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Ornette Coleman: 5 Essential Albums

Saxophonist defined the shape of jazz to come with the album of that name, as well as many other groundbreaking recordings

Tom Moon Jun 12, 2015

Editor’s note: Jazz innovator Ornette Coleman passed away at age 85. In remembrance, we’ve posted this list of Coleman’s five key albums, which originally ran in the December 13th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone. He will be missed.

The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959)


Here’s where Coleman scrambles the rules of jazz into vibrant, revolutionary code. Driven by the idea that melodies need not be attached to fixed chords, Coleman creates beautiful, dejected themes (“Lonely Woman”) and daredevil courses (“Congeniality”) that shift shapes and colors constantly. A road map to the future. Still.


At the “Golden Circle,” Stockholm Vol. 2 (1965)

Several years after the uproar surrounding his groundbreaking double quartet (Free Jazz), Coleman electrifies a Stockholm club with just bass and drums behind him. It’s Coleman un­plugged, tearing through frantic, thrilling and surprisingly hard-swinging solos.


Science Fiction (1971)

This super¬charged set marks the moment when Coleman and his accomplices hit the sweet spot as an ensemble. The musicians hang with Coleman through cosmic vocal refrains, lane-changing melodic lunges and post-bop chase scenes. Comfortable with music that morphs suddenly, the band plays with telepathic unity.


In All Languages (1987)

Early recordings from Coleman’s electric band Prime Time (like Dancing in Your Head) are so jerky they take the fun out of funk. Undaunted, Coleman continued exploring, and his persistence paid off on this magic set, which showcases “acoustic” and “electric” bands playing the same tunes.

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Sound Grammar (2006)


This album, which broke a decade-long silence and brought Coleman a Pulitzer, smashes established patterns and develops a new syntax from the pieces. The disc revolves around two bassists: One plucks while the other uses a bow. and their deep sound coaxes questioning blues melodies from Coleman.

From The Archives Issue 1041: December 13, 2007