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Arguments abound as to when John Coltrane reached his creative zenith. There are listeners who look upon his Giant Steps period, documented through a string of recordings on the Altantic label as his most fertile period. Others with freer leanings point to his so-called Late Period as the source of the most musical promise and joy. There are even those who contend that his life ended before his artistic apogee was attained. Preferences run the gamut of his career but such factionary distinctions are ultimately immaterial in the larger scheme of his life's work. What is widely agreed upon is the accelerated pace of his musical search in later years; a quest that found him delving deep into the religious and the emanicipatory and unveiling a recorded legacy that stands as one of the finest in the history of Jazz. There were a host of precursors and influences that shaped Coltrane's sound, but his method and vision remained wholly his own.
As one of Coltrane's final recordings this duet session with Ali is one of his most essential and unique. Not only is it the grandfather of all extended saxophone/drums duets in jazz, but it also set the standard for all that came after. Coltrane had engaged in earlier duets with Elvin Jones (see "Vigil" on Kulu Se Mama ), but in Ali he found a drummer even more willing to abandon terrestrial rhythmic boundaries and set course for uncharted space. Across these duets the saxophonist is at his most visceral exuding an overpowering confidence tempered at times with sacrosanct tenderness. Ali's interlocking pan-rhythmic patterns envelop and embrace while fervently pushing the music forward.
The synergistic rapport between the two men is in gorgeous evidence from the onset of "Mars." A brief invocation of delicate bells and the two take off like a pair of comets trailing forth incandescently twined tails. "Venus," like the deity that is it's namesake, is a creature of absolute beauty built on a melodic phrase that mollifies the ears at the same time it galvanizes them. "Jupiter" turns the tables, bursting forth in a torrential sheet of densely packed phrases. Ali's traps carve out a brawny swathe of rhythmic energy and his muscular solo that initiates "Saturn" is similarly packed with barely contained ecstatic force. Rounding out the session are two bonus tracks, both of which were included on an earlier compact disc reissue, but not on the original LP. Setting this edition apart from earlier incarnations is the superb 24-bit remastering work and several false starts that preface "Mars" (presumably aimed at Trane aficionados who must have every scrap the master committed to tape).
Much free jazz today is accorded the additional appellation "energy music"music so suffused with strength and vigor that it rejuvenates the listener through the transfer of aural victuals. If ever there were an archetypal example of "energy music" these duets between Trane and Ali are it. As if in unanimous testament to the power of these two players together piano and bass are never even remotely missed.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.