indeed, compared to his other work around this time, he sounds almost tentative, as if he were trying to find his way around an unfamiliar landscape. That's not to say the results are less than fascinating. His soprano sound is a good deal rounder and less penetrating than usual, perhaps because of the need to blend with Cherry's Harmon-muted trumpet. The trumpet/soprano sonority is novel and effective. Cherry and Coltrane play together extremely well in the ensembles; their line breathes together as one. Cherry solos first, playing cleanly, quickly and perhaps more coherently than he did with Coleman. He plays like he's got something to prove—as well he might, given Coltrane's exalted status. Coltrane takes a stab at unalloyed lyricism at the beginning of his solo, but his improvisation soon evolves into a maze of complexity over the simple harmonic base. Haden and Blackwell are a bit introverted, not engaging the soloists to any great extent, but holding down the fort harmonically and rhythmically. Blackwell does contribute an attractive, tom-based solo that moves beyond explicit tempo and form.
Coltrane did his own thing at this point in his career. That he was willing and eager to step outside his comfort zone to engage the music of another musician says a great deal about the respect he had for Coleman, Cherry, et al. While he's something of a fish out of water on his own record, he plays beautifully, as do his cohorts.
Reviewer: Chris Kelsey