Of Human Feelings is a studio album by American jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman. It was recorded 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 adirect-to-disc session earlier in March 1979.
Of Human Feelings 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. Coleman also applied free jazzprinciples from his music during the 1960s to elements of funk.
Following a change in 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 praised Coleman's expressive music and harmolodic approach. However, the album made little commercial impact and subsequently went out of print. Coleman enlisted his son Denardo as manager after a dispute with his former managers over the album's royalties, a change that inspired him to perform publicly again during the 1980s.
- 1 Background
- 2 Recording
- 3 Composition
- 4 Release and promotion
- 5 Critical reception
- 6 Aftermath
- 7 Legacy
- 8 Track listing
- 9 Personnel
- 10 References
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 External links
Jamaaladeen Tacuma (pictured in 2007) was both challenged and enthused by Ornette Coleman's theory of harmolodics.
By the end of the 1960s, Ornette Coleman had become one of the most influential musicians in jazz after pioneering its most controversial subgenre, free jazz, which jazz critics and musicians initially derided for its deviation from conventional structures of harmony and tonality. In the mid-1970s, however, he stopped recording free jazz, recruited electric instrumentalists, and pursued a new creative theory he called harmolodics. According to Coleman's theory, all the musicians are able to play individual melodies in any key, and all the while sound coherent as a group. He taught his young sidemen this new improvisational and ensemble approach, based on their individual tendencies, and prevented them from being influenced by conventional styles. 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. He also started to incorporate elements from other styles into his music, including rock influences such as electric guitar and non-Western rhythms played by Moroccan and Nigerian musicians he enlisted.
Of Human Feelings was a continuation of the harmolodics approach Coleman had applied with Prime Time, an electric quartet he introduced on his 1975 album Dancing in Your Head. The group comprised guitarists Charlie Ellerbee and Bern Nix, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and drummers Ronald Shannon Jackson and Denardo Coleman, Ornette Coleman's son. Tacuma was still in high school when Coleman enlisted him, and first recorded with Prime Time in 1975 for the album Body Meta, which was released in 1978. Tacuma had played in an ensemble for jazz organist Charles Earland, but Earland dismissed him as he felt audiences gave excessive attention to Tacuma's playing. Coleman found Tacuma's playing "naturally harmolodic" and encouraged him not to change.Although Coleman's theory initially challenged his knowledge and perception of music, Tacuma became enthused with 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."
In March 1979, Coleman went to RCA Records' New York studio to produce an album with Prime Time by direct-to-disc recording. They encountered mechanical problems with the studio equipment, however, and the recording was ultimately rejected. The failed session was a project under Phrase Text, Coleman's music publishing company. In addition to this company, he wanted to set up his own record company with the same name, so he chose his longtime friend Kunle Mwanga to be his manager. In April, Mwanga arranged another session at CBS Studios in New York City. Coleman and Prime Time recorded Of Human Feelings there on April 25. The session was originally titled Fashion Faces. Jackson, Prime Time's original drummer, did not record with the band. Calvin Weston was hired in his place to play simultaneously with Denardo Coleman on drums.
Coleman recorded Of Human Feelings without any equipment issues and found the production process 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." The album was recorded with a Sony PCM-1600 two-track digital recorder, which was a rare item at the time. According to journalist Howard Mandel, the passages played by the band sounded neither very soft or loud on the album, because it had been mixed with a middle-frequency range and compressed dynamics. Coleman did not want to embellish it with added effects and avoided overdubbing, multi-tracking, and remixing. According to him, Of Human Feelings was the first jazz album to be digitally recorded in the United States.
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.
— Ornette Coleman, 1981
According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (2004), Of Human Feelings features jazz-funk, a type of music that originated around 1970 and was characterized by intricate rhythmic patterns, a recurrent bass line, and Latin rhythmic elements. Lloyd Sachs of the Chicago Sun-Times remarked that, although Coleman was not viewed as a jazz fusion artist, the album can be described as such because of its combination of free jazz and funk. Jazz writer Stuart Nicholson viewed it as the culmination of Coleman's musical principles that dated back to his free jazz music in 1960, but reappropriated with a funk-oriented backbeat. 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".
Coleman incorporated traditional structures and rhythms, and other elements from the rhythm and blues music he had played early his career. According to Mandel, the album's "snappy" and "unpretentious" music was more comparable to a coherent R&B band than jazz fusion. Although Coleman still performed the melodies on a song, he employed two guitarists forcontrast to make each pair of guitarist and drummer responsible for either the rhythm or melody. Ellerbee provided accented linear counterpoint and Nix played variations of the song's melody, while Denardo Coleman and Weston played both polyrhythms and backbeats. Tacuma and Ornette Coleman's instrumental responses were played as the foreground to the less prominent guitars. McRae remarked that Coleman and Prime Time exchanged "directional hints" throughout the songs, as one player changed key and the others "modulated" accordingly. The band made no attempt to harmonize their radically different parts.
The melody of "Sleep Talk" was said to be among Coleman's best by critics Gary Giddins and Greg Kot.
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Of Human Feelings features shorter and more distinct compositions than Dancing in Your Head. "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. The theme from "Forgotten Songs", originally from Coleman's 1972 album Skies of America, was used as a refrain.
On songs such as "Jump Street" and "Love Words", Ellerbee incorporated distortion into his guitar playing, which gave the songs a thicker texture. "Jump Street" is a blues piece, "Air Ship" comprises a six-bar riff, and the atonal "Times Square" has futuristic dance themes. "Love Words" heavily uses polymodality, a central feature of harmolodics, and juxtaposes Coleman's extended solo against a dense, rhythmically complex backdrop. Nicholson observed West African rhythms and collective improvisation rooted in New Orleans jazz on "Love Words", and opined that "Sleep Talk" was derived from the openingbassoon solo in Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.
Release and promotion
A few weeks after Of Human Feelings was recorded, Mwanga went to Japan to negotiate a deal with Trio Records to have the album released on Phrase Text. Trio, who had previously released a compilation of Coleman's 1966 to 1971 live performances in Paris, prepared to press the album once Mwanga provided the label with the record stamper. Coleman was also set to perform his song "Skies of America" with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, but cancelled both deals upon Mwanga's return from Japan. Mwanga immediately quit after less than four months as Coleman's manager. In 1981, Coleman hired Stan and Sid Bernstein as his managers, who sold the album's recording tapes to Island Records. He signed with the record label that year, and Of Human Feelings was released in 1982 on Island's subsidiary jazz label Antilles Records.
According to jazz writer Francis Davis, "a modest commercial breakthrough seemed imminent" for Coleman, whose celebrity appeared to be "on the rise again". German musicologist Peter Niklas Wilson said that the album may have been the most tuneful and commercial-sounding of his career at that point. 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". Billboard magazine published a front-page story at the time about its distinction as both the first digital album recorded in New York City and the first digital jazz album recorded by an American label.
Despite its commercial potential, Of Human Feelings had no success on the American pop charts. It charted at number 15 on the Top Jazz Albums, where it spent 26 weeks. According to McRae, the album "offered only a funk/jazz compromise" to consumers and consequently appealed to neither demographic of listeners. Sound & Vision magazine's Brent Butterworth speculated that it was overlooked because it had electric instruments, rock and funk drumming, and did not conform to what he felt was the simple, romantic image of jazz that many of the genre's fans prefer.
Of Human Feelings was acclaimed by contemporary critics. In his review for Esquire, jazz journalist Gary Giddins hailed it as another landmark album from Coleman and his most accomplished work of harmolodics, partly because of compositions which he said are clearly expressed and occasionally timeless. Giddins remarked that its discordant keys radically transmute conventional polyphony and may be the most challenging thing for listeners, but recommended they concentrate on Coleman's playing and "let the maelstrom resolve itself around his center". Conversely, Rolling Stone magazine's Buzz Morrison wrote that it is "both challenging and accessible" in a four-star review. Kofi Natambu of theDetroit Metro Times believed that Coleman's synergetic approach displayed 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". He found its songs inspirational, danceable, and encompassing developments in African-American music over the previous century. Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, was impressed by how the music relieves listeners of tension with its sophisticated exchange of rhythms and simple pieces of melody: "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."
Purist critics in jazz, however, complained about the music's incorporation of dance beats and electric guitar. In a mixed review for Stereo Review magazine, Chris Albertson criticized Coleman's production and remarked that the combination of saxophone and bizarre funk can be captivating, but ultimately loses clarity. Leonard Feather, writing in the Toledo Blade, felt the saxophone and guitar passages sound inconsistent when played in unison and that the stylistically ambiguous music is potentially controversial and "unratable, but worth checking out". Dan Sullivan of the Los Angeles Times said the album's supporters in "hip rock circles" have overlooked flaws, which he thought were a dilutive digital production and occasionally disjointed, one-dimensional playing. Nonetheless, he ultimately praised Tacuma's playing and Coleman's phrasing as a unique "beacon of clarity" amid an incessant background. Musician magazine's J. D. Considine said 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 consider Of Human Feelings to be the best of the three albums because of its composition and the players' execution.
In his year-end list for Billboard, editor Peter Keepnews named Of Human Feelings the best album of 1982 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". In their year-end lists for The Boston Phoenix, critics James Hunter and Howard Hampton ranked it number one and number four, respectively. Of Human Feelings was voted as the thirteenth-best album of 1982 in thePazz & Jop, an annual critics poll run by The Village Voice. Christgau, the poll's creator and supervisor, ranked it number one in an accompanying list, and in 1990 he named it the second-best album of the 1980s. At that point, Of Human Feelings was one of only 18 albums to have received his "A+" grade, which the Press-Telegram called his "ultimate accolade".
Coleman performing in 1982
Since the album's release, Coleman and the Bernstein Agency have expressed conflicting views of their deal and its aftermath. Coleman, who received $25,000 in exchange for the album's publishing rights, said that his managers sold Of Human Feelings for less than the recording costs, and he "never saw a penny of the royalties". Stan Bernstein stated that Coleman had financial expectations that were "unrealistic in this business unless you're Michael Jackson", while Antilles label executive Ron Goldstein felt that the $25,000 Coleman received was neither a "terrific" nor "a modest sum ... for a jazz artist".
After Coleman had gone 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. He chose Denardo Coleman 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. 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. Coleman did not record another album for six years and instead performed internationally with Prime Time. Of Human Feelings went out of print.
Having showcased his 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 incorporated more commercially accessible melodies, but retained Prime Time's elaborate harmonies.
In a retrospective article for The New York Times on Coleman's work with Prime Time, Robert Palmer said that Of Human Feelings was "still very much in the forefront of musical developments" in 1982, even though it had been recorded three years earlier. According to Palmer, because writers and musicians had heard its test pressing, the album's mix of jazz improvisation and gritty, "punk-funk" energy sounded "prophetic" in 1982 and was "clearly the progenitor of much that has sounded radically new in the ongoing fusion of punk rock, black dance rhythms, and free jazz". Lloyd Sachs of the Chicago Sun-Times ranked it eighth on his 1986 list of "great-sounding" jazz CDs and wrote that it made the most sense out of Coleman's harmolodic theory. 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". Jazz journalist Todd S. Jenkinsfelt that it was more successful than Body Meta, even though Coleman's simple compositions sounded repetitive and less accessible.
According to Joshua Klein of The A.V. Club, Of Human Feelings is the best album for new listeners of Coleman's harmolodics-based music. Rock critic Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune included the album in his guide for novice jazz listeners and named it one of the select albums that helped him both become a better listener of rock music and learn how to enjoy jazz. In 2008, New York magazine's Martin Johnson included Of Human Feelings in his list of canonical albums from what he felt had been New York's sceneless yet vital jazz scene 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 retains a jazz identity.
All compositions by Ornette Coleman.
- "Sleep Talk" – 3:34
- "Jump Street" – 4:24
- "Him and Her" – 4:20
- "Air Ship" – 6:11
- "What Is the Name of That Song?" – 3:58
- "Job Mob" – 4:57
- "Love Words" – 2:54
- "Times Square" – 6:03
Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.
- Denardo Coleman – drums
- Ornette Coleman – alto saxophone, production
- Charlie Ellerbee – guitar
- Bern Nix – guitar
- Jamaaladeen Tacuma – bass guitar
- Calvin Weston – drums
- Additional personnel
- 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