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Jazz - Released January 1, 1959 | Fantasy Records

On his second outing for the Contemporary label, Ornette dusted the piano from the bandstand and focused instead on a quartet. For some unexplained reason, Billy Higgins was replaced by Shelly Manne; the only constants remain Coleman and Don Cherry. The focus, then, is on the interplay between the altoist and trumpeter in executing Ornette's tunes, which were, more than on the preceding album (Something Else!, recorded a year earlier), knottier and tighter in their arrangement style. The odd-syncopation style of the front line on numbers such as "Tears Inside," which comes out of the box wailing and then simmers down into a moody, swinging blues, was a rough transition for the rhythm section. And the more Ornette and Cherry try to open it up into something more free and less attached to the tune's form, the more Manne and especially bassist Percy Heath hang on. Still, there are great moments here: for example, the celebratory freedom of "Giggin'," with its wonderful trumpet solo, and "Rejoicing," which has become one of Coleman's classics for its elongated melody line and simple obbligato phrasing, which become part of a wonderfully complex solo that keeps the blues firmly intact. The final track, "Endless," is pure magic. After Manne carries it in 6/8, Coleman uses a nursery rhyme to move to the solo terrain and, when he does, the solo itself becomes a part of that rhyme as even Don Cherry feels his way through it in his break. And, if anything, this is one of the things that came to define Ornette -- his willingness to let simplicity and its bright colors and textures confound not only other players and listeners, but also him too. In those days, Coleman's musical system -- although worked out in detail -- always left room for the unexpected and, in fact, was played as if his life depended on it. As a result, Tomorrow Is the Question! was a very literal title; who could have guessed the expansive, world-widening direction that Coleman's system would head into next? © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 16, 1959 | Contemporary Records

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1965 | Blue Note Records

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Jazz - Released December 21, 1965 | ESP Disk'

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1966 | CM BLUE NOTE (A92)

Ornette Coleman's brief tenure at Blue Note was neither as seminal as his Atlantic output nor as brazenly ambitious as his early-'70s work for Columbia and later with Prime Time. Still, the period did produce some quality music, and The Empty Foxhole is one of his most intriguing efforts. Coleman hadn't entered a recording studio in over four years when he returned -- with his ten-year-old son Denardo on drums. Coleman says in the liner notes that Denardo was ready to make a record the previous year, and he's not overestimating; Denardo's percussive coloring and shading never sounds lost or confused, and his stream-of-consciousness flow of ideas keeps up surprisingly well with his father and bassist Charlie Haden. The communal energy keeps flowing throughout the session, and the trio members play off of each other with an easygoing enthusiasm, even on the less memorable themes. Most evocative are the funereal military march of the title track, where Ornette's mournful trumpet plays off of Denardo's deliberate cadence, and "Sound Gravitation," a feature for Coleman's scratchy, percussive violin. Of the alto-driven pieces, "Good Old Days" has the fieriest flow of ideas, but he seems energized by his son's presence, and his playing is fairly exciting throughout. On balance, the music may not be among Coleman's most exceptional efforts, but there's something inspiring about the fact that The Empty Foxhole is as good as it is. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 28, 1972 | Columbia - Legacy

Here's what is known about Ornette Coleman's first recorded orchestral symphonic work (he had written others previously and had them performed but never put on tape): After hiring conductor David Measham and the London Symphony Orchestra, British musicians' union rules prohibited Coleman from using his own quartet to play on the record. As a result, he had to re-examine the work without the concerto grosso form and, to fit the work on a single LP, he had to cut many of the recurrent themes of the work. It is also known that the recording quality isn't the greatest. So what? The bottom line is this: In the 21st century, Skies of America, which was Ornette's first attempt at employing his newly developed harmolodic theory (whereby using modulation many players could solo at once using different keys), still sounds ahead of its time. Though there are 21 bands marked on the cover, this is a single unbroken work with many of the themes recurring -- either in that they had long been present in Ornette's musical iconography, or would become so. (Check the theme in "The Good Life," as it evolved from "School Work" from 1962 and became "Dancing in Your Head" in the late '70s.) Coleman himself solos beautifully in the middle of the disc, from "The Artist in America" on and off until the work's end with "Sunday in America." This is loaded music: politically, emotionally, and also spiritually. The dissonance doesn't seem so profound now, but it still rubs against the grain of Western harmonic principles in all the right ways. It's difficult to find the sense of what chord is dominant in Coleman's composition, and for that alone it's valuable. But also, it's compelling listening on a level that music such as this is not yet the cultural norm or even close to approaching its standard -- which means that it is not yet fully possible. Ornette's was an opening volley, thrown down as a gauntlet that has yet to be picked up. This is still dangerous and rewarding music. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Pop - Released September 28, 1982 | Island Records (The Island Def Jam Music Group / Universal Music)

When one thinks of Ornette Coleman's innovative Prime Time Band, it is of crowded ensembles played by the altoist/leader, two guitars, two electric bassists, and two drummers. Actually, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, who plays enough for two musicians, is the only bassist on this date, but guitarists Charlie Ellerbee and Bern Nix, along with drummers Denardo Coleman and Calvin Weston, keep the ensembles quite exciting. None of the eight Coleman originals (which includes a tune titled "What Is the Name of That Song?") would catch on, but in this context they serve as a fine platform for Coleman's distinctive horn and often witty and free (but oddly melodic) style. © Scott Yanow /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1986 | Geffen

Guitarist Pat Metheny had long expressed admiration for Ornette Coleman's music, had recorded his compositions, and had worked extensively with bassist Charlie Haden, so a collaboration was not totally unexpected, though who would have guessed that it would be on the Geffen label? Metheny's almost rock star status has worked against him in other partnerships from time to time (notably, his overbearing playing on his project with Derek Bailey, The Sign of 4), but here he happily sublimates his showier instincts and works as sympathetic co-leader, deferring to Coleman's experience and genius. The music itself bears strong similarities to that of Coleman's Prime Time ensembles wherein all players solo at once, bracketed by the themes of the piece. Metheny often manages to be a quite expressive second voice, racing along beside the master saxophonist, offering alternative strategies and never showboating. The tandem percussion team of Jack DeJohnette and Coleman's son Denardo are ferocious when need be, and Charlie Haden is his standard exemplary self. Metheny fans owe it to themselves to listen to some of his most exploratory and least "pastel" playing and, in fact, the album also contains some of Coleman's best work since the mid-'70s. © Brian Olewnick /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 23, 1987 | Rhino Atlantic

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This album belongs to a time when jazz record executives slapped broad boasts and proclamations onto their products. These usually celebrated the prowess of the artist (Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus) or the potency of the sounds (the Count Basie Orchestra's Atomic Basie). The Shape of Jazz To Come takes that hype up a notch, promoting alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman as no less than the future of the art. As prophecy goes, the title is spot on. This record introduced Coleman's daring approach to harmony (which he called "harmelodics"), and showed how it stretched common wisdom about consonance and dissonance, structure and openness, hard swing and tempoless contemplation. Coleman and his three agile musicians—trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Billy Higgins; note the absence of a harmony instrument like piano or guitar—engage in a series of squabbling conversations loosely shaped (and occasionally punctuated) by recurring melodic fragments. The ad-libbed motifs dart around corners rapidly; sometimes they bloom and then disappear immediately, sometimes they hang around and mutate as they're volleyed between instrumentalists. The most famous of these is "Lonely Woman," a sullen Coleman original that's easily his most ubiquitous tune. Following a deliberative bass opening from Haden, Coleman renders it as a study in hanging questions and unresolved mysteries. Other tunes, including "Focus On Sanity" (Coleman's choice for the album title), summon the frenetic energy and taunting fury that soon came to be associated with free jazz. Indeed, it contains maps to the terrain of the future: Historians generally mark this work, which was enshrined in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2012, as the foundation of the entire jazz avant garde movement. And though the music quickly sprouted more strident modes of expression, this album's forward-hurtling spirit still delivers on the claim of the title. © Tom Moon/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released June 23, 1987 | Rhino Atlantic

This album belongs to a time when jazz record executives slapped broad boasts and proclamations onto their products. These usually celebrated the prowess of the artist (Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus) or the potency of the sounds (the Count Basie Orchestra's Atomic Basie). The Shape of Jazz To Come takes that hype up a notch, promoting alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman as no less than the future of the art. As prophecy goes, the title is spot on. This record introduced Coleman's daring approach to harmony (which he called "harmelodics"), and showed how it stretched common wisdom about consonance and dissonance, structure and openness, hard swing and tempoless contemplation. Coleman and his three agile musicians—trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Billy Higgins; note the absence of a harmony instrument like piano or guitar—engage in a series of squabbling conversations loosely shaped (and occasionally punctuated) by recurring melodic fragments. The ad-libbed motifs dart around corners rapidly; sometimes they bloom and then disappear immediately, sometimes they hang around and mutate as they're volleyed between instrumentalists. The most famous of these is "Lonely Woman," a sullen Coleman original that's easily his most ubiquitous tune. Following a deliberative bass opening from Haden, Coleman renders it as a study in hanging questions and unresolved mysteries. Other tunes, including "Focus On Sanity" (Coleman's choice for the album title), summon the frenetic energy and taunting fury that soon came to be associated with free jazz. Indeed, it contains maps to the terrain of the future: Historians generally mark this work, which was enshrined in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2012, as the foundation of the entire jazz avant garde movement. And though the music quickly sprouted more strident modes of expression, this album's forward-hurtling spirit still delivers on the claim of the title. © Tom Moon/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1988 | Fantasy Records

This 1958 debut recording by the Ornette Coleman Quintet, which featured Coleman on his trademark white plastic alto, Don Cherry on trumpet, Billy Higgins on drums, Walter Norris on piano, and Don Payne on bass, shook up the jazz world -- particularly those musicians and critics who had entered the hard bop era with such verve and were busy using the blues as a way of creating vast solo spaces inside tight and short melody lines. Something Else!!!! is anathema to that entire idea, and must have sounded like it came from outer space at the time. First, Coleman's interest was in pitch, not "being in tune." His use of pitch could take him all over -- and outside of -- a composition, as it does on "Invisible," which begins in D flat. The intervals are standard, but the melodic component of the tune -- despite its hard bop tempo -- is, for the most part, free. But what is most compelling is evident in abundance here and on the next two tunes, "The Blessing" and "Jayne": a revitalization of the blues as it expressed itself in jazz. Coleman refurbished the blues framework, threaded it through his jazz without getting rid of its folk-like, simplistic milieu. In other words, the groove Coleman was getting here was a people's groove that only confounded intellectuals at the time. Coleman restored blues to their "classic" beginnings in African music and unhooked their harmonies. Whether the key was D flat, A, G, whatever, Coleman revisited the 17- and 25-bar blues. There are normal signatures, however, such as "Chippie" in F and in eight-bar form, and "The Disguise" is in D, but in a strange 13-bar form where the first and the last change places, altering the talking-like voice inherent in the melodic line. But the most important thing about Something Else! was that, in its angular, almost totally oppositional way, it swung and still does; like a finger-poppin' daddy on a Saturday night, this record swings from the rafters of the human heart with the most unusually gifted, emotional, and lyrical line since Bill Evans first hit the scene. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released February 18, 1988 | Legacy Recordings

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1990 | Blue Note Records

Love Call is other half of the New York Is Now session, which is, in a sense, ridiculous. Blue Note issued two records when they really only had one. There were two dates, April 29 and May 7, 1968. Half the tunes from this volume and half from New York Is Now were recorded at each session. Coleman, with Dewey Redman and the rhythm section of Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, work through Coleman's melodic conceptions and harmonic constructs on five numbers. Coleman plays alto on four tunes and trumpet on three -- better than violin. "Airborne" is the most successful thing here in that Coleman's music matches the rhythm section's energy for the only time on the session. Redman's tenor solo is one of the most bleating and emotionally intense of his career, careening across microphonics as he flats fifths and screeches through a series of arpeggios that cause Coleman to begin his solo at 60 mph at the very top of a scale, and cruise through six or seven melodic variations on its theme before bringing it back down. Meanwhile, Elvin barely breaks a sweat and Garrison creates such a taut harmonic template for Coleman and Redman, they have to stretch. The title track is perhaps Coleman's finest moment on the trumpet. He spatters his notes in such a way that across the B-flat diminished nine scalar invention, he picks up all the tonal qualities in the color palette and chromatically orders them in such a way that they set Redman up with a prime opportunity to alter the melody of the tune one note at a time. Also, the bluesy theme in "Check Out Time," with its echoes of Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk," is a nice touch, but it should have opened or closed the album. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1990 | Blue Note Records

Recorded during the same session that resulted in the Love Call album (in late April and early May of 1968), New York Is Now is one of the true curiosity pieces in Ornette's catalog. With a rhythm section comprised of ex-Coltrane sidemen Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones as well as tenorist Dewey Redman, Ornette is, in some sense, at odds with himself here. This particular rhythm section is a lot more modally than harmonically propelled -- especially Jones, who sounds here like he doesn't know what to do with himself in the restrictive tempos -- and creates a complex set of issues for Coleman and Redman to contend with. That said, on "The Garden of Souls," which opens the album, Coleman makes the most of this sprightly, energetic rhythm team and moves through quotations of "Moon River," "Danny Boy," and even Paul Muriat's "Love Is Blue" during his solo, before shifting the harmonics around and anchoring them somewhere between E flat 7 and E major. On "Broadway Blues," Coleman actually makes use of Monk in his melodic conception, and he and Redman have a go at turning a seven-note vamp into all sorts of knotty material for soloing -- you can almost feel Jones smile as the tempo reaches triple time; the saxophonists have to race each other through it. And while this date is of only marginal interest it is pleasant if not amazing -- with the exception of "For a Commercial," which features Ornette's strident violin playing above the rest of the band in the mix. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1998 | Blue Note Records

If there ever was an artist unsuited to a best-of compilation, it's Ornette Coleman. His music is about space and texture within a certain context, not only within the compositions themselves, but in how those songs relate to each other on a particular album or session. By selecting highlights from a series of albums, the songs themselves lose some of their power. That's the main problem with The Best of Ornette Coleman, an otherwise solid overview of his three years at Blue Note. Between 1965 and 1968, he recorded several terrific sessions for the label, and they're all worth hearing. Arguably, the seven songs here are among the best moments from those records, and they do give some sense of what his music is about, but neophytes would be better off with a full album, which will give a more accurate portrait of Coleman's music and its greatness. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2000 | Verve

Following the symphonic explorations of 1972's Skies of America, Ornette Coleman became fascinated with the music of Morocco. Dancing in Your Head is the chaotic result of that experimental period with the formation of Prime Time. "Theme From a Symphony" (Variation One and Two) is a 27-minute dervish whirlwind mixed with funk. This was the first opportunity listeners had to hear the two-guitar assault of Charles Ellerbee and Bern Nix. With its infectious danceable melody, Coleman fused these musics together in a unique unpredictable way that had not previously been attempted. "Midnight Sunrise" is a field recording with Ornette playing in Morocco alongside the Master Musicians of Jajouka during a religious ceremony. Music critic Robert Palmer, the first to expose Ornette to the music and culture of Morocco, plays clarinet. Unfortunately this fascinating piece clocks in at only 4:36, with an alternative take not on the original album, at 3:50 featuring Coleman and Palmer playing in an absolute frenzy. Dancing In Your Head sustained Ornette Coleman's role of controversial innovator. © Al Campbell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released November 6, 2000 | Columbia - Legacy

In conjunction with the release of Ken Burns' ten-part, 19-hour epic PBS documentary Jazz, Columbia issued 22 single-disc compilations devoted to jazz's most significant artists, as well as a five-disc historical summary. Since the individual compilations attempt to present balanced overviews of each artist's career, tracks from multiple labels have thankfully been licensed where appropriate. The Ornette Coleman installment of Ken Burns Jazz naturally concentrates on his hugely influential recordings for Atlantic, but also devotes four of the 11 tracks to his equally controversial '70s output, including the electric Prime Time band. Given the limitations of the single-disc format, the compilers have successfully represented the most important phases of Coleman's career. There's one piece from his formative pre-Atlantic years, which is followed by several less structured yet melodic Coleman classics like "Lonely Woman" and "Ramblin'," plus his legendary inside-out version of "Embraceable You." Coleman's Free Jazz (A Collective Improvisation) album was a landmark, but including its one 37-minute track would hardly have made for a balanced retrospective, so the compilers instead wisely chose "First Take," a sort of dry run for Free Jazz that's less than half that length and appeared on the Atlantic box. There's also one selection apiece from the frequently fascinating '70s albums Science Fiction, Skies of America, Dancing in Your Head, and Body Meta, which found Coleman experimenting with world music, large orchestras, and electric funk/free jazz fusion. The only glaring omission is the classic "Una Muy Bonita," probably Coleman's secondary signature tune after "Lonely Woman." Of course, there's a lot more Coleman that should be heard, but all things considered -- especially since it draws from multiple labels -- Ken Burns Jazz is likely the most comprehensive single-disc Coleman compilation that will ever be released. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Jazz - Released December 17, 2000 | Rhino Atlantic

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This album belongs to a time when jazz record executives slapped broad boasts and proclamations onto their products. These usually celebrated the prowess of the artist (Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus) or the potency of the sounds (the Count Basie Orchestra's Atomic Basie). The Shape of Jazz To Come takes that hype up a notch, promoting alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman as no less than the future of the art. As prophecy goes, the title is spot on. This record introduced Coleman's daring approach to harmony (which he called "harmelodics"), and showed how it stretched common wisdom about consonance and dissonance, structure and openness, hard swing and tempoless contemplation. Coleman and his three agile musicians—trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Billy Higgins; note the absence of a harmony instrument like piano or guitar—engage in a series of squabbling conversations loosely shaped (and occasionally punctuated) by recurring melodic fragments. The ad-libbed motifs dart around corners rapidly; sometimes they bloom and then disappear immediately, sometimes they hang around and mutate as they're volleyed between instrumentalists. The most famous of these is "Lonely Woman," a sullen Coleman original that's easily his most ubiquitous tune. Following a deliberative bass opening from Haden, Coleman renders it as a study in hanging questions and unresolved mysteries. Other tunes, including "Focus On Sanity" (Coleman's choice for the album title), summon the frenetic energy and taunting fury that soon came to be associated with free jazz. Indeed, it contains maps to the terrain of the future: Historians generally mark this work, which was enshrined in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2012, as the foundation of the entire jazz avant garde movement. And though the music quickly sprouted more strident modes of expression, this album's forward-hurtling spirit still delivers on the claim of the title. © Tom Moon/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2001 | Blue Note Records

Ornette Coleman's 1965 trio with bassist David Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett is easily the most underrated of all his bands. Coming off the light of the famed quartet in which Don Cherry, Eddie Blackwell, and Charlie Haden shone, anything might have looked a bit dimmer, it's true. But this band certainly had no apologies to make. Coleman was deep into creating a new approach to melody, since Haden and Cherry had honed his harmonic sensibilities. Izenzon proved to be the right bassist for Coleman to realize his ambitions. A stunning arco as well as pizzicato player (check his solo in "Dawn") Izenzon offered Coleman the perfect foil. No matter where Coleman's soloing moved the band, Izenzon was there at exactly the same time with an uncanny sense of counterpoint, and he often changed the harmonic mode by force. The first of these two volumes from December 3 shows Coleman in a playful, mischievous frame of mind, toying with the trio ads well as the audience on "Faces and Places" by inserting standard bop phrases and song quotes into the heart of his free soloing. On "Dee Dee," Coleman moves along to rhythmic counterpoint by Moffett, pushing Izenzon into the unlikely role of beat-keeper -- not simple for such an amazing improviser. But it's on the closer, "Dawn," that the band gels as one inseparable, ethereal unit, cascading through scalar invention and chromatic interplay as if it were second nature. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2002 | Blue Note Records

The second night of Ornette Coleman's two-week stand in Sweden was even fierier than the first, if the recorded documents are to be believed. For starters, December 4 was the night that Coleman brought out the violin and the trumpet on the first tune; "Snowflakes and Sunshine" must have taken club-goers by surprise. Those first notes skitter across the neck as the bow goes "scree" in the middle registers and bassist David Izenzon moves to create an atonal bed of rock for Coleman, while Charles Moffett plays in the triple time to a cipher of a time signature. And just as the violin starts to create a tension that is difficult for the other two members of his trio to endure musically, Coleman switches to trumpet and hauls it back inside, or at least to the ledge's edge before returning to the violin a few minutes later. The rhythm sect tries to rein him in, but he careens off Izenzon's arco playing and into an entirely new harmonic language. For the rest of the gig, it's back to the alto, with Coleman even going as far as to goof on Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" on the opening bars of "Morning Song" before playing a ballad every bit as tender and angularly beautiful as one of his. "Riddles" is one of Coleman's Eastern screamers, played modally with the same kind of breathy acrobatics Coltrane used on the music that made it onto the posthumous Sunship. There are several drone modes created by Izenzon, with off-measure rhythmic figures cut by Moffett. Coleman plays the alto as one would a Tibetan oboe or a thighbone trumpet, reaching deep into the lower register to touch the drone and then sail off into scalar abandon. There is more than enough fire, but the astonishing thing is the color and texture Coleman gets from the horn. The set closes with a lovely, knotty piece called "Antiques," in which Izenzon and Coleman match modes for an interesting meeting of the minds in a dramatic wash of color and mood. This is the stronger of the two evenings, but they are both fine records by an under-recognized band in Coleman's development. © Thom Jurek /TiVo