JOHN COLTRANE / “Dear Lord”
Excuse me, I want to step outside a minute, way out, out into the gone-a-sphere where only angels sing; and once way out there, I want to go inside that outside, into the inner sanctum of the creator’s breath. I want to go where Trane takes you, that is, if your ears are tuned to the higher frequencies found at both extremes of his horn, but especially at the bottom when he hits those notes that fill you with the wonder of creation and remind you that a good life is a life lived to the benefit of all other life. Trane, the fiercest tenor, was also the most tender. No one could caress the soul and invoke spirituality the way Trane could. For most cats, the only tender they could articulate was love for their lady. Trane was a master of romantic love ballads, but he also had two or three other gears, intense insights into emotional spiritual pools whose sublime wetness most of us seldom know. These selections are messages from the spirit world and are available on the compilation album The Gentle Side of John Coltrane. I've noted which albums the songs were originally on for those who would like to know the context within which the individual selections were recorded. Start with “After The Rain” (originally on Impressions). This rendition makes you want to be dramatic and go outside in the rain, to taste that silvery sweetness of streets gleaming and shimmering after a soft night downpour, to smell that freshly-cleansed air, the crisp coolness of post-sundown summer temperatures reduced to comfortable. The theme seems to yearn for upward motion even as it ends on low notes. This is the feeling of the joy we get when we cast off impurities, cease bad behavior, unburden ourselves by rectifying a mistake or atoning for a sin. The absolute feeling of peace when we have made all our amends and successfully completed all our obligations. That moment when we are absolutely as good as we will ever be. Listen how Trane’s last note is no horn sound per se but that of his breath blown gently through his horn. From worldly gentleness to profound sadness, i.e. an almost (but not quite) bitter resignation. Or perhaps more precisely, a recognition of rather than a resignation to the evil that men do, one unto another. In this case, it is the four little girls bombed in a Birmingham church. Trane took a speech by Dr. King, picked up the cadences and transformed those deaths and King’s sermonic declarations into one of the most moving pieces of music reflective of 20th century America. Could anyone else plummet the depths of depravity and come up with a diamond from the charcoaled embers of girl-child bones Ku Kluxed to a horrific death? In the swinging middle of the song Trane found hope, a strength to go on. Listen to how elegantly Elvin Jones drums. The third movement is back to the plangent opening sound of grief that gives way to a stirring reaffirmation of life as Trane closes with soaring and surging notes rising above Jones’ strong tom toms. “Alabama” should be required listening in every American civics class. "Alabama" was originally on Live at Birdland. Whereas “After The Rain” was very worldly, “Welcome”—with its altissimo reaches in the opening theme—is clearly other worldly. No matter that Jones is driving on those tom toms, or that McCoy Tyner is rolling treble chords and pounding out bass clef chords, each hand a sensitive jackhammer of percussive piano technique. No matter, anchored by choice notes from bassist Jimmy Garrison, Trane is intent on suggesting we are all welcomed in the spirit world if we would but allow the music to take us there, if we would but make the commitment to reach beyond the ground we trod and tussle over as if we were mere second-graders on a schoolyard at recess. Here, Trane is trying to help us envision what can not be seen with the naked eye. "Welcome" is originally from Transition. “Wise One” starts with the chimes of McCoy Tyner’s block chords and then Trane enters, starting again at the bottom of the stairs, then proceeding upward. Where “Rain” was a rolling rubato stroll with no particular rhythmic direction, “Wise One” flows into a gentle Latin-esque swing that is as delightful as warm sweet potato pie topped with thick, hand-whipped cream. This one is a man dancing magnificent leaps, executing daring triple turns and graceful twists, displaying flexibility more than muscularity, although clearly one had to be strong to make these moves. Ah, John Coltrane. Especially “aaaahhhhhh” when he builds to that series of two-note phrases that offers special insight into the dialectical nature of life. That riff starts at the 6:36 mark and releases at 6:55 into a loose restatement of the theme, before descending back into a meditative posture. "Wise One" is originally on Crescent. “Dear Lord,” from the album Transition, is my personal preference for no other reason than it just resonates with my flesh, my bone marrow, the dreams I have as I stand in a doorway some early mornings contemplating how the world could be if it were better and more beautiful than it is now. So, yes "Dear Lord" is a prayer, not so much for the Lord to make this world and my existence better, more beautiful, but instead a self-directed plea for me to be the better and more beautiful I long for. My prayer to be/come whatever I seek. This one also has a gentle swing, its own dance, but this time, it’s movement toward enjoining the world rather than a solo display. OK, I’m back. Trane was such a beautiful trip. This cosmo-gram of possible human development was brought to you by STT Unlimited (Sonic Trance Transportation Unlimited), John "Onedaruth" Coltrane, conductor. —Kalamu ya Salaam Thank you, thank you, thank you! See, Baba, this is where you and I overlap perfectly. I like 'Trane's Atlantic/early-Impulse stuff (and Blue Train too), but by the later Impulse period (which you like a lot), he'd left me far behind. These tunes though, are as beautiful as can be. It's early Friday morning here in San Diego—sunlight is streaming through the sliding glass door that overlooks the canyon. Other than the sounds of 'Trane, it's quiet. Between songs, the only sound are birds chirping outside and the muted hum of my computer's harddrive. These tunes are tailor-made for times like these. I know there's this image (mostly false) of 'Trane as a fire-breathing, waaaaay-out-there, screeching maniac. Hopefully, tunes like these—and other 'Trane tunes we've posted, like "Lush Life," which we did a few weeks ago—will help to round out people's impressions of who 'Trane is. 'Trane really could play everything from ballads to blues. He could be way out, true, but he could also play as deeply pretty as you'd ever want to hear. As for these tunes, I already had "Alabama," "Wise One," and "After The Rain," but I'd never heard "Dear Lord" or "Welcome." So Baba, what can I say other than thank you, thank you, thank you! —Mtume ya Salaam He didn't just blow, he also wrote Mtume, one other aspect to emphasize. Trane was the last great composer of modern jazz, before him you had Monk and Ellington, and to a lesser extent, Jelly Roll. By 'great composers in jazz,' I mean people whose work is often recorded by others, both in the era within which they were written as well as in at least two generations after. Secondly, I am referring to a body of work that meets the first criterion and is also deeper than three or four compositions. A Horace Silver or a Herbie Hancock are obviously both important composers and you could even argue that people often record Herbie's tunes (or Wayne Shorter's tunes), but here is where the third criterion comes in, namely, that the songs mark a major progression in the tradition of the music. In that light, using the three criteria briefly outlined above, perhaps you can appreciate my position that Coltrane is important not only as an instrumentalist but also as a composer. Mtume, you really ought to get The Gentle Side of John Coltrane. It's equally important as the Trane & Johnny Hartman album in terms of a full appreciation of John William Coltrane, aka "Onedaruth" (Onedaruth is John Coltrane's spiritual name). —Kalamu ya Salaam I forgot to mention One other quick note that I forgot to mention. When you said, "For most cats, the only tender they could articulate was love for their lady," I really think you hit on something. That really is an element of 'Trane's playing and composing that separates him from not only other jazz musicians, but other musicians, period. He was consistently able to express the most intense, serious and meaningful ideas and themes without necessarily being aggressive or 'argumentative' about it. It's a highly unusual quality for a musical artist to have—particularly a male artist. I can only think of a few other musicians (for example, Gil Scott-Heron and Jimi Hendrix) who were able to do this consistently. —Mtume ya Salaam
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