Ornette Coleman “Change of the Century” (1959)

Track selection 1: Bird Food

Second selection 2: Una Muy Bonita


Don Cherry (cor) Ornette Coleman (as) Charlie Haden (b) Billy Higgins (d) recorded NYC, October 8, 1959, engineer Bones Howe


Ornette Coleman seems to attract as devoted a following as does Coltrane, judging by the number of search engine derived page views I see. A courageous musician who charted his own course against the tide, but with an ardent following built among the bohemian faction of jazz aficionados. This was only his second album for Atlantic, following rapidly on “Shape of Jazz to come”,  but the fracture lines with more mainstream bop are increasingly evident.

The first sign was once again jettisoning the piano. Out went the musical terra firma, the ground, and concept of a brass soloist conversing with the rhythm section. From here on, it is time to strap on the goatee and get strokin’. Two soloists – Coleman and Don Cherry – eavesdrop on a conversation between the bass and the percussion, but determined to make their own statements. As Coleman puts it, “each member goes his own way and still adds tellingly to the group endeavor” While the rhythm section continued to provide enough swing to keep the tune moving forward, Coleman and Cherry stretched the melodic boundaries.

The Charlie Parker inspired selection “Bird Food” is the closest to a bridge between old and new, and it is the track I find easiest to relate to. The second selection  “Una Muy Bonita”  is more adventurous, meaning not to everyone’s taste.  After a lengthy introduction,  the soloists are given free rein, its theme stops and starts in unexpected places, inviting the listener to similarly abandon their preconceptions of where the tune should go. A few more vinyl clicks and pops in the second selection challenge the listener to stay focussed on the  music.

Vinyl: UK 1st release LTZK 15199 of US Atlantic 1327,  mono DG

The ubiquitous London label borrowed the cover art from the Atlantic US original. UK original release in 1960, pressing by Decca, indicated by the usual Decca signature machine-stamp matrix code. Rich deep authentic sounding presentation.

As is customary with bohemian icons , Ornette’s cover portrait shows his serious side, no smiling to camera, no silly finger signs, simple dignity.


Collectors corner

From the shelf of a central London store currently under threat of closure following notice of a 95% increase in their rent. Todays idea of commercial rents and selling vinyl at reasonable prices don’t mix, and when I called in earlier in the week, the shelves were  empty, as the proprietor had taken six large boxes of their jazz stock by car to a big record fair in Utrecht to offload it. It seemed unlikely that they would be able to afford to continue trading as a shop.

Soon, London’s high street will soon consist of nothing but chain stores, charity shops, branches of Poundland, and sellers of Olympics/Jubilee souvenir tat. It is almost there already. The commercial property investment industry have killed off almost everything of any individuality or specialist interest, and, after the battle, are now coming around on foot to shoot any remaining survivors.

At the time of recording in late 1959, The Century did not change for some time later, and not necessarily in a better direction. However in 1960, the decade changed, opening up many new possibilities, some great, some less so. Nothing stands still.

11 thoughts on “Ornette Coleman “Change of the Century” (1959)

  1. Spinning this title today, a mid-70s reissue on the green/orange Atlantic labels, nothing special but the sound is all-analogue and sounds great. A rare example of a ‘wide’ stereo mix which works, because while the horns are at the far reaches (Cherry left, Coleman right), the rhythm section is dead-centre. It works. And a nice in-and-out programme too.

  2. I came across an interesting situation with this title. This one is a plum / orange black fan so I believe it is a third pressing. Anyway, it was advertised as NM and was reasonable. Opon inspection I noticed side one is stereo and side two is mono! This is confirmed both by listening and by the etched numbers.
    Side 1
    ST-A-60211 & Avco

    Side 2

    I wonder how many of these ‘mistakes’ got pressed and made it into circulation?

  3. One of my first encounters with real jazz, back then. And still among the best things the music has had to offer. R.I.P. Ornette Coleman.

  4. I know this section is dated but I wanted to add an interesting story. In the early 70s, the local library, in the small city where I grew up, was actually lending these Ornette Colemen records. They were mostly in decent condition. I remember regularly hearing Ornette’s music blasting from my neighbor’s house. He was a musician himself and once I turned him on to jazz, he was hooked.

  5. Gotta love thos Decca pressings. Just picked up a copy of Art Blakey Cu-Bop on London (originally Jubilee) – bloody marvellous. In fact I would hazard a guess that these Decca pressings are on better quality vinyl that the jubilees, which can suffer from noisy vinyl and off-centre spindle holes.

    • Decca, thank you thank you thank you. I agree. Between the three UK pressing plant giants of the fifties and sixties, Decca 1st, EMI 2nd, Philips 3rd, everyone else, not even in the game.

  6. Well said that man, I live in France and I’m always dismayed to see the state of British High Streets every time I visit. Everywhere exactly the same, same shops, same frontages, big towns, small towns, north or south of the country, identikit. Compare with the diversity of French or German cities.

    Who won the bloody war anyway?

  7. Love Ornette’s sound, especially with the addition of Don Cherry. This quartet was amazing. And this album is stellar. I have the Mono Black Atlantic Label version. Although, I must say those UK labels are pretty sweet.

  8. The annual record fair at the “Jaarbeurs” took place yesterday and today (April 14th and 15th). I never go: it is so incredibly huge and mind boggling, I don’t like it at all.

    Shocking to read about a 95% increase in rent. If only it was a crime to pull such a stunt on your tenants. It won’t be the first time a good record shop has to close the doors because of something like that…

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