Ornette Coleman's conviction that jazz improvising could be unlocked from song chords without losing its lyricism changed the world for musicians and audiences alike, and this 1971 Paris gig shows how. The quartet is completed by rugged tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell, and the band ranks alongside the Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens, the Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie groups and Miles Davis' mid-60s quintet. Haden's racing free-walks, Ornette's yearning wails and raw remonstrances, Redman's guttural contrasts and Blackwell's driving intensity and meticulous clarity make almost every moment unmissable. Street Woman takes Ornette further and further out as Haden hovers and Blackwell chatters, and the drummer's playing on Summer Thang is dazzling - as it is on the ecstatic straightahead swing in the middle of Silhouette, which makes you want to leap up and cheer. Rock the Clock features Coleman on trumpet and Redman playing the bagpipe-like musette - Coleman's Prime Time era sound is anticipated here in the electric wah-wah bass. It's mostly intense and in free-jazz hyperdrive, but there's hardly a slack moment. Being Coleman, of course, the improv and the vivacious themes are as eloquent as each other.
CD: Ornette Coleman, Live in Paris 1971
John Fordham is the Guardian's main jazz critic. He has written several books on the subject, reported on it for publications including Time Out, Sounds, Wire and Word, and contributed to documentaries for radio and TV. He is a former editor of Time Out, City Limits and Jazz UK, and regularly contributes to BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3