Ornette Coleman's first album for Columbia followed a stint on Blue Note that found the altoist in something of a holding pattern. Science Fiction was his creative rebirth, a stunningly inventive and appropriately alien-sounding blast of manic energy. Coleman pulls out all the stops, working with a variety of different lineups and cramming the record full of fresh ideas and memorable themes. Bassist Charlie Haden and drummers Billy Higgins and/or Ed Blackwell are absolutely indispensable to the overall effect, playing with a frightening, whirlwind intensity throughout.
The catchiest numbers -- including two songs with Indian vocalist Asha Puthli, which sound like pop hits from an alternate universe -- have spacy, long-toned melodies that are knocked out of orbit by the rhythm section's churning chaos, which often creates a totally different pulse. Two tracks reunite Coleman's classic quartet of Haden, Higgins, and Don Cherry; "Street Woman" just wails, and "Civilization Day" is a furious, mind-blowing up-tempo burner. "Law Years" and "The Jungle Is a Skyscraper" feature a quintet with Haden, Blackwell, tenorist Dewey Redman, and trumpeter Bobby Bradford; both have racing, stop-start themes, and "Jungle"'s solos have some downright weird groaning effects.
"Rock the Clock" foreshadows Coleman's '70s preoccupations, with Redman playing the musette (an Arabic double-reed instrument) and Haden amplifying his bass through a wah-wah pedal to produce sheets of distorted growls. The title track is a free septet blowout overlaid with David Henderson's echoed poetry recitations, plus snippets of a crying baby; it could sound awkward today, but in context it's perfectly suited to the high-octane craziness all around it.
Science Fiction is a meeting ground between Coleman's past and future; it combines the fire and edge of his Atlantic years with strong hints of the electrified, globally conscious experiments that were soon to come. And, it's overflowing with brilliance.
Steve Huey - AMG
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