JOHN COLTRANE / Birthday Trane Mixtape
I listen to Trane for inspiration information, instructions on how to surmount higher heights, up into the rarified atmosphere of total allegiance to purifying and making oneself a better human being, and, of course, I also dig the exquisiteness of creative music that shares/reflects not a final destination but rather the totality and struggle of the journey—as long as we are alive, there is no final destination because there is always more, somewhere else to go to, something else to get at, always more. For me, Trane’s music is like that preceding sentence, full of twists and turns but ultimately on the mark. These tracks are a random collection for those who have heard Trane before and dug some of what they’ve heard. Although I deeply dig each cut, this is by no means, a collection of my favorite tracks. If you had to pick one day, one week, one month, or even one year of your life to live over and over, which would it be? That’s a trick question because life is not about over and over, regardless of how we might enjoy favorite books, records, artwork, or favorite whatever. The real process of life is not only change in the abstract but rather is both evolution and devolution; we are both changing as we get to new stuff, get to times, places and people previously untouched, that kind of forward journeying, but simultaneously we are also devolving, falling apart, dying. If we are alive, death is inevitable, and the longer we live, the closer we draw to that terminating destination. Like human life itself, Trane’s music never stood still, never backed up, always reached for the hitherto untouched. There is both an urging and a yearning in Trane’s sound. His cry initially repulsed me. It never was pretty. At different points, some critics even called it ugly. But it was always fully alive. The music here ranges across the Atlantic and Impulse years of Coltrane’s recording career. 01 “Equinox” – Coltrane’s Sound This cut is one of those hip melodic vamps with an immediately identifiable bass line. Twice a year, day and night are in balance (of equal length), that’s the equinox. 02 “After The Rain” - Impressions So perfect a portrait of the atmosphere, cleansed and glowing after a rain shower. This piece suggests to me a portrait or painting hanging in some sacred space (a temple, mosque, church, bedroom, living room, music venue, school), a perfect picture of post-struggle, hard won serenity. 03 “My One And Only Love” – John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman This is from the quintessential “voice & horn” jazz vocal ballad album. Everybody who knows jazz vocals, knows that this is nirvana. 04 “The Feeling Of Jazz” – Duke Ellington & John Coltrane An improbable pairing that produced a reverent pas de deux. I didn’t choose the obvious “In A Sentimental Mood” from this album because by now almost anyone who is serious about either Duke or Trane has heard that version umpteen times before. While I super-enjoy the album as relaxing music, I’m always smitten by the insistent tenderness of Trane’s profoundly melodic improvisation on this line counter-posed to Duke’s modernist accompaniment. What a ‘wow’ solo Trane renders. 05 “I Want To Talk About You” – Live At Birdland This time it’s the solo coda on the end of the song that is astounding; like a woman dancing naked for her lover in the gloaming of an upstairs bedroom, the curtains sashaying in the breeze of an open window, a soft, cool but not chilly autumn evening; ah, the pirouettes, the leaps, the stretches, the bends, and the final laughing collapse into eagerly awaiting arms. 06 “Kulu Sé Mama (Juno Se Mama)” – Kulu Sé Mama This selection partly because of the New Orleans connection of composer/percussionist/vocalist Juno Lewis. This is one of those full length, African-heritage pieces that established the mold for Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner, and literally thousands of musicians who would take up these poly-rhythmic musical treks for years, and years, and years, long after Trane had ascended. 07 “Stellar Regions” – Stellar Regions The title selection from an album released long, long after the Trane had gone round the bend. Indeed, I remember remarking upon it’s 1995 release, Trane’s been gone since 1967 and here it is damn near thirty years later and there ain’t a tenor saxophonist got an album that can touch this—it must be discouraging to be a jazz saxophonist and have to confront this old recording that sounds so new and fresh, both wild and focused, uninhibited and completely controlled. 08 “Wise One” – Crescent The title says it all, indeed we featured this particular composition before. One particular facet of Trane’s beauty was his ability to sum up in sound his spiritual reachings. Prayer, meditation, whatever you choose to label it, this is the music of a well-examined life. 09 “Naima” – Live At The Village Vanguard Again This composition, written for Coltrane’s first wife, is in the top five of any list of modern jazz ballads. Everything is right about this composition, especially the concluding section that approaches perfection in its ascending phrase. This is not a smooth jazz version, here they are in full out exploratory mode; intense, stretching, reaching, sincerely going far, far beyond where humans normally go when they say “I love you.” 10 “Dear Lord” – Dear Old Stockholm I am not a religious person (I’m a born again “pagan”—someone who does not believe in any organized religion). I worship life. And I give thanks for John Coltrane’s beautiful compositions, particularly “Dear Lord,” which I translate as “Dear Life.” Thank you, “life” for all the beauty, all the peace, all the energy. I know there is ugliness, and conflict, and times and people who drain and tax us, but their existence, regardless of how dominant at any given moment, does not and cannot erase the affirmations of life. Dear Life, thank you. John Coltrane, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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