Ornette Coleman seems to have split critics and audiences since his breakthrough in the 1950's. He continues to fuel debate. He seems to divide taste like 'Marmite', love or loathe. The albums included in this budget collection are exemplary musical historical developments in music that have stood the test of time. My vinyls are still there but these sit easier in the car.The impact these albums had on players and listeners on release is still unbelievable. Sonny Rollins packed his sax away apparently having heard Ornette (fortunately not forever). THE SHAPE OF JAZZ TO COME: The sleeve notes of my vinyl by Martin Williams open with 'I believe that what Ornette Coleman is playing will affect the whole character of jazz music profoundly and persuasively'. I am not to argue. 'Lonely Woman', 'Peace', Focus On Sanity' are renditions of beauty and at the same time sadness. Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Billie Higgins play with and develop the themes. A truly monumental album. CHANGE OF THE CENTURY: Ornette tells us that "there is no single right way to play jazz". I doubt many would disagree. 'Free Group' improvisation may have been an important feature of this album. The quartet play accordingly but within boundaries, however loose. 'Ramblin' is undeniably blues-based. 'Free' and 'Change of the Century' allude to what may have been or is to come. THIS IS OUR MUSIC: A knockout again. 'Blues Connotation', 'Beauty Is A Rare Thing', 'Folk Tale' and particularly 'Embraceable You'. The latter tells much of Ornette's ability. Standards have been played with daring many times since this song (who dare's 'Body and Soul'?) Superb. ORNETTE: Freudian titles. Brilliant drumming from Ed Blackwell. The astounding and tragically short life of bassist Scott LaFaro. The vision of Ornette and Don Cherry. Rewarding and unforgettable. Impossible to dissect the songs or contributions from the virtuoso performances. FREE JAZZ: Leave the most difficult and demanding to the listener until last. This does not leave any room for 'sit back and relax'. It hits with a thump. Coltrane, Cecil Taylor and other exponents of this approach have received similar thoughts. It is not easy and can literally clear a room at a party. I would ask to listen for the individual and collective emotions wrought by these musicians. This may be the 'Marmite Test'. I like mine on plenty of butter!
Given how homogenised the efforts of a lot of musicians who would lay a claim to playing jazz have sounded in the last few decades, these five albums from Coleman's time with the Atlantic label oddly sound as intriguing as they did when the man first irked the purists/conservatives over half a century ago.
The pianoless quartet was not of course unprecedented even then as Gerry Mulligan had pioneered the format, sharing the front line at different times with Chet Baker, Art Farmer and the virtually forgotten Jon Eardley. Mulligan and Coleman each had a way with composition too, as this set shows -to cop an earful of `C & D' from the ORNETTE! album is to hear this in abundance, just as it reveals much about how Coleman had a way with what might be called -tight-but-loose rhythmic conceptions.
He was well served in that department by being able to enjoy the drumming services of both Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell. Both men had such distinctive musical personalities that comparing and contrasting their approaches might result only in something detrimental to both. Suffice to say that Blackwell's work on the piece already mentioned is a definition of his character, while the same could be said of Higgins' playing on `Eventually' from the hype-tastically-titled THE SHAPE OF JAZZ TO COME album. This is also a piece on which Coleman the alto sax player is at his freest. He was fortunate in having such a sympathetic musical understanding with pocket trumpet player Don Cherry, and on this piece the transition from the end of his solo and the beginning of Cherry's is so close to the sound of two minds thinking as one that it's not worth quibbling over the difference.
In presentation terms this set reflects the bargain price. BUT (so big is the `but' that maybe not even capitals suffice) the contents amount to a body of music which arguably represents an extraordinary creative peak. Anarchic in its way yet at the same time fiercely organised, it might just be the case that the music also amounts to something priceless, which makes the asking price even more of a bargain......er......yes, it does.
The music is,of course,5 stars,but I find it parsimonious on the part of the record company to include no extra takes,such as the first take of Free Jazz.It says exactly what it is,"original album",so no deception,just a mean spirited approach. Sony/Columbia have served the customer much better with their similar box sets(not in every case,but many)by including alternates and more.A good example is the Monk set containg Underground,Solo,etc.(A bad example is the Louis Armstrong set,with older,less fulsome accounts of Satch plays Fats and the WC Handy tribute). So,a good buy,yes,but not a great one...every one of these Warner/Atlantic sets that I've looked at suffers from the same reluctance to provide extra material,so I cannot admire their approach.
I purchased this box set from Amazon and for me,this is the jazz Holy Grail.Ornette Coleman sent jazz into orbit,with some of the most creative and adventurous jazz I have ever heard.What this gave the jazz world at the time was an almighty kick up the backside!Along with John Coltrane and Charles Mingus from the same period,jazz has in my opinion,never been bettered!Buy and enjoy!