Ornette Coleman: The Complete Science Fiction Sessions

illustration of Ornette Coleman image 0
Johanna Goodman

illustration of Ornette Coleman

The Complete Science Fiction Sessions completes Coleman’s recorded output for Columbia. A provocative two-CD set combining 1971’s Science Fiction and 1972’s Broken Shadows, neither of which has ever before been available on domestic CD, it presents an astonishing variety with several different lineups-from a reunion of his original 1959 quartet with pocket trumpeter Don Cherry, drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Charlie Haden, to expanded works for 12-piece ensemble featuring guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Cedar Walton, to a free-blowing freak-out behind poet David Henderson and a bluesy throwdown with singer Webster Hall, Coleman’s old friend from Fort Worth.

The five tracks with the original quartet-“Civilization Day,” “Street Woman,” “Country Town Blues” and alternate takes of “Civilization Day” and “Street Woman”-are brilliant. Haden’s playing is particularly strong, providing a tether for the mercurial Coleman-Cherry chemistry. And Higgins is Higgins-an ever-swinging, pulsating presence, reacting in the moment with big ears and supple wrists.

“Rock the Clock,” easily the CD’s most unusual entry, features Haden playing a “Purple Haze”-styled bassline through a wah-wah pedal while Ornette overdubs on trumpet and violin and Dewey Redman wails on musette over Ed Blackwell’s inimitable groove. The two pieces showcasing Bombay vocalist Asha Puthi, “What Reason Could I Give” and “All My Life,” are like Coleman’s idea of pop music. Disc one also includes remarkable performances of “Law Years,” “The Jungle Is a Skyscraper” and “School Work,” with the lineup of Coleman, Redman, Haden and Blackwell, augmented by trumpeter Bobby Bradford.

Disc two opens with the rapid-fire “Happy House,” which pairs trumpeter Cherry and drummer Blackwell in the left channel and trumpeter Bradford and drummer Higgins in the right channel. That same formula is repeated to good effect on “Elizabeth,” the previously unissued “Written Word” and “Broken Shadows,” a bowing vehicle for Haden. All four pieces offer particularly strong examples of Dewey Redman’s outrĂ© playing.

The two throwaway vocal numbers highlighting Ornette’s old pal Webster Armstrong-the harmolodic raunch of “Good Girl Blues” and the schmaltzy ballad “Is It Forever”-are merely oddities in Coleman’s expansive discography.