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The Shape of Jazz to Come

64 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 25, 1990
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Product Description

An aptly titled 1959 release, this was one of the first "free jazz" albums ever. A classic!

On this highly influential 1959 album, Ornette Coleman's unique writing style and idiosyncratic solo language forever changed the jazz landscape. On classics such as "Lonely Woman," "Congeniality," and "Focus on Sanity," Coleman used the tunes' moods and melodic contours, rather than their chords, as a basis for his improvisations. In so doing, he opened up jazz soloing immensely and ushered in new freedoms--both individually and collectively. Lest these innovations sound too dry or abstract, it must be noted that both Coleman and trumpeter Don Cherry play with a deep-felt emotion and joy that is as infectious today as it was then. This is truly an essential jazz recording, marking the end of one era, providing the blueprint for the next. --Wally Shoup
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 25, 1990)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Atlantic
  • ASIN: B000002I4W
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,093 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

160 of 165 people found the following review helpful By happydogpotatohead on January 19, 2000
Format: Audio CD
A lot of people are unnecessarily afraid of Ornette Coleman because the words "free jazz" and "avante-garde" have been applied to his music. But his music is quite approachable. This album is a great place to start for people who are new to Ornette. This album caused a stir in 1959 when it was released, with jazz critics exploding in wrath. The reason for all this furor? Ornette chose not to use a chordal instrument on this music. No piano, no guitar. He and Don Cherry harmonize to imply chords, and occasionally Charlie Haden (bassist supreme!) supplies the occasional three or four note chordal riff, but mostly the music consists of melodies (and very melodic solos) played over an implied structure. Ornette's tone is sharp and lemony on the sax, while Don Cherry's cornet tone is sweeter and more rounded. They state themes and then toss melodies back and forth, while Haden and drummer Billy Higgins interject and support. The music on this album is like listening to four intelligent, funny people having a conversation. The musicians are obviously listening to each other and bouncing ideas off one another, which is exactly as it should be in jazz. The music is played with wit, soul, and emotion, and in spite of the skeleton crew instrumentation, the melodic and rhythmic ideas are of such quality that you can listen to this CD many times, and get something new out of it every time. How many records can you say that about? I wish more of the new jazz artists would base their creations on this kind of innovative, interesting music, instead of rehashing the same old swing and bop cliches as they tend to do. Ornette's "Shape of Jazz to Come" is still as relevant as ever.Read more ›
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By David Conklin on August 8, 2006
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I highly recommend shelling out a few more bucks for this remastered version (Atlantic Masters, 2005)--the sound is greatly improved (higher resolution, more "information") compared to the original CD version. Sounds more like you're listening to four great musicians instead of a recording of 'em. This is a classic and beautiful album that was revolutionary at its time, and is still very appealing today. Incidentally, I noticed it's one of only a handful of Jazz albums that appears on the Rolling Stone Top 500 albums of all time list.

This is an excellent product, and should be distinguished from the original CD version.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Shotgun Method on January 23, 2004
Format: Audio CD
Ornette Coleman is a name frequently associated with the very challenging world of avante-garde jazz. But The Shape Of Jazz To Come, while certainly revolutionary and groundbreaking, is not difficult music at all to listen to. Later records such as 1960's Free Jazz would fit that bill, but this is a splendidly accessible post-bop jazz album. Even people who hate Coleman's later work and the whole concept of free jazz (I'm sort of mixed on the idea myself) will probably love this.

The main breakthrough of this album is the idea of implied chords. Rather than placing a conventional chord under each note, Coleman chooses instead to only imply the existence of the chord and in so doing leaves open many different possible melodies to improvise with. While this could seemingly invite chaotic dissonance within the framework of a quartet, the band plays with fluidity throughout. Every track is full of easy melodies, which is not something you could say for a lot of Coleman's other albums.

Of course, when you have a band this talented (Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass, Billy Higgins on drums) it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Each player is among the cream of the crop on their respective instruments, and Ornette himself is no slouch either. Every track is a stone-cold classic--the elegant opener Lonely Woman, hard bop numbers like Eventually, Focus On Sanity, and Congeniality, the graceful ballad Peace, and the solid closer Chronology.

Along with other landmark jazz albums released in 1959 (Giant Steps, Kind Of Blue, Time Out etc.) this is vital to the casual listener's collection and the one Coleman disc I'd reccommend to even a novice jazzer. At the same time, if you are a fan of later Coltrane, Sun Ra, Dolphy etc. this is where it all started, so dig in and enjoy.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Geek on August 21, 2008
Format: Audio CD
1959 is to jazz what 1977 is to punk rock: glorious. John Coltrane's Giant Steps. Miles Davis recording Kind of Blue. Charles Mingus and his eponymous Mingus Ah Um. And my personal favorite, Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. 1959 also introduced one man whose debut album shook the foundations of jazz and introduced a shift in jazz music that is still felt today.

The young man with the plastic horn. Unprecedented.

Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come

Jazz had not seen anything like it. It would be safe to assume that no one thought anything of this caliber would be possible. With its apparent lack of chords, its atonality, and its complete disregard for traditional jazz conventions, Ornette Coleman's debut album angered many. It was easily dismissed as junk, noise, garbage. This isn't music, many said. For them, this wasn't jazz.

But it was. And is.

The Shape of Jazz to Come is prophetic in its title. This album would immensely influence John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and countless other musicians, both within and outside of jazz. And its verberations can still be felt in jazz. John Zorn has taken much from Coleman. Pat Methany has worked alongside Coleman.

With this debut, Coleman paved the way not just for avant-garde jazz, but for free jazz as well. Such a possibility must have been unforeseeable in 1959. The Shape of Jazz to Come established a path for those seeking a new take on jazz to follow. In this way, the album served as an exodus, the music contained within serving as aural guideposts to jazz's new land.

There is a story that details how Ornette Coleman performed a show in front of a crowd to whom he was a relative unknown.
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