JOHN COLTRANE / Coltrane Stuttgart 1963 Mixtape
This is the quantum physics of jazz—music of explosive power that shatters preconceptions and forces whole new formulations of what the music can and should sound like. All who knew Coltrane describe him as a gentle man, and no one ever described him as angry or “militant.” Coltrane’s music however, especially during the sixties, was often anything but gentle, and because of the stylistic firestorm he created, Trane was often accused of destroying the basis of modern jazz. In fact, articles and interviews in Downbeat, the leading jazz magazine of Coltrane’s era, sometimes described Coltrane’s music as “anti-jazz.” Had Coltrane not had a profound influence on numerous musicians, the controversy about his music would have been personal and limited, much as was the situation with critical and popular reactions to saxophonist Albert Ayler. Coltrane however was revered as an innovator (some argued "genius") and leader of the sixties avant garde movement in jazz. Coltrane championed many younger musicians. Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders are two in particular who went on to have long and important careers following their introduction to wider audiences by John Coltrane. Coltrane reintroduced and popularized the soprano saxophone in jazz. After his artistic and popular success with “My Favorite Things,” the use of the soprano as a second or supplemental horn became de rigueur, if not in many instances mandatory, for modern jazz tenor saxophonists. However, beyond influencing personalities and establishing trends, Coltrane’s major contribution was the broadening and deepening of the harmonic and rhythmic basis of modern jazz. Indeed, in a number of cases, specific approaches to both standards and originals were noted as utilizing “Coltrane changes.” A new prevalence of 3/4 and 6/8 rhythms was also attributed to Coltrane as popularized in songs such as “My Favorite Things” and “Afro-Blue.” Coltrane was the most influential jazz musician in the sixties until his death in the summer of 1967. Although he recorded prolifically for Impulse records (a label sometimes referred to as “the house that Trane built”), the majority of those recordings were studio sessions, which were in most cases refinements and/or summations of what Coltrane had been working on musically, and as such they tended to be elegant and carefully crafted even when they were controversial, as was the case with the Ascension sessions. Allow me a brief digression: it turns out that there were two takes of Ascension and that after the initial release, at Coltrane’s insistence the other session was released. The problem was there was no notation that there were two different sessions except for the session numbers scratched into the vinyl disc around the label. The music itself was so wild and wooly that most people could not tell the difference. Only years after Coltrane’s death was a double CD set released that described the initial process and the two different takes. Ascension was iconoclastic music from John Coltrane in a large ensemble, Impulse probably figured that’s all people needed to know. My point however, is that despite Coltrane’s obvious importance and influence, Impulse records did not accord him maximum respect as an artist, nor did they make major efforts to record Coltrane in performance. In fact, after 1965, live recordings were a rarity except for bootlegs and unofficial recordings from Japan and Europe. And that brings us to the 1963 Stuttgart sessions that is the focus of this week’s Mixtape. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, the recording patrimony of modern jazz would be embarrassing in its paucity were it not for thousands of European recordings often initiated as radio and television broadcasts, and in most cases drawn from public concert performances. How meager would be the examples of what the music sounded like in performance were it not European fans of the music. With a musician of the reputation and prowess of John Coltrane, it is a shocking example of mainstream disrespect and disdain that there are not more live recordings of Coltrane available. The Stuttgart sessions contain over an hour of previously unreleased Coltrane performances. The 28-minute version of “Impressions” included on the Mixtape is one of those previously unreleased performances—and, oh, what a performance it is. The raw power and awe-inspiring stamina of live Coltrane is often exhausting just to listen in as Coltrane takes flight on quarter-hour and longer solo excursions that often ended up being duets/duels with drummer Elvin Jones. I referred earlier to quantum physics, when you listen to Coltrane and Jones engage each other in classic performances what you hearing is both a fusion and fission of modern music. Coltrane and Jones are so closely in-tune with each other that a steady 4/4 beat is not necessary to feel the pulse of their music, but at the same time they seem to be clawing away at every restraint, literally blowing and beating away all constraints and conventions: Coltrane summoning banshee howls and guttural oaths designed to unleash a tumult of emotions, while Jones artistically pounds out a torrent of poly-rhythms at a pace and with an intensity still unmatched by any other drummer. “Impressions” is a prime example of the aforementioned description of Coltrane’s music. The first half of “Impressions” features a fine solo by pianist McCoy Tyner followed by one of the best Jimmy Garrison bass solos ever recorded but then Mr. Trane soars in on his saxophone and hold on tight, this is going to be one of the rides of your life. To me what is so startling about this particular solo is the harmonic clarity. If you are at all familiar with modern jazz, you will have little difficulty following the harmonic progression even as you marvel at the raw power of Coltrane’s solo, which never lets up. Also included on the Mixtape is a beautiful take on Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro-Blue,” a song popularized by Coltrane and very often erroneously attributed to Coltrane’s authorship. Recorded November 4, 1963 at the end of a fall tour of Europe, the Stuttgart sessions is absolutely brilliant and absolutely required for any serious Coltrane collection. Although this was not an official recording sessions, the sound quality is good (I would have preferred more snare and tom-toms from Jones and slightly less cymbals, but that is a mere quibble). This is of much better audio quality than many other bootlegs from that era and for that alone we are thankful. But beyond the audio quality is the fact that the music itself is sterling. Coltrane freaks unite! We have another flag to proudly fly. —Kalamu ya Salaam Coltrane Stuttgart 1963 Mixtape Playlist Complete Live In Stuttgart 1963 01 “Afro-Blue” 02 “Impressions”
This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 at 6:19 pm and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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