It's an understatement to say that Ornette Coleman's stint with Atlantic altered the jazz world forever, and Ornette on Tenor was the last of his six LPs (not counting outtakes compilations) for the label, wrapping up one of the most controversial and free-thinking series of recordings in jazz history. Actually, it's probably his least stunning Atlantic, not quite as revolutionary or memorable as many of its predecessors, but still far ahead of its time. Coleman hadn't played much tenor since a group of Louisiana thugs beat him and destroyed his instrument, but he hadn't lost his affection for the tenor's soulful, expressive honk and the ease with which people connected with it. That rationale might suggest a more musically accessible session, but that isn't the case. Ornette on Tenor is just as challenging and harmonically advanced as any of his previous Atlantics. In fact, it's arguably more so, since there aren't really any memorable themes to return to. That means there are fewer opportunities for Coleman and Don Cherry to interact and harmonize, which puts the focus mainly on Coleman's return to tenor playing. And, actually, it isn't tremendously different from his alto playing. There are a few traces of Coleman's early Texas gutbucket R&B days, plus a few spots where he explores a breathier tone, but for the most part his spiraling solo lines are very similar to his other Atlantic albums, and his upper-register sound is often a dead ringer for his plaintive alto cries. With Coleman ostensibly exploring new territory, it's hard not to be a little disappointed that Ornette on Tenor doesn't have the boundary-shattering impact of his previous work -- but then again, it's probably asking too much to expect a revolution every time out.
Personnel: Ornette Coleman (tenor saxophone); Don Cherry (pocket trumpet); Jimmy Garrison (bass); Ed Blackwell (drums).