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Ornette Coleman recorded one of the greatest bodies of work in jazz during a 22-month-long burst of creativity. Between 1959 and 1961, the saxophonist and composer released six studio albums on Atlantic Records that helped usher in the avant-garde, free jazz movement.
Those albums, along more than two hours of session outtakes, are featured together in the 10-LP boxed set ORNETTE COLEMAN: THE ATLANTIC YEARS, featuring newly remastered audio by John Webber at AIR Studios. Several of these titles are long out-of-print on vinyl. The Ornette Coleman Legacy, featuring six songs originally released for the first time in 1993 as part of Rhino’s CD boxed set Beauty Is A Rare Thing, making its vinyl debut.
On most of his Atlantic albums, Coleman recorded with a quartet that included trumpeter Don Cherry, plus either Charlie Haden or Scott LaFaro on bass, and either Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell on drums. One notable exception is Free Jazz, a ground-breaking single-track album where Coleman led a double quartet through a nearly 40-minute collective improvisation. The stereo mix used for the album separates the quartets into different channels; one on the right and the other on the left.
Coleman worked extensively with producer Nesuhi Ertegun on the music featured in this collection. Their partnership began in 1959 with Coleman’s Atlantic debut, The Shape of Jazz To Come, an album the Library of Congress added to its National Recording Registry in 2012.
Among the albums included in THE ATLANTIC YEARS are three compilations that Atlantic released in the 1970’s: The Art Of Improvisers (1970), Twins (1971), and To Whom Who Keeps A Record (1975.) These albums include outtakes from recording sessions for all six of Coleman’s studio albums.
One of the most important (and controversial) innovators of the jazz avant-garde, Ornette Coleman gained both loyal followers and lifelong detractors when he seemed to burst on the scene in 1959 fully formed.
Originally inspired by Charlie Parker, he started playing alto at 14 and tenor two years later. His early experiences were in R&B bands in Texas, including those of Red Connors and Pee Wee Crayton, but his attempts to play in an original style were consistently met with hostility both by audiences and fellow musicians. Coleman moved to Los Angeles in the early '50s, where he worked as an elevator operator while studying music books.
Coleman, who recorded for Verve in the '90s, has remained true to his highly original vision throughout his career and, although not technically a virtuoso and still considered controversial, is an obvious giant of jazz. He recorded sparingly as the 21st century began, appearing on Joe Henry's Scar in 2000 and on single tracks on Lou Reed's Raven and Eddy Grant's Hearts & Diamonds, both released in 2002.
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