Ornette Coleman

Les Incontournables

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An hour-plus introduction to the music that made Ornette Coleman famous, this French release is unusual in that it includes tracks from both his early Contemporary and Atlantic albums; most greatest-hits compilations are a single label, either/or proposition. That's not a small point. It means that the listener can hear pertinent examples of the alto saxophonist's work encompassing the first very productive two years of his recording career all on one disc. Performances are drawn from Coleman's first two albums on Contemporary, Something Else! and Tomorrow Is the Question, as well as the Atlantic recordings The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century, and This Is Our Music. Also included are tracks from Art of the Improvisers and To Whom Who Keeps a Record, albums released in the '70s containing unreleased material from the 1959 sessions. The strongest cuts are, as one might expect, those originally released at the time of recording. Performances like "The Blessing," "Tears Inside," "Ramblin'," "Lonely Woman," and "Blues Connotation" are important, not just because they helped usher in a new way to play and listen to jazz, but because they are quite simply beautiful, affecting pieces of music. (Many of these tunes found their way into the jazz mainstream; for example, the bop-oriented alto saxophonist Art Pepper recorded "Tears Inside," while neo-bopper Branford Marsalis recorded "Lonely Woman.") Although it might be the weakest performance on the album, the track "Music Always" -- which features the classic quartet with bassist Charlie Haden, trumpeter Don Cherry, and drummer Billy Higgins -- is of historical interest; the cut is taken from To Whom Who Keeps a Record, which was released only in Japan. If you're interested in early Coleman but can't track down the original albums -- or can afford to buy only one -- this disc is a nice alternative.

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