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January/February 2000

Peter Niklas Wilson
Ornette Coleman: His Life And Music

It is not easy to explain the music of Ornette Coleman with both accuracy and clarity, but Peter Niklas Wilson has done so with Ornette Coleman: His Life and Music.

Peter Niklas Wilson’s Ornette Coleman: His Life and Music is an insightful, well-researched examination of one of the most cryptic figures in American music. He skillfully draws upon scholarly and journalistic sources to write a thorough, yet well-paced biographical narrative. A musicologist who has written detailed studies on Charlie Parker and Anthony Braxton, and a bassist who has performed with Braxton, Barry Guy, and others, Wilson also has the technical background to untangle the nagging enigma that is Harmolodics, which he does with surprising clarity.

Additionally, he surveys Coleman’s recordings as leader and sideman through 1997, keeping the bar rather high throughout the various phases of Coleman’s career. With an engaging foreword by Pat Metheny functioning as something of a bonus track, Ornette Coleman: His Life and Music makes a persuasive case for Coleman’s greatness, as Wilson is able to make Coleman’s innovations digestible without diluting their substance.

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