Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Coltrane... Dolphy... obsessions? ... probably...
Kulu Se Mama was always an oddity... I bought it years ago but I can't say that it was ever one of my favourites and I rarely played it. But the times change – it's still an oddity, kind of Coltrane's equivalent of a late Albert Ayler track, maybe – world music/african roots exploration etc instead of flower power and r and b, but something that significantly demonstrates a potential broadening of direction – or a dead end... personally I like late Ayler... And on re-acquaintance, this does not sound that dated, strangely enough, because of those world music connotations?... Maybe... Recorded in 1965 with an expanded group on hand – Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Donald Rafael Garrett, Frank Butler, Juno Lewis, and Elvin Jones, there are a lot of streams flowing into the making of this chosen track – folk music mingling with the jazz - itself a river whose banks were bursting at the time - via overlaid imitations/emulations of African rhythms and song. Juno Lewis wrote the title poem for his mother, apparently, and performs it in an African-Creole dialect called 'Entobes.' Which , if you google it, only comes up in relation to this record. Obscure... The percussion is free-flowing but structured – unlike the wilder bangouts with Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali – with Frank Butler as second drummer. It opens over rattling small drums and Lewis chanting until the horns come in a slow line over the rippling cross rhythms, answered sporadically by Lewis. The heavily vocalised saxophone lines echo Lewis's voice – half-singing, half-chanting – getting wilder and squarkier as the music builds. The drums are recorded slightly back in the mix but the hand percussion burst through here and there – the pattering of what sounds like conga drums and bongos more cutting than the two trap drummers who are down in the engine room producing a dense blur of cymbals and snares and bass drums. Tyner surfaces through the dense murk of rhythm, repeated figures hammered out over a recurring thump on the tonal centre of b flat: the congas and shakers and what sounds like a cowbell welling up behind him. An echoing wooping sound from Lewis(?) before he returns to his vocal line. Bass led vamp to the ending, bringing the music to rest over echoing high drum sounds – bongos?
Now I've listened to it a few times, it grows on me, an attempt to expand beyond the usual howling wildness into an area where it would have been interesting to have heard more...
Kulu se mama
Continuing the African roots theme – a couple of years earlier, Coltrane recorded the mighty Africa/Brass sessions – some of my favourite music, not the least down to our man Eric Dolphy's arrangements for the orchestra. Blues Minor is taken at a brisk pace – Coltrane straight in with the theme as the band punctuates with deep sonorous chords then onwards into his solo as they drop out. The drums are with him all the way, the bass more felt than heard and Tyner chording in what sounds like the next room. A few choruses of solo sax then the orchestra step back in with background punches of colouration. Tyner up for a solo, an elegant, swinging series of choruses, lines of single notes mainly over discrete left hand chording, Garrison going from low to high on his bass walks. Coltrane returns, more forceful blowing, inside the form with the odd flurry to hint at escape outwards, recapping the theme here and there as the orchestra soar up in abrupt waves until they all go into the final theme statement.
Impassioned playing, of course. The subject matter demanded it... The resonance of this album comes from this excavation of origins – from the celebration of Africa as homeland to the sadness, despair and anger because of the forced separation of so many of its peoples during slavery. To the freedom road that started back on obscure plantations and developed through and after the Civil War, the sold-out dreams that became the nightmares that followed of segregation. Onwards to – wherever you want to put your marker. Not for me to say, I'm not black or American. A track from one of the great Coltrane albums – and by obvious extension one of the great artworks of the twentieth century.
We seem to be working backwards. So, from Dolphy the arranger to Dolphy the soloist. A curiosity – his first recorded solo, or near as dammit, still under the heavy sway of Parker (which never entirely disappeared but became lighter as he rapidly fashioned his own inimitable style and built sturdily on that legacy). Taken from a lost album – Hamilton recorded the Ellington Suite twice- and the released version in 1959 was by a reunion of his old band - Buddy Collette, Jim Hall, Fred Katz and Carson Smith with Paul Horn added. This version, from 1958, was never released and remained lost for over thirty years until a test pressing surfaced in England. So here's 'Just a sitting and a rocking.' Bass and band in call and response theme statement. A mellow timbred group with the cello upfront alongside guitar and Dolphy on alto – unwinding upwards into his solo. Parkeresque as stated. Lightly swinging drums and cello doing some effective counterpoint in the background. Guitar solos cleanly as cello plays behind. Dolphy, of course, was to use the cello in his own groups a bit further down the line. This is light, airy jazz with unusual textures due to the instrumentation. Hamilton is still alive and playing in advanced years , an undersung hero in a genre of undersung heroes. A man whose recordings are well worth seeking out – a stone original...
The rest of the band on this date: Nate Gershman: cello, John Pisano: guitar and Hal Gaylor on bass . Some say that the released album was better, given Jim Hall and Fred Katz's jazz pedigree over the lesser known Pisano and more classically inclined Gershman. Track it down and compare... I'd usually go with Dolphy, no matter that Collette was a more accomplished player. Eric always had that spark
Just a sitting and a rocking