Acoustic Sounds

Ornette Coleman

Change of the Century



Ornette Coleman "Change of the Century" "Rhino High Fidelity"

Label: Rhino "High Fidelity" /Atlantic

Produced By: Nesuhi Ertegun

Engineered By: Bones Howe

Mixed By: Bones Howe

Mastered By: Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio

Lacquers Cut By: Kevin Gray

By: Michael Fremer

January 17th, 2024



"Change of the Century" is a Fun Listen! Why are People Afraid of Ornette?

Bones Howe engineered sonics

While Rhino's "High Fidelity" series lacks a clearly identifiable direction or purpose—it seems to meander around the catalog without regard to time, place or purpose—there's one consistent strategy: each two record release has a rock title and a jazz title. Credit Rhino with chance-taking guts this round. Marquee Moon isn't exactly mainstream rock (though the reissue gives it that sound), and Ornette Coleman's music scares a lot of listeners.

I'm not making that up. Read Malachi Lui's coverage of the Blue Note box, which surveys the Coleman recorded catalog. Joe Harley told me the "free jazz" reissues consistently do less well than the more traditional Blue Note fare.

Even if you're totally unfamiliar with it, or Ornette Coleman's music in general, listening to Change of the Century should only bring pleasure and joy, though it's difficult to imagine any listener having as much fun and joy as Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins had playing it.

True you have to let go of chord changes and melody and though there's musical methodology to what Coleman is doing, understanding and untangling it is not necessary. All you have to do is ride the rhythms and dig the playing precision as Coleman and Cherry navigate the musical chasms and punctuation points, with the pedal to the metal applied by Higgins and Haden. If Haden doesn't get your toes tapping and your adrenalin flowing, well there's always Kind of Blue—not that there's anything wrong with that.

That's all I'm going to write about the music other than that you could draw a very squiggly line between Charlie Parker and Coleman with some Delta Blues and Island rhythms thrown in. I'm sure you can find doctoral level dissection and analysis superior to anything I can write, and there's nothing wrong with that either.

Rhino's "High Fidelity" series packaging and annotation is again top shelf: gatefold "Tip-on" laminated jackets, outstanding artwork reproduction, very close to but not quite up to the original (still better than many) a few bonus photos and a short essay not about the music, but about the sound.

The lighting is somewhat involved in this comparison but it does highlight the original's (on the left) more richly saturated colors. Good choice, re: the annotation for two reasons: the first being you're not going to adequately cover the music in a half dozen or so paragraphs and the second, input about the sound from engineer Bones Howe is fascinating and up the audiophile alleyway.

The annotation is an excerpt from a sidebar titled "The Past Prefigures The Future" to a February, 2004 Sound on Sound article by Dan Daley titled "Bones Howe & Tom Waits: The Odd Couple". In it Howe talks about recording The Shape of Jazz to Come on May 22nd, 1959 and this album October 8-9, 1959 at Radio Recorders Studio B.

Following these two recording dates Coleman moved to New York and recorded the rest of the Atlantic albums. I should add The Shape of Jazz to Come is a more tuneful album and the best Coleman entry point but don't pass up this one limited to 5000 copies!

You'll have to buy the record for the details but one thing Howe said was that he simultaneously recorded live in mono and to two track, thus the mono original I have sounds spatially fundamentally different because it's a totally different mix and not a 'fold down'.

original mono pressing

With Howe at the board you can be sure both are great. The stereo is not as some Atlantics were, panned hard left/right and meant for a mono mix. Instead it's a legit stereo mix with a nice instrumental spread across a convincing stage. The mono original puts Coleman and Cherry in your face in a good way, with Higgins and Haden layered behind. C&C's lockstep is so tight, in mono they tend to merge, which makes the stereo somewhat more exciting but for some reason Haden's bass sounds more present and nimble in mono.

Kevin Gray's mastering is spot on. I also have the version from the Ornette Coleman The Atlantic Years box set, a beautifully packaged object done as a Euro edition with fold over covers and mastered by John Webber at AIR Studios, probably from digital files (if from tape, what tape?) and while it's "okay", the differences between it and KG's mastering from the original tape is major. Haden's bass loses transient detail and precision and sounds overly eq'd to produce "bass" that lags behind the attack. Higgins' drum kit loses transient precision and (ironically) air. The sax and trumpet lose brass and reed, both of which are smoothed over. Without comparison to this cut, they will sound okay but once you hear this, you'll put that one back on the shelf!

Highly recommended! If it throws you at first, eventually, even if you're a hard core rocker, you'll grow into Change of the Century.

P.S. if you like stories from me here's one, though I'm not 100% comfortable telling it: in the early 1980's while living in Venice, CA a friend of mine committed suicide (that's a whole 'other crazy and tragic story).

He left a box by my front door and inside was his suicide note and instructions on what was to be done with his possessions. Also inside were bags of really good weed and another bag with about two ounces of very high quality cocaine.

Within a few days there was a knock on my door. I opened it and there was Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys! Apparently word got out that there was this guy in Venice with a big bag of coke. Could it have been any more uncomfortable? No! I mean it was cool having Dennis Wilson in your apartment but I knew he'd not come for the company. He grabbed my Casio synth and in seconds demonstrated to me why he was a musician and I was not, and then he requested a few lines, which I generously dished out. Satiated, he said goodbye and left.

A few days later, another knock on the door and? "Hey man, I'm...." and before he could finish, I recognized him and said "Don Cherry!" thinking to myself "holy f**king shit! It's Don Cherry!"

I didn't have a trumpet handy but I did have the "toot" he was looking for. That drug will do some bad things to some cool people—I mean how humiliating can it be to knock on a total stranger's door and ask for it?

No one else showed up after that, and neither of them returned so I was left with a lot of blow, which I shared with friends because back then things did go better with coke, until it didn't. That bag lasted about a year—not because I didn't have any friends, but because I'm moderate in all things except record buying!

Music Specifications

Catalog No: Atlantic RHF1 1327/081227818593

Pressing Plant: Optimal


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: original master tapes

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2024-01-17 04:27:25 PM

    Josquin des Prez wrote:

    I would really love to have this. However, I bought the Coltrane' Sound reissue in the first round, and the second side was jam-packed with non-fill pressing defects. That's no longer so uncommon, but the bigger problem for me was that dealing with Rhino's so-called Customer Support was so painful and time-consuming I just demanded a refund and swore off buying direct again. I really wish they would use a distribution channel that shows some respect for consumers when there are problems with defects. I want this reissue.

    • 2024-01-17 07:14:59 PM

      Kevin Jones wrote:

      True, needs another distribution method

    • 2024-01-17 07:15:04 PM

      Kevin Jones wrote:

      True, needs another distribution method

    • 2024-01-18 10:16:22 AM

      Norm Plaistowe wrote:

      I bought the first four albums in the HiFi series, you would think that Rhino would figure out that I’m an interested customer and put me on some sort of a email list, nope. I never hear from these guys, they just don’t care. The only way I find out about new releases is here.

      • 2024-01-18 05:39:04 PM

        Josquin des Prez wrote:

        If they pressed at RTI or QRP instead of Optimal that would be a good start.

  • 2024-01-17 04:49:03 PM

    Come on wrote:

    Very good to approach Ornette with that driving rhythm section. On order as soon as available.

  • 2024-01-17 04:49:24 PM

    PeterG wrote:

    I hate skipping an 11/11, FOMO! But it's not "fear" if you know for a fact that you're not going to "get" it. I still can't figure out why I can't figure out the Ornette Coleman I already own

    • 2024-01-25 05:33:52 PM

      Michael Weintraub wrote:

      I think it is probably the most accessible album from this group (Ornette's best and most important), certainly more so than Free Jazz. A very strong set of tunes. Una Muy Bonita swings like mad! If you were ever going to give him another shot, this might be the place to do it.

  • 2024-01-17 05:09:43 PM

    Juan wrote:

    Came for the review, stayed for the story. What a tale! From Pacific Ocean Blue to Brown Rice looking for some prime blow. What a time

  • 2024-01-17 06:23:22 PM

    Paul Robertson wrote:

    That was great front to back.

    Juan took the words out of my mouth before I could say the same.

    Priceless and very funny story (apart from the obvious) to wrap things up LMAO!

  • 2024-01-17 07:40:55 PM

    Eric Mack wrote:

    Pressed at Optimal, not RTI...

    • 2024-01-18 01:39:49 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      oops. Will ficks

  • 2024-01-17 09:15:54 PM

    Kevin Jones wrote:

    Michael, when you received this did it come in a large box with air pillows allowing corners to get all bent up?

    • 2024-01-18 01:40:25 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I can't remember, but it came well boxed and no corner damage.

  • 2024-01-18 10:40:09 AM

    Ronan O’Gorman wrote:

    Great review, thanks Michael. I have ordered this and received excellent communications from Rhino regarding delivery. As others have mentioned the first releases of this new Rhino series were plagued by poor customer service. It looks like they have had an over haul of operations. I enjoyed your reference to Bird! and agree that Ornate has a very strong Charlie Parker influence

    • 2024-01-18 10:41:28 AM

      Ronan O’Gorman wrote:

      That should read Ornette!!

      • 2024-01-18 01:41:59 PM

        Michael Fremer wrote:

        I HATE vicious auto spell correct like that! However I did a commercial parody called "Jazz's Greatest Hits" and it included a tune by Ornate Coldust! And Miles Jiveass and Leon Muffin singing "The Creator Has a Master Key" (among others).

  • 2024-01-18 01:52:31 PM

    Simon G wrote:

    Great review Michael. I only have the recent Craft Contemporary box with the first two Ornette albums, along with The Shape of Jazz to Come and was on the fence about grabbing this one but your review made up my mind for me. Quite the story at the end as well!

    • 2024-01-18 04:58:55 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      well, then your next steps are hearing 'change of the century' and 'this is our music'! (the latter is my favorite ornette album). then get 'free jazz' and the blue note box...

  • 2024-01-22 10:33:34 AM

    Bill Houston wrote:

    Fremer Review: 10 Fremer Story: 10

  • 2024-01-24 12:37:57 PM

    Jeffrey C. Robbins wrote:

    So odd. I’ve tried now several times, on a PC and an iPhone, to purchase this disc from Rhino. I’ve tried credit card and PayPal. In each case, when I get to the Buy Now button and select it, nothing happens and the Buy Now button then becomes inoperative and requires starting over. Anyone else have the same issue and if so, how did you resolve? Thanks. JCR

    • 2024-01-24 05:22:59 PM

      Jeffrey C. Robbins wrote:

      I’ll answer my own question. Rhino tech support could not figure it out. But, by using a Mac computer, instead of a PC or an iPhone, we were able to get the order to process.

  • 2024-01-27 04:25:35 AM

    Stereo wrote:

    Pour one out for us Euroland listeners, or rather non-listeners. The only way to buy these titles directly from Rhino. After buying the Coltrane title from them and having the untracked parcels lost twice I gave up and got a refund.

    Knowing it is pressed at Optimal just adds insult to injury.