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Clifford Thornton

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One of the most underrated and criminally overlooked free jazz trumpet/trombone players remains to be Clifford Thornton. Born in Philadelphia sometime in 1936, Thornton studied with hard bop trumpeter Donald Byrd during the mid-'50s and played with numerous other jazz musicians, including the great tuba player Ray Draper. After joining the army, Thornton settled down in New York City -- appearing on albums by other artists (Sun Ra's Art Forms of Dimensions Tomorrow, Sunny Murray's Homage to Africa, etc.). But Thornton wasn't entirely satisfied with being just a hired gun, as he became a composer, teacher, and bandleader on his own, issuing several out-of-print solo albums during this time, as well as creating his own record label, Third World Records. It's his late-'60s/early-'70s recordings that are widely regarded as his finest -- including 1967's Freedom & Unity (recorded the day after John Coltrane's funeral) and 1972's Communications. Thornton wasn't afraid to voice his political views either, which got him banned from France when they suspected he was a Black Panther. Thornton eventually relocated to Europe, where he died in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1989. In 2001, Freedom & Unity was reissued on the Atavistic label. ~ Greg Prato