Ornette Coleman: Beauty is a Rare Thing


Beauty is a Rare Thing


Ornette Coleman (alto sax)


This is Our Music (Atlantic 1353)

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Ornette Coleman (alto sax), Don Cherry (pocket trumpet), Charlie Haden (bass), Ed Blackwell (drums).

Recorded: New York, August 2, 1960


Rating: 89/100 (learn more)

John Millington Synge once noted that for poetry to become human again, it must first learn to be brutal. Forget for the moment the precepts of harmolodics or the pieties of free jazz: Ornette Coleman's philosophy of music is not much different from the sentiments expressed in Synge's aphorism. This is the rare beauty he celebrates in the title of this seven-minute performance. The brutality in Coleman's instance was directed toward the vocabulary of modern jazz, which he pares down with a vengeance on this track. His solo is plaintive and liberated from any lingering traces of bop or blues or big band, those three B's of postwar jazz which were to Coleman's contemporaries as constitutive as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms to the symphonists of an earlier age.

Ornette starts with simple melodic phrases here, and when he finally moves beyond them it is to engage in some perfunctory squeals and shrieks on the hornódelivered, alas, without much conviction. (But his Free Jazz session, only a few weeks in the future, would be a different matter entirely.) Cherry is folksy in a diatonic way, but tosses in at least an occasional bit of syncopation to remind us that, yes, this is our jazz music. Blackwell fights his own battle against the tyranny of a swinging beat, and teaches us that the biggest challenge the freedom fighters faced was often in the persistence of the pulse, which typically proves more difficult to avoid than the chord changes. Haden is off in his own arco soundspace, and keeps the walking lines under lock and key. A rare thing indeed . . .

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

If you liked this track, also check out

Ornette Coleman: Embraceable You
Ornette Coleman: Dawn
Ornette Coleman: Lonely Woman

Tags: · · ·

  • 1 Ornette Incoming // Dec 16, 2008 at 06:46 PM
    J.M. Synge? Brutal art? Oh, where are the BLASTed Vorticists when we need them?
  • 2 Ted // Dec 17, 2008 at 02:35 AM
    Vorticists? We are certainly raising the bar here.
  • 3 Alan Kurtz // Dec 18, 2008 at 08:33 PM
    Wyndham Lewis & The Vorticists is my all-time favorite doo-wop group from the '50s, but I can't find any of their records on Amazon.com or eBay. Can anyone help? Please? Their single "In for a Penny, in for Ezra Pound" is an absolute classic.
  • 4 Ted Gioia // Dec 20, 2008 at 10:12 PM
    Yes, I always thought that one could make a great R&B song out of: "The apparition of these faces in the crowd / Petals on a wet, black bough." Well, then again, maybe not.
  • 5 Ornette Incoming // Dec 21, 2008 at 06:32 PM
    A joy to see all entering into the spirit of the season, beauty being such a sometime thing.
  • 6 samit mukergee // Dec 22, 2008 at 11:09 PM
    I didnt learn one thing from the review above. Thanx to the shallow level of jazz commentary no one will really hear the significance of the music on this track. A ballad that redefines the ballad form and the jazz ensemble, no one did this in 1960 and still cant
  • 7 Whirled Musick // Dec 23, 2008 at 02:25 AM
    ouch! seems comprehension is even rarer than beauty, and critics talking to each other judged somewhere between No, man, and Onan!