18 August 2006

Get on the Trane

The year is 1963. Over in Liverpool the Beatles are just getting started on learning their fourth and fifth chords. Much of the western world still thinks Elvis is about as far out as you can get, and the rest would probably mumble something about Shostakovich. But the more you look at the 20th century, the more that New York jazz in the 1960s seems about as good as it got. Before the excesses (and electricity) of the 70s when the politics and the fashion entirely obscured the tunes, it was a time when the gods were walking the earth, inventing new forms and movements sometimes weekly. No other music was this intense and creative, all the time, for years and decades. Let's not forget it was almost entirely improvised, and the charts and arrangements that started the ball rolling would've have scared the pants off any symphony orchestra.

Some people like Miles, others swear by Monk. I like them both. Sonny Rollins shook it up and you really can't ignore Charles Mingus (or he'll come and get you). However the John Coltrane Quartet made me a true believer about a decade ago and I've never looked back. His horn sounds like answers to questions I didn't know I'd asked, and I really can't put it clearer than that.

"Afro-Blue" is my favourite tune, the first track on Live at Birdland. I'm still pissed off I wasn't around to be there, frankly. McCoy Tyner playing the darkest chords yet heard, Elvin swinging it along with faint rumours of violence, Jimmy Garrison holding it together, and Trane riding the whirlwind and making it beautiful. This is from the Ralph Gleason show (he's the chap sitting by the piano looking fantastically out of place) and is one of the reasons for living...

Mod out.

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