Thursday, August 21, 2008

St. Coltrane

[caption id="attachment_59" align="alignnone" width="240" caption="A holy relic."]A holy relic.[/caption]

How do you describe a truly great performance?

There is something there that defies explanation; it just is.

John Coltrane was an amazing musician. One of my teachers had a saying about Liszt and Schubert. Something hard to translate about Liszt taking the listener up to paradise with his music and Schubert making that paradise here on Earth. In a Love Supreme, Coltrane takes us up into the stratosphere on a staircase made of sixteenth notes.

One can get lost completely just getting carried away with the waves of harmony from McCoy Tyner and the ever changing rhythmic background created by Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison. On the endless walls of sound that Coltrane produces, the mantric nature of the theme, always developing always changing. For a trained musician, the effect this music has is huge. Coltrane was a genius, hundreds of amazing modulations in every solo; he does things with whole-tone scales that I had never dreamed were possible. The relationships he finds between keys are always fresh and completely groundbreaking. At the end of Acknowledgment, when they start chanting "A Love Supreme, A Love Supreme" it is a release, it is as if that is the only outlet left for what he is saying after everything he has played before it.

One of the things that strikes me the most about Coltrane, was his involvement with the music. He almost stands completely still while he plays, with an intense look of concentration on his face. Few things bother me more than those sax players out there who are sweating rivers while they play, swinging their instrument up and down and all around, screaming and doing all kinds of silly crap, blowing out their cheeks and with their eyes ready to pop; only to have a mediocre uninspired musical result. Coltrane, even in his completely dissonant period (with things like Jupiter and Leo) is always amazingly interesting to listen to. You can just sit back and let the music carry you away, or you can perk up your ears and try to catch everything he is doing; either way, it is a trip to another universe, a glimpse of a whole other world of his own making.

A Love Supreme is a miracle in its own right, something holy. It inspires the listener with Coltrane's faith and belief in God's supreme love in the same way as Bach in the St. Matthew Passion. He was one of those musical greats that stands alone. A Love Supreme has done more to make us feel what faith and belief in God's love are like than many actual clergy members out there. He was just a man, although many claim him a saint; but he brings out the best of music, shows us what "just a man" is capable of with practice, dedication and playing with complete honesty from the heart.

The complete video of his only live performance of A Love Supreme -July 26, 1965 in Antibes-  is lost. Only little snippets of home videos remain. If this video surfaced, I am sure it would be the holy grail of Jazz. Enjoy a minute and a half of greatness, and then go out and buy this album if you don't have it!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent insight from a person who is as devoted to music as Coltrane himself. Love the way you are passionate about music and life, don´t ever give it up!