Sunday, November 05, 2006

Meandering Thoughts On Coltrane's 'Om' And A Confession Of Insanity

Had a big music listening day on Friday. Day off (except one class first thing) , girl away at Uni. Rubbing my hands with glee I was.
I started the day with Coltrane's Om which I got here
I think its a great set. Deep, spiritual. Not as hard, say, as 'Reverend King' off Cosmic Music which makes me feel nauseous, angry expression as it is of the civil rights leader's assassination.
Om to me is not a million miles from the peaceful vibes of A Love Supreme. Of course there's nothing as luxurious as, say, Trane's first phrase from Part II: Resolution and there's no uncanny unity between the players, but Coltrane's playing here and the piece as a whole is, for me, not unpleasant to listen to.
Some avante-garde I just can't cope with. For instance Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity - a seminal album. I've never been able to get to grips with the technical side of music and jazz (nor, in truth, have I ever wanted to lest it impede my enjoyment) but it seems there's something musically very clever happening on Spiritual Unity - it's just I don't want to hear it.
Spiritual Unity and the track 'Reverend King' are both sparsely arranged. So perhaps, unlike classical music or straight ahead jazz, I like my avante-garde jazz crowded. Full of sound, cluttered with ideas and life and activity.
Four Tet - the creatively fertile producer Kieran Hebden - is influenced by Ayler and you can see the influence of avante-garde jazz on his live recordings and some of the longer tracks. I'm thinking as well of the track Misnomer, kind of straight- ahead downbeat but with the sound of an Ayler-a-like wailing away in the background. Of course he recently collaborated with Steve Reid, though I haven't really gotten into it. Again, its a bit heavy, and, unusually for Hebden, kind of sparse.
I think clutterdness is the key to my enjoyment of avante-garde jazz. The 'wall of sound' element, present in 'Love Supreme' in melodic, rhythmic mode is also there in 'Om' but less melodically or rhythmically. Other examples I've enjoyed are Ornette Coleman's 'Free Jazz' and Muhal Richard Abrams' 'Levels And Degrees Of Light'

...I've been meditating on Coltrane and his exceptional talent, the physical power and mental depth of his playing.
After rinsing Love Supreme a few years ago (though it can never be completely rinsed), I needed another JC album to get into. I tried Giant Steps and Coltrane ('57) - good, but the vibe wasn't there. I've recently discovered 'New Thing At Newport' ,incidentally, which was obviously what I was looking for then, and features the same quartet - Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison and Jones.
These days though my favourite saxophonist is Art Pepper. Its such a different experience listening to him. I wouldn't for a moment suggest Art is better, but there's more warmth in his playing. He's thinking of drugs, girls and old buddies instead of the cosmos. More on Art another day, though.
So, looking to read more about Om and Trane, I came across this on AAJ
Its interesting to read this. Listening to Coltrane on Om is like listening to someone trying to break out of their skin, out of their skeleton. The quest for transcendence is not approached with calm but with frustration. Its similar to hearing Syd Barrett's vocals on early Floyd. 'Hee hee, you can't see me but I...' Our sensation with both men is 'something's going to crack' 'they're pushing themselves too far' etc.
This article explains to me where Coltrane was mentally. Caught up in an insane unity of three or four ideas incompatible in a saner mind - the Big Bang theory, pantheism, Christianity and the Trinity and the direct relation of man's consciousness to all this. As a former heavy drug user and deep thinker I can tell you where this kind of thinking might lead you - solipsism. As reality. If all is one and I am conscious, I am The One. But for something to exist does not there need to be two? In my recurring panic attack, the Other comes for me containing, variously, the black, the female, Space and the Devil. It is never an enjoyable experience.
Not mentioned in the article, but his use of drugs including acid and heroin would've facilitated the lost touch with reality which such concepts need to become reality for a conscious mind as they did for John.
The altered mind states brought on by drugs - heavy and otherwise - can make for entertaining music and other art. Witness Coltrane and the Velvet Underground are better than Ronan Keating.
However what of classical? I postulate that when Bizet wrote The Pearl Fishers. Beethoven Moonlight Sonata, Mendelsshon the Violin Concierto In E (as played by Heifetz) they were all 'high' as in, connected with the fragility of individual life, the pain and joy of consciousness and the epic of the life of the universe. Or it may have been opium, too. I mean, man, those boys were sailing.

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