Saturday, September 16, 2006

We Need an Ascension

John Coltrane would have been 80 this coming Saturday (9/23). To celebrate, Lincoln Center kicked off its season with a concert of Trane's music set for big band. It will follow with a concert version of the legendary Coltrane/Hartman album (Todd Williams and Kevin Mahogany will do the ghost conjuring.) In a generally positive review, the NY Times noted on Saturday:

"Two things were missing from the concert. One was any reference to Coltrane’s squalling late period, which Jazz at Lincoln Center will acknowledge on Wednesday with a discussion called “Did Coltrane Lose His Way?” (The panelists, including Coltrane’s drummer from those years, Rashied Ali, seem predisposed to dismiss that question.)"

Stop right there. "Did Coltrane Lose His Way?" Can J@LC get any more arrogant and wrongheaded? (Wait, don't answer that.) Do they intentionally wheel one of these ridiculous titles out once a month just to piss off those of us who haven't drank their Kool-Aid?

Admittedly, late Coltrane is challenging and controversial, to listeners, to critics, to musicians. I myself don't love it, never have. Respect, but don't much enjoy. (I don't know it as well as I ought, and don't even pretend to understand even the stuff I know.) I have no problem with people who don't like it, or even discount it. But you have to recognize that the "way" that took Coltrane to "Om" (a record he supposedly never wanted released, interestingly) and "Interstellar Space" is the same "way" that took him to "Giant Steps" and "Alabama", and "A Love Supreme", which J@LC has heaped canonical attention on. Coltrane's music always combined his passion for music and spirituality, theoretical and practical, with a tireless search for new ways of expressing himself. I don't think anyone outside the process, particularly critics, get to call an artist's process into question, even if they don't like the result.

Why did J@LC start the conversation with such a needlessly provocative title, so that Rasheed Ali and Ravi will probably have to come out counterpunching? (Would the New York Phil title a forum on late Stravinsky "Did Stravinsky Lose His Way"? Somehow I doubt it.) Would calling it "Considering Late Coltrane" or the like have been so hard? Are they trying to be an academic forum or the musical equivalent of the Heratige Foundation or ANSWER, tilting the debate before it even starts? (Again, don't answer that)

It was fun, and heartening, to see the beginnings of a great conversation online these past week which reconsiders the music of the '70s, music that owes itself in no small part to late Trane. It's frustrating that back in the real world we are still dealing with this crap.

EDIT: Dave Douglas was apparently thinking on the same lines today, only he's much nicer, and has a really cool Jon Stewart link.

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