The relatively recent canonization of saxophonist Ornette Coleman has already erased from the record the long stretch of controversial contention surrounding his career. But if Coleman's pioneering works of free jazz in the late '50s and '60s have finally found favor with fans, critics, and new generations of artists, his later work remains comparatively obscure, if not wholly unappreciated. It hasn't helped that several of his seminal '70s albums have remained out of print domestically, a problem partially solved with a handful of vital reissues. Beginning in the early '70s, the sense of distinct eclecticism initiated after a mid-'60s break began to really manifest itself. The Complete Science Fiction Sessions includes the material originally compiled on the Science Fiction and Broken Shadows albums, released 11 years apart despite the fact that they were recorded within a year of each other. The music ranges from free improv to vocal blues to orchestral arrangements, all essential pieces of the Coleman puzzle. Skies Of America, a collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra from 1972, introduces his mind-blowing theory of "Harmolodics" (a conflation of harmony, melody, and movement), an advance that still makes some listeners balk in apprehension. Harmolodics, in part inspired by the Master Musicians Of Joujouka, is essentially a system in which all musical components are weighed equally, offering a radical, linear, and sometimes cacophonous take on composition. The funky Dancing In Your Head (1977) may the best place to explore Coleman's theory, at least until 1982's classic Of Human Feelings surfaces domestically. Dancing In Your Head features the first incarnation of Coleman's band Prime Time, a group that illustrates the limitations of categories as innocuous as "jazz," "funk," "rock," or "world music." It's nice that all three collections have been reissued at once, as they're directly related and best explored consecutively. Coleman has always sounded ahead of his time, but these historic albums sound just right in 2000.

Advertisement