Monday, December 12, 2005

new oldies #1: up and down and up and stop

In reviews of "One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note," special note is always made of Coltrane's 27-minute solo on the title track. It has apparently been reverently passed around among well-known saxophonists in bootleg form for decades. Bluntly put, I find it to have some off-putting aspects mixed in with its greatness. More importantly, the whole double album is something of a blue-balling tease.

The AAJ review puts a positive spin on things: "Rather than having the group make any kind of concession, the broadcast was more akin to casually dropping in for 45 minutes, regardless of where the musicians were in their set."* That's all well and good, but who in their right mind would walk out on "Afro Blue" just as Coltrane is gearing up for what promises to be an overwhelming solo and Tyner has just laid down a beautiful, nuanced statement? "My Favorite Things" takes 21 minutes to reach boiling point; at the 22nd minute, Alan Grant announces the end of the broadcast and, incidentally, the end of the album.

To return to the solo, it is awe-inspiring, but in a rather terrifying way. That terror lingers on until Coltrane plays "Afro Blue"'s personable 6/8 melody. It's the single-minded relentlessness that does it, I think. Jones is battering you, while Coltrane is staring down mere mortals with an immortal gaze. According to Archie Shepp, during those Half Note gigs "it was like being in church." If so, Coltrane was the god rather than the preacher, and I have some trouble with that. It's a plausible position for Coltrane to take, if you think back to the declaration in the BBC's documentary: "I want to be remembered as a saint." A saint isn't a god, but openly aspiring to that status is disturbing. Further, compare the band's progressive disassembly on "1D1U" to their flow on "Afro Blue:" on the former they're punching (against), on the latter they're rollicking (together), especially on the part of the soprano solo that we get to hear. It's a collective movement that strikes me as far more embracing and positive than 1D1U. It's so powerful, that every time I listen, I let myself get drawn in too deep and I'm disgusted all over again when Grant's voice comes in and recommends that we "stay beautiful."

I don't want to give the impression that the music is less than brilliant. The audio fidelity might not be all that, but it definitely captures the jazz club feel, with you sitting right up front and getting bowled over.

* It also calls the Jimmy Garrison solo that opens the album "one of his finest on record," which may as well be an insult, considering that Garrison is heard alone (ie. without Grant's voice on top, for about a minute and a half).

P.S. This remarkably inept (and mercifully brief) review almost sounds like randomly-generated, semi-coherent spam.