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Ornette Coleman: Skies of America

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illustration of Ornette Coleman

Some interesting parallels can be drawn between Ornette Coleman and Frank Zappa: Both are iconoclastic composers and self-taught visionaries who developed their own idiosyncratic instrumental languages-Coleman on the alto sax, Zappa on the electric guitar; both led small bands or combos while harboring dreams of working on a larger, orchestral scale; both ultimately realized their grandiose visions with the help of the London Symphony Orchestra-Coleman in 1972, Zappa in 1982.

Coleman’s third symphonic work, the 167-page epic score Skies of America, is to “Turnaround” or “Ramblin'” what Zappa’s Orchestral Works is to “Valley Girl” or “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.” Both symphonic pieces are imposing works that present quite a challenge to listeners and die-hard fans alike. There are more rewards for Ornette devotees on Skies of America, namely the inclusion of his instantly recognizable alto-sax voice. On Zappa’s Orchestral Works (or even his later opus, The Yellow Shark) there is no guitar at all, thus depriving fans of a familiar connecting point.

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