Friday, June 23, 2006

John Coltrane...Ascension...




My apologies for the lack of posts – but I have been whacked with a double whammy – health problems and domestic upheavals – my daughter is moving into a new house in town. Next week, things should fall back into place. Hopefully...

On y va...

John Coltrane's 'Ascension' was recorded in 1965, a few years after Ornette Coleman's 'Free Jazz,' and followed the altoist in several other ways: minimal ensemble composed linking sections, a two man bass team on board - and the presence of Freddie Hubbard, who never quite seems comfortable with his surroundings - but is prepared to try and follow the charismatic sax pied pipers where they lead. But Coleman's work was played by a doubled quartet which included two drummers. Here, there are two more musicians added - and only Elvin Jones in the boiler room. Only? What a performance – one of his greatest, driving the sprawling, wailing ensembles and soloists onwards with a relentless and fiery barrage of polyrythms that never lets up. The true star of the day? He roots the band in the way that Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell did – the beat never fractures completely into abstraction but has a definable pulse - however wayward it seems at times.

Another contrast? Unwind the words... Coleman's title was to define a style of improvisation within jazz (for better or for worse) at the head of the sixties and the phrase could be further explored by splitting it and considering the word 'free.' Adjective? Or verb? Describing this new music – or exhorting musicians to 'free' jazz – from what had been perceived by many as the fag end of bebop. Whatever... Ornette's freedoms had philosophical implications way beyond the music that imply new ways of living and coming together. Free jazz and free yourself and others at the same time. But in this world, maybe... Coltrane's epic has vivid overtones of that spirituality which flows from his own voyage of inner discovery. Yet this is a fiery uplifting – a questing, questioning movement. Whatever inner peace he found this side of the grave, so much of his later work has an urgent feel to it – as if Kierkegaard had come back as a tenor saxophonist. And behind that again – although far transcending its inherently sectarian significance - is the 'Ascension' that is at the centre of Christianity - victory over death by the risen Christ. I have always heard Coltrane's sound as hard-wired into the pentecostal fire music of the Afro-American churchs – even when he takes in the Oriental/Asian influences with their implications of more quiescent philosophies they have to battle with that wild searching voice that floods his timbral spaces. Maybe this tension where one would expect to find peace is precisely set up by the dynamics inherent in crossing east and west via a distant African heritage. Beyond these speculations... no listener can come idly to this music. You either reject it – or embrace the wild ride...

Hallelujah...

I intend in my usual perverse and elliptical fashion to post Ornette's early masterpiece out of historical sequence... hopefully very soon...


John Coltrane
(John Coltrane: tenor Saxophone;Freddie Hubbard:trumpet; Dewey Johnson:trumpet; Marion Brown: alto saxophone: John Tchicai:alto saxophone; Pharoah Sanders: tenor saxophone: Archie Shepp: tenor Saxophone; McCoy Tyner: piano; Art Davis: bass; Jimmy Garrison: bass; Elvin Jones: drums).

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Ascension (take 1)


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8 comments:

St Anthony said...

Kierkegaard on tenor sax? I like the idea of that(I guess that would make Nietzsche the equivalent of, what, Reed or Cale circa 'White Light'?).
I confess I am one of those individuals who far prefer Coltrane's later work to his earlier - not that I regard the earlier stuff as anything other than unalloyed genius, it's just that his last decade or so just seems to exist on another plane. 'Ascension' being a good case in point - it's not for the faint-hearted. Coltrane rising to the challenge Ornette posed the older generation? Whatever, Coltrane was certainly up for the New Thing - no matter how many supporters he may lose along the way. It's a pity he lost Elvin, because he proves, as you say, what a great player he was and how well he could take to this new approach.
Coltrane plugs into the same Pentecostal flame that Ayler was contemplating - no wonder Albert loved Coltrane so much,(wish he was one of the tenor sax players here). And in place of Ornette's sunnier muse, here we have Coltrane's sturm und drang - I like the way they all just pitch into the fray, great sheets of sound from the word go. It's pretty exhausting listening to it, God knows what it must have been like in the studio.
I also love Coltrane's courage - coming after 'A Love Supreme', he could have rested on his laurels and continued a (by jazz standards) lucrative career in the same vein - instead he decides to do make music like this.
Mad but wonderful.
But just what a great piece of music - I had a cassette copy when I spent a term at Glasgow University back in 1990 and played the guts out of it - no doubt to the dismay of anyone in the adjoining rooms.

Rod... said...

It was a great shame that Albert A wasn't present on this session - one of the great what-ifs -he would have fitted in perfectly...

St Anthony said...

Yes, I wonder why Coltrane didn't draft Albert in? He was around the scene and getting a name at the time - maybe 40 minutes of Coltrane and Ayler going at it full tilt would have melted the circuits in the studio.

Rod... said...

Ayler did play with Coltrane - there are some tapes around somewhere - one I have seen mentioned in discographies( i know, what a nerd!) is a performance from 1966 with the ayler brothers in tow alongside Pharoah Sanders and Carlos Ward at Lincoln Centre - ironic how that place has now become the temple of the mount for the Rev Marsalis and his clan

St Anthony said...

I'm sure the lovely Wynton had a professional exorcist sweep the place from top to bottom to make sure there were no (what he would consider) bad vibes.
Like to hear those tapes.

Jim Eigo said...

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Pradip Somasundaran said...

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Rod... said...

Re not being able to access the music - my apologies - but I only put up links for a week. However, if you have any requests - I will repost them - as soon as I get back on line! Have moved house and due to fuckups will not have internet connection back till this friday - 14th July - till then...