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The Empty Foxhole (1966)

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Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman's brief tenure at Blue Note was neither as seminal as his Atlantic output nor as brazenly ambitious as his early-'70s work for Columbia and later with Prime Time. Still, the period did produce some quality music, and The Empty Foxhole is one of his most intriguing efforts. Coleman hadn't entered a recording studio in over four years when he returned -- with his ten-year-old son Denardo on drums. Coleman says in the liner notes that Denardo was ready to make a record the previous year, and he's not overestimating; Denardo's percussive coloring and shading never sounds lost or confused, and his stream-of-consciousness flow of ideas keeps up surprisingly well with his father and bassist Charlie Haden. The communal energy keeps flowing throughout the session, and the trio members play off of each other with an easygoing enthusiasm, even on the less memorable themes. Most evocative are the funereal military march of the title track, where Ornette's mournful trumpet plays off of Denardo's deliberate cadence, and "Sound Gravitation," a feature for Coleman's scratchy, percussive violin. Of the alto-driven pieces, "Good Old Days" has the fieriest flow of ideas, but he seems energized by his son's presence, and his playing is fairly exciting throughout. On balance, the music may not be among Coleman's most exceptional efforts, but there's something inspiring about the fact that The Empty Foxhole is as good as it is. ~ Steve Huey