Customer Review

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars After a safe masterpiece, a dangerous one, June 15, 2008
This review is from: Ascension (Audio CD)
Still cresting the tidal wave of popular and critical acclaim created in the wake of his instantly-hailed-as-a-masterpiece "A Love Supreme", John Coltrane was a man who could have coasted very comfortably through the rest of 1965.

Instead, in act of great artistic bravery, he began expressing his striving-for-the-spiritual in the chaotically passionate language of the free jazz then just beginning to emerge. And in thus lending the imprimatur of his reputation to the new sound, sparked the brief but spectacular flourishing of that style.

Jazz musician Dave Liebman described this record as the "torch that lit the free jazz thing". Indeed, in retrospect, "Ascension" is as clearly the founding document of its kind of music as the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack was for disco or the UK release of "The Clash" was for punk. So a full appreciation of the record must include an awareness that this is the sound of history being made. [And, given the contemporaneous rise of both free jazz and the civil rights movement, not just musical history either. In the mid-1960s, for a group of men identifying themselves for the first time as "African-Americans" to make a noise this raw and powerful could not help but seem an at least slightly subversive act.]

True, this isn't music for everybody. But I like to believe that the people who can see the beauty in it will find their way to it. If you're one of them - but are intimidated by its fearsome reputation - to you I offer these encouragements:

- Coltrane called this project "a big band thing". While, to a Benny Goodman fan, this might seem a willfully perverse description, Coltrane - a man of a sincerity rare among artists of his stature - meant it quite simply. Though it may not seem that way at first, have no doubt that these 11 musicians are playing as an ensemble. Together, they are performing the same "piece of music".

- Structurally, the piece is disarmingly simple. Ensemble, Soloist 1, Ensemble, Soloist 2... etc. The Wikipedia article on the album helpfully identifies the sequence of soloists on both takes.

- The ensemble playing - which reaches a volume closer to rock than to acoustic jazz - will seem less abrasive if you listen for individual horns and switch your attention between them, rather than confront the mass of atonality head on. Go ahead - there's no rule against it.

- The saxophonists vary in the extent to which they play "in between the notes" during their solos. But in musical intention, they're not doing anything different than Coltrane did when he deliberately squeaked a few times during "A Love Supreme". They're trying to convey emotion through sound. If you listen for it, you may be suprised how easy it is to hear it.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 18, 2008 5:14:25 AM PDT
Mark says:
Or for what Bitches Brew was for fusion. :) All those releases are clarion calls to other musicians. THis is a very good review.

Mark

Posted on Jun 18, 2008 5:16:23 AM PDT
Mark says:
An excellent suggestion you've made for those having difficulty with Ascension: "The ensemble playing - which reaches a volume closer to rock than to acoustic jazz - will seem less abrasive if you listen for individual horns and switch your attention between them, rather than confront the mass of atonality head on. Go ahead - there's no rule against it. "

It's also good to try and find a horn and then listen for a second who is responding to the first. The "open" listener will find this is happening all over the place and throughout the piece.
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