Ornette Coleman: Friends and Neighbors (Flying Dutchman/Border)

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Ornette Coleman: Friends and Neighbors (vocal version)
Ornette Coleman: Friends and Neighbors (Flying Dutchman/Border)

The day I interviewed Ornette Coleman -- the composer/jazz musician I place above all others for captivating and unpredictable music-- the stars seemed in a peculiar and happy alignment. I rarely get my photo taken with any musician I meet -- in fact I have one of me with an Elvis impersonator, I forget which, and that's it -- but on this day we were to meet in a photographer's studio near the Meat Packing District in New York.

And so, after a terrific conversation -- which at times I didn't follow, as with his music he has a language of his own --  the photographer snapped off some pix of Ornette and I on the couch together. He promised to send me copies . . . and surprisingly he did.

Then, when I was walking back to my cheap hotel in the Village I stopped at a streetcorner market and there, to my astonishment, was a copy of Coleman's 1970 album Friends and Neighbors; Ornette Live at Prince Street.

Naturally I bought it and took it back to my room . . . on Prince Street.

Coleman had lived in a building there (number 131) in the late Sixties/early Seventies and had progressively taken over a number of floors, using the soundproofed ground level for open-door sessions with various players. He named the place Artists House -- the likes of Anthony Braxton and Leroy Jenkins lived there for a while -- and that name was adopted by John Snyder for his independent record company which offered a home to Coleman and other alumni of his bands in the Eighties.

Artists House (the building) ceased to exist when Coleman was ejected (under what seem bogus arguments) in '74 and, as far as I know, there is only one Coleman recording from his period there.

It is Friends and Neighbors which was released on Flying Dutchman, although some discographers say it wasn't officially sanctioned by Coleman who is co-credited as producer with Bob Thiele.

With bassist Charlie Haden, Dewey Redman (tenor sax) and drummer Ed Blackwell -- all well versed in Coleman's distinctive style -- it is perhaps a minor entry in his large portfolio but it is a very enjoyable and informal album.

The opening title track has various friends and neighbours chanting the title as Coleman plays skittish violin and Redman jams with angular humour over a funk-rock bassline. The second track is a shorter instrumental version of the same piece then comes the 11 minute Long Time No See, the highpoint where Coleman plays bouncy melodic lines and Blackwell rides his cymbals to drive them along. It's a real treasure for the simple pleasure it takes in the loose-fitting tune.

Coleman picks up trumpet for the slightly woozy Let's Play, but things get seriously challenging on the 12 minute Tomorrow which closes the journey which had begun with those friends and neighbours around for a singalong.

In that regard, Friends and Neighbours is an entry-level Ornette Coleman album for those a bit fearful of undertaking the ground-breaking Free Jazz. The good nautred material, criss-cross melodic lines and superb rhythm section make for a joyous collection of pieces which gently ease you towards the slightly more demanding closing passages.

Which is why it's good to see this recent CD reissue getting local release.

Just the mere mention of it on the Border release sheet made me pull out my vinyl copy to enjoy all over again, and some special memories came flooding back. 

There is a lot more on Ornette Coleman at Elsewhere -- including that encounter, a Bargain Buy suggestion and individual albums reviewed -- starting here

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Crocodile Chuck - Feb 27, 2014

Hey, just a tiny correction - Artist's House was a fine, short lived label that launched in '76. Think it was pretty much DOA by the '80's. GRAHAM REPLIES: Agreed, it was a short-lived noble failure (although some of the artists insist they didn't get their momey). Follow the link for "John Snyder" in this article -- or do an exact search for him at Elsewhere -- as there is an interview with him. He was the guy who started the Artist's House label.

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