In conjunction with the release of Ken Burns' ten-part, 19-hour epic PBS documentary Jazz, Columbia issued 22 single-disc compilations devoted to jazz's most significant artists, as well as a five-disc historical summary. Since the individual compilations attempt to present balanced overviews of each artist's career, tracks from multiple labels have thankfully been licensed where appropriate. The Ornette Coleman installment of Ken Burns Jazz naturally concentrates on his hugely influential recordings for Atlantic, but also devotes four of the 11 tracks to his equally controversial '70s output, including the electric Prime Time band. Given the limitations of the single-disc format, the compilers have successfully represented the most important phases of Coleman's career. There's one piece from his formative pre-Atlantic years, which is followed by several less structured yet melodic Coleman classics like "Lonely Woman" and "Ramblin'," plus his legendary inside-out version of "Embraceable You." Coleman's Free Jazz (A Collective Improvisation) album was a landmark, but including its one 37-minute track would hardly have made for a balanced retrospective, so the compilers instead wisely chose "First Take," a sort of dry run for Free Jazz that's less than half that length and appeared on the Atlantic box. There's also one selection apiece from the frequently fascinating '70s albums Science Fiction, Skies of America, Dancing in Your Head, and Body Meta, which found Coleman experimenting with world music, large orchestras, and electric funk/free jazz fusion. The only glaring omission is the classic "Una Muy Bonita," probably Coleman's secondary signature tune after "Lonely Woman." Of course, there's a lot more Coleman that should be heard, but all things considered -- especially since it draws from multiple labels -- Ken Burns Jazz is likely the most comprehensive single-disc Coleman compilation that will ever be released.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey