Ascension Original recording remastered
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Certainly no one has attempted anything like this again. The only comparable experiment prior to Ascension had been Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz of 1960. But Free Jazz had deliberately placed two quartets side-by-side and ordered the solos into a formal, structured framework that seemed to belie the project's self-conscious aim to challenge rigidity altogether. Coltrane's Ascension subverted even the precedent that Free Jazz had established.
Coltrane had, in less than a decade, transformed the jazz world's expectations of the possibilities of the tenor, even of the role of the solo per se. Now this troubled, intense man turned his attention to the possibilities of a larger group than he normally played in or led.
Rather than creating a recognisable background for the musicians to express themselves, he de-contextualised and fragmented the orthodox syntactical elements of jazz, viz. tempo, rhythm and pulse, harmonic progressions and set "changes", keys and tonal centres, thus leaving the musicians to articulate their responses only to each other and not to the support that the syntax would have otherwise provided. There were certain rules, so to speak: built in to the work was a succession of solos, as well as a "juxtaposition of tonally centred ideas and atonal elements" (Archie Shepp's words in the liner notes). The solo opportunities were created to allow the musicians an unfettered dialogue with the ensemble.Read more ›
It's not really 'atonal', no music is; that's like saying that James Joyce is 'averbal'. Some scholar has tentatively identified a handful of harmonic regions that the music churns around in. Within those regions, the players solo more or less 'outside', but they all start on the same riff and they all end on the same riff. The result is quite simply one of the most colossal blowing sessions ever assembled. Coltrane wanted to give a bit of exposure to some of the newer kids on the block (Archie Shepp, John Tchicai) and he put this one-off ensemble together and had them tear the roof off for forty minutes. Twice. The only thing I've ever heard that compares to this is the Peter Br?tzmann Octet's mighty 'Machine Gun' session from 1968, which is at an even higher level of intensity but in a harsher, less transcendent, more European vein. And the Octet doesn't keep up it for as long at a time.
After hearing this I went back to the rest of Coltrane's music and it all made a great deal more sense. Others will champion 'A Love Supreme', but this is my favourite Coltrane album. Having said that, I only wish I had more times in the day when I had forty minutes to spare to listen to it.
Above all, "Ascension" demands concentrated listening. Spellman further commented that the session begins at an extraordinarily high level of intensity, rather than building to a peak as most other jazz or rock recordings do. In fact, the record begins with a simple motif sketched by Coltrane, followed by an extended and sustained blast of sound from the six other horns, two basses, and drums. (Don't look for much from pianist McCoy Tyner -- except during the solos -- as he has little chance to be heard through the onslaught.)
The amazing thing about "Ascension," for me, is that during the stretches of seemingly unstructured, free playing so much drama is generated. To be sure, it is not the conventional drama of the classically constructed jazz solo, with its rise and fall of tension and perfectly created arc and climax. Rather, this is the drama parallel to that produced from the chaos and clamor of modern life. One of the mental pictures that emerged for me in my early listenings to the album was of the streets of a giant urban center, a jumble of sounds from which emerged recognizable human voices.
These vast aural canvases are also dotted with more conventional solos from Coltrane and the other musicians (notably Freddie Hubbard, Archie Shepp, John Tchicai, and Pharaoh Sanders), although all of these artists push the boundaries of sound in their solos as well.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Like it or lump it, 2015 is the golden anniversary of Ascension, Coltrane's mind-blowing blowing session. Or maybe, mind-addling. Read morePublished 17 months ago by John j Dietsch
While John Coltrane’s still topped the jazz charts while he kept on touring on
a regular basis at jazz festivals or clubs, he released another beefy avant-garde... Read more
As much of a fan as I am as John Coltrane, I must say that I found this cd to be rather pointless in its own right. Read morePublished on October 27, 2008 by Eric Robinson
I'm not a complete stranger to experimental music whether its prog-rock sojourns, free jazz explorations or psycedelic freak outs, but Ascension remains one of the most challenging... Read morePublished on October 26, 2008 by S. Perry
While Ascension is commonly referred to as the album which marked Coltrane's irrevocable leap into free jazz, it's not altogether that simple. Read morePublished on August 7, 2008 by Robert Navinsky
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... Read morePublished on June 15, 2008 by Eric Krupin
This is my favorate Coltrane Record. The music starts off at an extreme level of intensity, and maintains this throught the 40 minute piece. Read morePublished on May 7, 2008 by Bill Your 'Free Form FM Print DJ
John Coltrane-Ascension **1/2
Wow. I really was left speechless upon hearing this for the first time. Read more