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Coltrane

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I'm having an idle moment, and seeing as we don't seem to have a Coltrane thread - which is ludicrous - I thought I'd start one, so that there may be a place to vent occasional bouts of Trane enthusiasm.

I started reading Coltrane: the story of a sound at Christmas, as I was in a bit of a phase. It's good, although imtimidatingly technical at times. It's puzzling, because I don't really understand jazz, or why exactly it is that these solos are so special, but when I hear Coltrane in that sixties period, I just know it's good, and uniquely good. With most rock, folk or pop music I can normally tell you exactly why I like it, what makes that special moment special. But with Coltrane, I can't even start to explain why this particular guy playing absurdly self-indulgent music is beautiful, nearly transcendent, when other people playing similarly absurd, self-indulgent music just seems absurd, and self-indulgent. With Coltrane it seems like these crazed soloes are on behalf of the listeners, like it's all vicarious in some way, and I can't begin to explain why.

Recently a friend (who doesn't even like jazz) gave me a stack of about 20 bootleg live cds to work through - including a 12 disc set called 'Live Trane Underground'. I thought 20 cd would be too much to handle, but reading about the development of his soloing made me realise that the studio recordings are just the tip of the iceberg, and right now I'm listening to 'My Favourite Things' from vol. II. I have no idea when it was recorded, but it's incredible, and I suspect that over the next few months I'll work my way through the whole - highly illegal - set. I imagine that there are probably more legitimate live sets around... but I'm skint.

So there we are... Coltrane. Feel free to drop the occasional Coltrane nugget in when appropriate, jazz fiends.

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I think in many ways he is a celebration of discipline.

John Coltrane, playing is the sound of a man giving away what he has, not the sound of a man hoarding. We hear the sound of a man trying to claw his way towards the eternal and inviting us to join the struggle.

I believe John Coltrane played like he practiced. I believe that he practiced and studied like it was his gateway to heaven. I think this is why and/or how we can listen and not hear the sound of a man looking at his navel.

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I think this is why and/or how we can listen and not hear the sound of a man looking at his navel.

You obviously haven't heard the 57-minute version of "Favorite Things" from his 1966 Japan tour. ;)

I've been a student and collector of Coltrane's music since my high school years. The canon is indeed vast and glorious. But as I get older and listen to the compositions and improvisations more closely, I find a lot more dross than I did when I was a slack-jawed, adoring teen. Alas, he was a mortal. But the tightrope-walking-without-a-safety-net nature of live jazz dictates that any artist-- no matter how inspired or accomplished technically-- is going to produce some crap from time to time.

His post-Ascension efforts were important exercises at the time and hold an important place in the evolution (or deconstruction-- whichever you prefer) of jazz but don't offer a terribly joyous listening experience 45 years later. There's a lot of subpar playing on those records too-- at least by Trane's standards.

I think the most complimentary vehicle for his voice was with the Classic Quartet (Tyner, Garrison and Jones.) I never tire of listening to those brothers play and Coltrane seemed to be at his most magical when he was with them.

I wish more people would dig on the album "Crescent". Despite Elvin's emotional absence due to a drug fog, I think it's one of the most haunting group of songs he recorded in the studio.

Edited by Greg P

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Crescent is next in line for me. Not listened to it properly, but enough to know that 'Wise one' is very special.

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For what it's worth, the albums I come back to again and again are the late '50s albums with Miles and Blue Train, Giant Steps, My Favorite Things, and A Love Supreme. Most of the Impulse albums (including Crescent) are great, but slightly less accessible. I haven't played anything from '65 on in many years. All of those albums (Ascension, OM, Live in Japan, Interstellar Pathways, etc.) are so impenetrable that I've given up even trying. I know people who love those albums. I am not one of them. As Greg noted, there is a one-hour version of "My Favorite Things" on Live in Japan. The melody is recognizable for all of about 12 seconds.

It's staggering to think that Coltrane recorded such monumental music, and progressed (or regressed, I suppose, depending on your point of view) through multiple stylistic changes in a mere 12 years. It's hard to envision where the music might have gone if he had lived. Then again, it's hard to imagine anything after Live in Japan.

Also, for what it's worth, I own exactly one music-related t-shirt. It's a picture of John Coltrane.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Crescent is next in line for me. Not listened to it properly, but enough to know that 'Wise one' is very special.

It is a magnificent group of tunes. In many ways-- as a purely emotional listening experience-- it's more endearing to me than Love Supreme. When Coltrane was blue he channeled something utterly mesmerizing, and Crescent has some of his bluest moments. Wise One, Lonnies Lament and the title track are pure gold. As I mentioned, the only bummer about these sessions is Elvin's work, which at times sounds like another drummer entirely. From biographies I've read, he was in a very bad way during these recording sessions and that explains a lot. In any case, play Crescent and Love Supreme back to back and you have something very close to an actual liturgy in jazz.

Re: bootlegs-- when I was younger and into collecting more, I dipped my toe into a few, but was always put off by the sound quality. Most of the boots circulating are noisy, single mic affairs. Van Gelder's Impulse-era recordings are really quite amazing, as jazz recordings go. About two weeks ago I went back to "Out of This World" from '62 or '63 and was in awe, not just by the performances, but by the ambient warmth of the recording.

I'm with you Andy on most of the post-1964 stuff. Even Ascension grates on my nerves. It's got moments where something heavenly streams through, but you have to wade through towering layers of atonal free jazz noise to get there. From that era of untethered noise, my favorite recording is Sun Ship; his last official session with that monumental Classic Quartet. For those who like adventurous, atonal blasts that's one that's got enough substance underneath to earn repeated spins. Dearly Belovedis the closest thing Trane ever recorded to a Pentecostal church improv and it's worth the price of the album. A week later he recorded First Meditationswith additional musicians and for me, even though Love and Compassion are still strong recordings, it signals the beginning of the end. I own all of the free jazz/noise records that followed, but i never listen to them.

Re: Accessibility-- I like the Impulse-era stuff from '62-'64. Those recordings have the lineup I love and Trane was only just dabbling with his spaced-out wailing. To me it's like the best of both worlds. You've got the more easily digestible modal structures of the late 50's Blue Train stuff with only sections of the track missing for Trane to spin out of control. They teeter on the brink of utter chaos and abandonment of structure for a moment, only to come right back home. Very punk rock at times, if i can use such a sacrilegious term.

Edited by Greg P

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I think this is why and/or how we can listen and not hear the sound of a man looking at his navel.

You obviously haven't heard the 57-minute version of "Favorite Things" from his 1966 Japan tour. ;)

There are two things I think about when I hear My Favorite Things. Math and Marathons.

I really thought about writing what I did. When I listen to the later stuff I am impressed by the physicality of what is happening.

I really don't want to sit down and listen to much of his later period stuff but every once in a while, I can put it on and find inspiration.You can hear him working through and past his music theory studies. Pushing the possibilities of what he can physically do. I mean just try breathing that hard for almost an hour. This is the discipline that I find amazing. Coltrane's extended workouts impress me the same way endurence athletes do. It really starts to be almost conceptual art. Granted, I don't really enjoy watching people doing maths or competing through a full Ironman or an ultra marathon, for me it isn't that interesting/exciting as a whole but I am glad somebody is out there pushing the limits.

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I just listened to Ascension I.

I wanted to put an emoticon after that sentence, but couldn't find one that was suitable. If there was an emoticon that communicated something like "it made me feel sick, but in a good way", I would have chosen that one.

It made me feel sick, but in a good way.

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Coltrane's extended workouts impress me the same way endurence athletes do. It really starts to be almost conceptual art. Granted, I don't really enjoy watching people doing maths or competing through a full Ironman or an ultra marathon, for me it isn't that interesting/exciting as a whole but I am glad somebody is out there pushing the limits.

Like a marathon make-out session with a pretty girl, improvisation has a way of making time disappear-- for the performer. And herein lies the problem with the 40-minute Afro Blue's and one-hour My Favorite Things; there was an audience.

I'm not at all opposed to long jams. I have many recordings of artists or bands doing 20,30 or 40+-minute jams. For me, it's all about the quality and quantity of ideas being expressed after a certain point of say... 60 seconds. It's no small feat to express something truly interesting in an improvisation and follow it up with successive new ideas... and sustain that for even 5 minutes. Coltrane could do it and he did throughout his career. But I think at the end of his life, as he delved into some of Indian music scales and phrasing as well as atonality, he began to drone without very many new ideas coming forth.

On a positive note, Bye Bye Blackbirdfrom '63 is a fine example of Trane going off for 20 minutes or so and still saying something interesting throughout. Ditto a lot of the expanded Village Vanguard stuff. My favorite live album is the double disc Afro Blue (from '63 also i believe) and that is a splendid example of a band on fire, bursting at the seams with fresh ideas. Lonnie's Lament could go on for another 20 minutes on that thing.

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