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Ascension Original recording remastered

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Audio CD, Original recording remastered, June 6, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Trane is joined by Pharoah Sanders, Freddie Hubbard and four (!) other horn players for an explosion of fiery solos and free improvisation on this famous 1965 session.

Few works remain genuinely controversial 35 years after their inception, but Ascension can generate as mixed a response today as it did when it was released. In May 1965, Coltrane assembled 10 other musicians for one of his most ambitious recordings, a 40- minute piece that was a landmark in the free-jazz movement and a key moment in Coltrane's sponsorship of the younger members of the New York avant-garde. Along with his regular rhythm section--McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones--the band includes trumpeters Dewey Johnson and Freddie Hubbard, tenor saxophonists Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders, altoists Marion Brown and John Tchicai, and Art Davis playing bowed bass. The improvised ensembles shout and cry with galvanizing power, their tension testifying to Coltrane's influence and the saxophone's dominance in the style. It's both brilliant and flawed work, however, in ways that go to the heart of Coltrane's musical thought. It's rooted in modal music, with a brief pentatonic figure (a variation on the opening motif of A Love Supreme) as its basis. While it's broken up by the intense ensembles, the string of solos seems too close to a Jazz at the Philharmonic approach to free jazz. The horns stretch toward energy music, while the rhythm section, particularly Tyner, seems rooted in modality. As a result, the soloists often come off the soaring blowouts to find themselves with little more support than a reiterated chord, and they sometimes seem to merely run out of steam. It's still startling music, though, and necessary listening, whether for the sheer power of the ensembles, the sustained creativity of Coltrane and Sanders, the stylistic contrasts in the horn players, or the acerbic understatement of Tchicai, so effective in the midst of the maelstrom. Coltrane couldn't decide on which of the two versions he preferred, and Edition II was covertly substituted for Edition I during the run of the original LP. This CD manages to include both. --Stuart Broomer
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (June 6, 2000)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Original recording remastered
  • Label: Polygram Records
  • ASIN: B00004TA40
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #263,127 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
Is this extraordinary document an indigestible cacophony of anarchy in brass and bass, or the artistic culmination of a man's desire to explore the outer reaches of tonality and the inner limits of freedom? Is Ascension a transcendental event in jazz history or an anomalous experiment that perseveres in its periphery?
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.
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Format: Audio CD
I came late to enjoying Coltrane's music, having tried it off and on throughout my twenties. I came from liking the noisier kinds of rock, the more modernist kinds of 'classical' music (i.e. Schoenberg/Webern/Berg) and bebop's bracing mixture of the familiar and the abstract. Coltrane tended to seem either too simple or too complex. But my ears must have adjusted, because when I finally sat down and listened to 'Ascension' I loved it.

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.
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Format: Audio CD
In A.B. Spellman's excellent liner notes to the original lp release of this remarkable session he observed, "It is not intended that 'Ascension' will be background music for polite dinner conversation." The uninitiated listener who comes to "Ascension" should be forewarned by his words.
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.
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