Ornette Coleman: The Empty Foxhole


The Empty Foxhole


Ornette Coleman (trumpet)


The Empty Foxhole (Blue Note CDP-84224)

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Ornette Coleman (trumpet), Charlie Haden (bass), Denardo Coleman (drums).

Composed by Ornette Coleman


Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 9, 1966


Rating: 80/100 (learn more)

If this music had been made by anyone other than Ornette Coleman, it would've been laughed at or dismissed out of hand. Actually, it was laughed at and dismissed by many at the time of its release. Even today—with Ornette an established figure given the widest possible benefit of the doubt by folks who otherwise scorn free jazz—it's still hard to listen to this without wondering what in heck he and the folks at Blue Note were thinking.

Ornette chose his then 10-year-old son Denardo play drums on the date. Was it done to provoke? Did he have a Dada-ish itch he needed to scratch? Could it be that he was just a little prouder of his son than he should've been? Whatever the reason, Denardo sounds exactly like what he was: a talented, enthusiastic but overmatched youngster.

This title track is perhaps the clearest example of his callowness. It begins with a martial snare keeping very shaky time in quarter notes. Charlie Haden on bass and Ornette on trumpet enter, Haden playing a simple triadic figure underneath Ornette's distant-sounding, bathetic theme statement. Ornette keeps his phrases simple; even on trumpet, he has that "cry" that distinguishes him as a saxophonist. Haden holds things together, playing with characteristic melodicism. With a Charles Moffett or Ed Blackwell in the drum chair, the total effect might have been stunning. Instead, they had Denardo, and Denardo's playing was infirm, underdeveloped—in a word, childish. And for good reason. He was 10, for chrissakes.

As any parent knows, your own child's first drawings are high art, while other kids' are mere scribbles. Maybe that's something Ornette never learned.

Reviewer: Chris Kelsey

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