Of human feelings

Of Human Feelings
Ornette Coleman
Released 1982
Recorded April 25, 1979; CBS Studios, New York City
Genre Jazz-funk, jazz fusion
Length 36:21
Label Antilles
Producer Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman chronology

Body Meta
(1978)
Of Human Feelings
(1982)
Opening the Caravan of Dreams
(1985)

Of Human Feelings is a studio album by American jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman. He recorded the album on April 25, 1979, at CBS Studios in New York City with his band Prime Time, which featured guitarists Charlie Ellerbee and Bern Nix, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and drummers Calvin Weston and Coleman's son Denardo. It followed Coleman's failed attempt to record a direct-to-disc session earlier in May. According to him, Of Human Feelings was the first digitally recorded album in the United States.

The album explores jazz-funk music and continues Coleman's harmolodic approach to improvisation with Prime Time, whom he first introduced on his 1975 album Dancing in Your Head. He drew on rhythm and blues influences from early in his career for Of Human Feelings, which had shorter and more distinct compositions than Dancing in Your Head. Jazz critics suggested that Coleman applied free jazz principles from his music during the 1960s to elements of funk.

After he changed his management, Coleman signed with Island Records, and Of Human Feelings was released in 1982 by its subsidiary label Antilles Records. It was well received by critics, who found the music expressive and praised Coleman's harmolodic approach. However, the album made no commercial impact and subsequently went out of print. Coleman's dispute with his managers over its royalties led him to enlist his son Denardo as manager, which inspired Coleman to perform live again in public during the 1980s.

Background

By the mid-1970s, Ornette Coleman had stopped recording free jazz with acoustic ensembles and sought to recruit electric instrumentalists for his music, based in a creative theory he developed called harmolodics.[1] He wanted to teach his young sidemen a new improvisational and ensemble direction based on their individual tendencies and prevent them from being diminished by conventional styles. According to his theory, all the musicians are able to play individual melodies in any key, and all the while sound coherent as a group.[2] Coleman likened this group ethic to a spirit of "collective consciousness" that stresses "human feelings" and "biological rhythms", and said that he wanted the music, rather than himself, to be successful.[3] Of Human Feelings continued his application of the theory with Prime Time, an electric quartet whom he introduced on his 1975 album Dancing in Your Head. They comprised guitarists Charlie Ellerbee and Bern Nix, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and drummer Denardo Coleman.[2]

Tacuma, who was still in high school when he was enlisted by Coleman,[4] first recorded with Prime Time in 1975 for the album Body Meta, which was released in 1978.[5] He had been fired by jazz organist Charles Earland for how much attention his playing received from audiences, but Coleman encouraged him to remain what he called a "naturally harmolodic" player.[6] Although Coleman's theory initially challenged his knowledge and perception of music, Tacuma became enthused by the unconventional role each band member was given as a soloist and melodist: "When we read Ornette's music we have his notes, but we listen for his phrases and phrase the way he wants to. I can take the same melody, then, and phrase it like I want to, and those notes will determine the phrasing, the rhythm, the harmony – all of that."[7]

Recording

In March 1979, Coleman brought Prime Time into RCA Records' New York studio and tried to make an album by direct-to-disc recording. It was ultimately rejected because of mechanical problems with the recording apparatus. Although the failed session was a project under Phrase Text, his music publishing company, Coleman wanted to set up his own record company with the same name and chose his longtime friend Kunle Mwanga to be his manager. In April, Mwanga arranged another session at CBS Studios in New York City.[8] Coleman and Prime Time recorded Of Human Feelings there on April 25.[9] The session was originally titled Fashion Faces. For the album, Prime Time's original drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson was replaced by Calvin Weston to be Denardo Coleman's drum partner.[8]

Of Human Feelings was recorded without problems with the equipment.[8] Coleman found the production process for the album very simple: "We recorded all the pieces only once, so all the numbers were first takes. And there was no mixing. It is almost exactly as we played it."[10] It was recorded with a Sony PCM-1600 two-track digital recorder, which was rare at the time, and few added effects, as Coleman did not use overdubbing, multi-tracking, or remixing during its production.[11] According to him, it was the first digitally recorded jazz album in the United States.[10]

Composition

People have started asking me if I'm really a rhythm-'n'-blues player, and I always say, why, sure. To me rhythm is the oxygen that sits under the notes and moves them along and blues is the colouring of those notes, how they're interpreted in an emotional way.

Of Human Feelings explores jazz-funk, a musical development that originated in 1970 and is characterized by intricate rhythmic patterns, a recurrent bass line, and Latin rhythmic elements.[13] Lloyd Sachs of the Chicago Sun-Times remarked that, although Coleman was not thought of as a jazz fusion artist, the album can be described as such because of its combination of funk and free jazz.[14] Jazz writer Stuart Nicholson viewed it as a culmination of Coleman's musical principles that dated back to his free jazz music in 1960, but reappropriated with a funk-oriented backbeat.[15] According to jazz critic Barry McRae, "it was as if Coleman was translating the concept of the famous double quartet" from his 1961 album Free Jazz to "the needs of funk jazz."[16]

For Of Human Feelings, Coleman drew on the rhythm and blues he had played early his career and incorporated traditional structures and rhythms.[17] According to journalist Howard Mandel, the album's brisk and unflashy music was more comparable to a coherent rhythm and blues band than jazz fusion.[18] Coleman played the melody lines and employed two guitarists for contrast, as one part of the band comprised a melody contingent of guitar and drums, and the other guitarist and drummer were committed to a composition's rhythm.[16] Nix strummed variants on the melodies, while Ellerbee applied accented linear counterpoint.[19] Coleman and Tacuma's instrumental responses were played as the foreground to the less prominent guitars.[8] Coleman and Prime Time exchanged directional hints throughout the compositions, as one player changed tonality and the others modulated accordingly.[16] Although the players made no attempt to harmonize their radically different parts, the album's mix was generally in the middle frequency range and had compressed dynamics, which resulted in neither extremely loud nor extremely soft passages.[7]

Songs

The album features shorter and more distinct compositions than Dancing in Your Head.[2] "Sleep Talk", "Air Ship", and "Times Square" were originally performed by Coleman during his concerts in 1978 under the names "Dream Talking", "Meta", and "Writing in the Streets", respectively. "What Is the Name of That Song?" was titled as a sly reference to two of his older compositions, "Love Eyes" and "Forgotten Songs" (also known as "Holiday for Heroes"), whose themes were played concurrently and transfigured by Prime Time.[10] The theme from "Forgotten Songs", originally from Coleman's 1972 album Skies of America, was used as a refrain.[19] "Air Ship" comprises a six-bar riff,[19] the atonal "Times Square" has futuristic dance themes, and "Jump Street" is a blues piece with a bridge.[15] "Love Words" heavily uses polymodality, a central feature of harmolodics, and posits Coleman's extended solo against a dense, rhythmically complex backdrop. Nicholson observed West African rhythms and collective improsivation rooted in New Orleans jazz on "Love Words", and opined that "Sleep Talk" was derived from the opening bassoon solo in Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.[15]

Release

A few weeks after the album was recorded, Mwanga went to Japan to complete arrangements for it to be issued as a Phrase Text release by Trio Records, who had previously released a compilation of Coleman's 1966 to 1971 live performances in Paris. He delivered the record stamper to Trio, who were ready to start production of the records. While in Japan, Mwanga also arranged for Coleman to perform his song "Skies of America" with the NHK Symphony Orchestra. However, according to him, Coleman cancelled both deals upon his return from Japan. Mwanga immediately resigned after only less than four months as Coleman's manager.[8] In 1981, Coleman hired Stan and Sid Bernstein as his managers,[20] who sold the album's recording tapes to Island Records.[21] He signed with the record label that year,[20] and Of Human Feelings was released in 1982 on Island's jazz subsidiary label Antilles Records.[16]

Commercial performance

According to jazz writer Francis Davis, "a modest commercial breakthrough seemed imminent" for Coleman, whose celebrity appeared to be "on the rise again."[22] German musicologist Peter Niklas Wilson said that the album may have been the catchiest and most commercial-sounding of his career at that point.[23] The album's clean mix and relatively short tracks were interpreted as an attempt for radio airplay by Mandel, who described its production as "the surface consistency that would put it in the pop sphere."[7] Its distinction as the first digital album recorded in New York City made front-page news in Billboard magazine.[8]

Despite its commercial potential, Of Human Feelings had no success on the American hit parade.[24] It charted at number 15 on the Top Jazz Albums,[25] on which it spent 26 weeks.[26] Steve Lake of The Wire asserted that Coleman offered only a "funk/jazz compromise" to consumers with the album and consequently appealed to neither market.[24] Sound & Vision magazine's Brent Butterworth speculated that the album was overlooked because it had electric instruments, rock and funk drumming, and did not conform to the simpler, romantic image of jazz that many of the genre's fans admire.[11]

Critical reception

"Sleep Talk"
noicon
A 21-second sample of the song, which was said to be among Coleman's best melodies by critics Gary Giddins[19] and Greg Kot.[27]

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Of Human Feelings was acclaimed by contemporary music critics.[28] In his review for Esquire, jazz critic Gary Giddins hailed it as another landmark album from Coleman and his fullest realization of harmolodics, with compositions that are clearly expressed and occasionally timeless. Giddins said that its discordant keys radically transmute conventional polyphony and may be the most challenging for listeners, but recommended they focus on Coleman's playing and "let the maelstrom resolve itself around his center".[19] Kofi Natambu of the Detroit Metro Times said that Coleman's synergetic approach displays expressive immediacy rather than superficial technical flair and called the album "a multi-tonal mosaic of great power, humor, color, wit, sensuality, compassion and tenderness."[29] He found the music both inspirational and danceable, and asserted that it encompasses a century of creative development in African-American music.[29] Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, gave it an "A+" and claimed that it offers listeners enough release from tension to confound the duality of the mind and body. He called the abstract rhythmic interplay and artless pieces of melody "humane" and stated, "the way the players break into ripples of song only to ebb back into the tideway is participatory democracy at its most practical and utopian."[30]

In a mixed review, Stereo Review magazine's Chris Albertson criticized Coleman's production and felt that the combination of saxophone and bizarre funk can be "quite mesmerizing", but ultimately loses clarity.[31] In his review for the Toledo Blade, Leonard Feather said that the saxophone and guitar passages lack rapport when played in unison and believed that the stylistically ambiguous music is potentially controversial and "unratable, but worth checking out."[32] Dan Sullivan of the Los Angeles Times felt that the album's supporters in "hip rock circles" have overlooked flaws such as the dilutive digital production and occasionally disjointed, one-dimensional playing, although he ultimately praised Tacuma's "stellar" bass work and Coleman's unique phrasing as a "beacon of clarity" amid an incessant background.[33] J. D. Considine, writing in Musician magazine, said that he would rate the album higher than its predecessor Body Meta, but below the "pivotal" Dancing in Your Head, although he remarked that his more knowledgeable friends have found Of Human Feelings to be the best of the three albums because of its composition and the players' execution.[34]

Accolades

Billboard magazine's Peter Keepnews named Of Human Feelings the best album of 1982 in his year-end list and wrote that it is "the definitive statement to date on how to mix the best elements of so-called 'free jazz' with the best elements of contemporary funk."[35] In their year-end lists for The Boston Phoenix, critics James Hunter and Howard Hampton ranked it number one and number four, respectively.[36] Of Human Feelings was voted as the thirteenth best album of 1982 in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll.[37] Christgau, the poll's creator, ranked it number one in an accompanying list.[38] In a 1990 list for the newspaper, he ranked it as the second best album of the 1980s.[39] At that point, Of Human Feelings was one of only 18 albums to have received Christgau's "A+" grade, which the Press-Telegram called "the ultimate accolade".[40]

Aftermath


Since the album's release, Coleman and the Bernstein Agency have expressed conflicting views of their deal and its aftermath. According to Coleman, his managers sold Of Human Feelings for less money than it had cost him to record, and he "never saw a penny of the royalties."[20] Stan Bernstein claimed that Coleman made financial demands that were "unreleastic in this business unless you're Michael Jackson."[20] Coleman was paid $25,000 for the publishing rights to the album, which Antilles label executive Ron Goldstein said was neither a "terrific" nor "modest sum" for a jazz artist.[41]

After Coleman went over budget to record a follow-up album, Island did not release it nor pick up their option on him, and in 1983, he left the Bernstein Agency.[42] He chose his son Denardo to manage his career and consequently overcame his reticence of public performance, which had also been rooted in his distrust of doing business with a predominantly White music industry.[21] According to Nicholson, "the man once accused of standing on the throat of jazz was welcomed back to the touring circuits with both curiosity and affection" during the 1980s.[21] Of Human Feelings later went out of print.[43] Coleman did not record another album for six years and instead performed internationally with Prime Time.[24]

After showcasing his slick style of avant-garde jazz on the album, Tacuma became widely viewed as one of the most distinctive bassists since Jaco Pastorius. He subsequently formed his own group and recorded albums that used Prime Time's intricate, vacillating compositions, but composed them with more commercial hooks and melodic themes.[4]

Legacy

In a column for The New York Times, writer Robert Palmer said that, although it was recorded in 1979, Of Human Feelings was "still very much in the forefront of musical developments" in 1982.[2] Lloyd Sachs of the Chicago Sun-Times ranked it eighth on his 1986 list of "great-sounding" jazz CDs and asserted that it made the most sense out of Coleman's harmolodic theory.[44] In a retrospective review for Allmusic, jazz critic Scott Yanow gave it four stars and wrote that, although they never achieved popularity, Coleman's compositions succeeded within the context of an album that showcased his distinctive saxophone and "often witty and free (but oddly melodic) style."[45] Jazz journalist Todd S. Jenkins felt that it was more successful than Body Meta, even though Coleman's simple, repetitive compositions were less accessible.[46]

According to Joshua Klein of The A.V. Club, Of Human Feelings is the best album for new listeners of Coleman's theory of harmolodics.[47] In an article for the Chicago Tribune, rock critic Greg Kot included the album in his guide for novice jazz listeners and named it as one of the select albums that helped him both become a better listener of rock music and learn how to listen to jazz, which he said is "like learning a new language".[27] In 2008, New York magazine's Martin Johnson included Of Human Feelings in his list of canonical albums from New York's sceneless yet vital jazz in the previous 40 years. He said that the album "brims with urbane energy" and elements of funk, Latin, and African music, all of which are encapsulated by music that is entirely jazz.[48]

Track listing

All compositions by Ornette Coleman.[9]

Side one
  1. "Sleep Talk" – 3:34
  2. "Jump Street" – 4:24
  3. "Him and Her" – 4:20
  4. "Air Ship" – 6:11
Side two
  1. "What Is the Name of That Song?" – 3:58
  2. "Job Mob" – 4:57
  3. "Love Words" – 2:54
  4. "Times Square" – 6:03

Personnel

Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[9]

Musicians
Additional personnel
  • Steve Backer – A&R
  • Susan Bernstein – cover painting
  • Peter Corriston – cover design
  • Joe Gastwirt – mastering
  • Ron Saint Germain – engineering
  • Ron Goldstein – executive direction
  • Harold Jarowsky – second engineering
  • Steven Mark Needham – photography
  • Ken Robertson – tape operation

References

Bibliography

External links

  • Discogs (list of releases)
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