With an album title as bold as "The Shape of Jazz To Come" you would expect a very strong, influential, and unique sound - which is exactly what you will get. This album is often credited as being the first free jazz record, a genre title Coleman himself would come up with only a couple of years later with the 1961 release of "Free Jazz" (also an incredible album I highly recommend). The release of this record shook the entire jazz world and its influence has never ceased. Many critics of the moment praised this release for how inventive and special it was, while others were discomforted and unimpressed. One such individual is Miles Davis, who believed that the music sounded foolish (then again, there isn't much that Davis actually liked). No matter how some felt about it, however, the album will always be a landmark of innovation and influence, helping to start a massive movement in jazz.
The first track of the album, "Lonely Woman," is one of the few Coleman compositions to reach jazz standard status. The track begins with a slow bass dirge, followed with a fast drum riff that sets up the general atmosphere of the song. In these short 18 seconds, before any horns have come in, this composition has already made a statement. You know this album is going to be something special. This is a very emotional track, as it sounds like Coleman and Cherry are wailing their sorrows. Coleman gave some insight into the creation of this legendary song by discussing the painting which inspired it, "In the background there was everything you could imagine that was wealthy – all in her background – but she was so sad. And I said, 'Oh my goodness. I understand this feeling. I have not experienced this wealth, but I understand the feeling.' I went home and wrote 'Lonely Woman'... I related the condition to myself, wrote this song, and ever since it has grown and grown and grown." In this context, it seems that "Lonely Woman" is a song about how material possessions and wealth cannot buy true happiness or love. Personally, I can listen to this song over and over again, it never gets old. The unique and passionate sound is absolutely beautiful and very personal.
Another track highlight is "Peace" which has a sound very similar to the title. Relaxed, more subtle, and more elegant than much of the record, it keeps a consistent immersive soundscape.
The performances throughout this record are stunning. Coleman (alto sax) and Cherry (cornet) both play very emotionally without much care for technicalities. Their main purpose is to directly express their feelings and thoughts through sound, without hiding or suppressing anything. Billy Higgins on drums, a name you should recognize from my last review of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" and also Herbie Hancock records. Higgins was a phenomenal drummer, and if you need any proof, just listen to this record. Finally, Charlie Haden on bass. Haden worked with Coleman extensively and has a very interesting discography that I recommend checking out.
The decision for there to be no piano was done deliberately for a multitude of reasons. The piano can be considered the tool of harmonic framework in jazz, and without it, the sound of a record can change drastically. It makes this album sound more unique, strange, and barren in places it needs.
These four musicians came together to make a great statement that would be heard across the world of music for many decades, influencing an uncountable amount of musicians and albums to come. I am very thankful that this release even exists, as during this same year he had been considering completely quitting music to study religion. That interest in something greater is very apparent in this album, as there are many moments that sound like direct calls to a god.
When I first heard "The Shape Of Jazz To Come" I had a very difficult time digesting it. I initially wasn't a fan, but as time went on, it grew on me heavily. There isn't much out there that sounds even remotely close to it, and the emotional purity of the record is addicting. Even now I wouldn't say I have a complete understanding of this complex record, as every day I find myself discovering something new within it. Though I would usually wait until I feel more confident about my opinions to review such an important record, this album has a current inspirational grip on me, and I felt I had to express my appreciation. I highly suggest checking out
DoubleZ's review of this record for more historical information. Connordunnome's review also gives some fascinating insight. It is very obvious how much this album has impacted many (including myself), and for that, I am forever thankful.
Daily Jazz Review #7 complete! 🎷🎺🥁❤️ - Wow! A whole week. I struggle very much with the motivation to complete reviews, so the kind words from all of you have meant a lot to me. Thank you.