While controversy dogged him and mainstream success proved elusive, Coleman pushed forward undeterred, developing his vision on numerous recordings and in concert. In the past decade, however, the 72-year-old has finally received props, netting a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant and having a major showcase of his work at Lincoln Center. But recently, Coleman's output has waned -- his last album was 1997's incandescent Colors -- leading some critics to wonder if he's still relevant.
Of course, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Though too few and far between, Coleman's contemporary performances -- free yet focused, soaring without screaming, bent but never broken, stunningly beautiful -- sound as fresh and original as in the past. But beyond the music, Coleman stands as a beacon for those who believe that jazz today can be something else tomorrow.