The second album by Ornette Coleman's legendary quartet featuring Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Billy Higgins, Change of the Century is every bit the equal of the monumental The Shape of Jazz to Come, showcasing a group that was growing ever more confident in its revolutionary approach and the chemistry in the bandmembers' interplay.
When Coleman concentrates on melody, his main themes are catchier, and when the pieces emphasize group interaction, the improvisation is freer.
Two of Coleman's most memorable classic compositions are here in their original forms -- "Ramblin'" has all the swing and swagger of the blues, and "Una Muy Bonita" is oddly disjointed, its theme stopping and starting in totally unexpected places; both secure their themes to stable, pedal-point bass figures.
The more outside group improv pieces are frequently just as fascinating; "Free," for example, features a double-tongued line that races up and down in free time before giving way to the ensemble's totally spontaneous inventions.
The title cut is a frantic, way-out mélange of cascading lines that nearly trip over themselves, brief stabs of notes in the lead voices, and jarringly angular intervals -- it must have infuriated purists who couldn't even stomach Coleman's catchiest tunes.
Coleman was frequently disparaged for not displaying the same mastery of instrumental technique and harmonic vocabulary as his predecessors, but his aesthetic prized feeling and expression above all that anyway.
Maybe that's why Change of the Century bursts with such tremendous urgency and exuberance -- Coleman was hitting his stride and finally letting out all the ideas and emotions that had previously been constrained by tradition.
That vitality makes it an absolutely essential purchase and, like The Shape of Jazz to Come, some of the most brilliant work of Coleman's career.