VARIOUS ARTISTS / Ole Mixtape
Happy birthday Trane (September 23, 1926, Hamlet, North Carolina)! Trane exemplified Albert Ayler’s maxim: music is the healing force of the universe. Beyond healing, Trane’s music was also a spiritual force for good, an aural catalyst that encouraged and inspired all of us to reach deeper into ourselves, higher above the mundanities and mendacities of the world.
This little mixtape attempts to get to that healing/spiritual uplift dyad. Gil Scott-Heron speaks on the healing and Jose James reaches for the spiritual. Trane’s great song “Ole” is the centerpiece–the sonic fuel and the creative firelight.
1961 was a major year for Trane. The album Ole on Atlantic Records would have been a major statement were it not for the release of Africa/Brass on the Impulse label. Africa/Brass was the sound of the hour, completely capturing the ears, hearts and minds of serious jazz heads.
Ironically, Ole was recorded on May 25, 1961 with a septet of Trane on soprano, Eric Dolphy on flute, McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman and Art Davis on bass, and Elvin Jones on drum. The New York session actually took place during the recording of Africa/Brass which was a split date.
Of the three cuts on the initial release, “Greensleeves” was recorded on May 23 and “Africa” and “Blues Minor” were recorded on June 7. The irony is that Trane was recording for two different labels at the same time.
Moreover, in November of 1961 Trane rcorded Live At The Village Vanguard for Impulse Records. And on top of that, March 1961 is when Trane dropped his legendary solo on Miles Davis’ Someday My Prince Will Come. That was Trane’s last time recording with Miles. In December of this same year, Trane recorded the famous Ballads album. Trane secured his place as a major voice of jazz just on the basis of his 1961 recordings.
Released, literally within the midst of a Coltrane-led revolution in jazz, Ole is a too-often overlooked masterpiece.
Two things can take you there: love and music, and of the two, music is the more accessible even though love is the more thorough-going.
Oh how hard to be human amidst all these machines, these gadgets, these tools (we say we use these tools and the reality seems to be equally that the tools use us, or at least control us; and if not the tools themselves controlling us, our insatiable desire—some would say greed—to acquire more and more tools/gadgets/toys/possessions/valuables consumes us).
I saw a documentary, Jupiter’s Dance, about music in the Congo in Kinshasha, in an urban environment where people had nothing, no instruments and yet continued to make music with instruments that they invented from what was around them: straw and a rock literally were transformed into a drum kit. A rock. A small bunch of straw. A drum kit. Incredible.
So, it is. Music is.
Anyway, I remember listening to Trane’s “Ole” over and over. And again. Mesmerized as it were. Floating. My mind some place my body wasn’t. Music can lift you out of your body. Free you from skin and bone structure, flesh is fleeting. You don’t even feel your fingers and whatever you are touching. You feel that inner light that is illuminating your imagination.
And you dream.
Our hero has rode in on his saxophone, swooped us up aboard the notes of his horn and carried us off to the land of Shoo-Bla-Dee (or whatever the nomenclature young people nowadays use to identify dream destinations).
As visitors to Shoo-Bla-Dee we are both excited to be there as well as incredibly calm now that we are there. Of course we don’t want to leave.
Incredible music increases our dream capacity, dream ability.
In his song “Lady Day And John Coltrane," Gil Scott-Heron perfectly describes the social reality, really the social dysfunction.” It is a classic. A recipe for attitudinal adjustment.
And then the double bass opening of “Ole.” McCoy keeping time with the vamp of piano chords. Elvin’s power drums: pulsing, pushing, propelling. Trane’s horn sounding the theme and then Eric Dolphy’s flute kite flying high through the skies of our consciousness.
That double bass thing: Art Davis and Reggie Workman. Twin hearts, one body. If you listen with earphones or on a really good sound system, the way the bass notes intertwine is astounding.
It is absolutely incredible that humans can interact with such sensitivity; improvised, not written out in advance, but moving forward and sideways at the same time, in the moment. Forwarding the music, improvising. Side by side with your comrades, reacting to them, anticipating them and they doing the same to/for/with you. You are all following and all leading, all at the same time. Who does not want to be that free?
Free to play whatever you want to play and yet responding to whatever someone else plays. The way McCoy sounds a chordal series inspires you to do something and he hears you doing that something and in turn McCoy responses.
All of this happens faster than you can think. You are not thinking. You are being. For all these delicious moments you are being at the very edge of your capabilities.
The U.S. Army markets the phrase “be all that you can be” but training for and engaging in warfare is a lessening of humanity: yours and your enemy’s.
One good thing about music, when it hits… ya-know.
Freddie Hubbard is the trumpeter scaling those screaming notes. Freddie would reprise his appearance here a few years later on the infamous Ascension session.
When Trane zooms in for his concluding soprano solo he makes a song that was already super hot even more hot, blue-hot, makes the atmosphere supreme hot. That strange tone that sounds so…, so…, so unwestern. Sounds like Marakesh or Timbuctu or at least something Kunta Kinte might have heard before his capture.
That’s part of what this music is, that is part of the geography of Shoo-Bla-Dee: the land of before-we-were-captured visited in our post-captured time. Oh wow.
And then Jose James moans on in talking about he “saw the Dreamer raise his hand into a world of possibilities / into a sky of light and love.”
Into a sky. Of light and love. A Dreamer. Yes, this is classic. This is what we want. What we need. To be able to raise our hands into light. Into love. Who has not dreamed of love? Love lighting our life.
After Jose lines out the verse, the pianist takes over and ascends upward into the light of his own burning. Jose reenters resplendently. Drums pounding beneath him. A dream of tomorrow. Today’s peace. Yesterday’s nightmare. Tomorrow’s promise.
If there was any musical justice, this song would be played in the evenings on every radio station at least once, preferably twice each day. This is something we need to listen to after tussling with the day-to-day of our work days.
(This is from Jose James live at Paradiso in Amsterdam.)
All this music. Gil Scott-Heron hipping us on survival techniques. Trane cleansing our internal mirrors and enabling us to see the best of us selves. Jose James describing what he saw: the Dreamer, who, in this case, was Dr. Martin Luther King, but as we listen, as we imagine, as we respond, we get the feeling, or at least the music leads us to feel, that the Dreamer is us. We could be the Dreamer. Indeed, we could be the Dream.
Us the Dreamer. Us the Dream… wow.
…here the music ends…
(or does it?
on what you do!
And with the
of your life.)
Gil Scott-Heron “Lady Day and John Coltrane” – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
John Coltrane “Ole” – Ole
Jose James “The Dreamer” available online as streaming video
—Kalamu ya Salaam
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