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John Coltrane: Kulu Se Mama

Derek Taylor By

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John Coltrane's reverence of African culture is well documented both in his music and in the many accounts of his life, both musical and personal. His own recordings and as well as his earlier work as a sideman are rife with examples of his Afrocentric leanings. The title piece of this disc is arguably the most African-inflected of them all- a nearly twenty minute, drum-driven prayer to the Nubian spirits that blossoms like a field of the most pungent Dahomian violets. Penned by percussionist Juno Lewis the piece radiates an atmospheric mood that divines the ancestors. Coltrane, Sanders and Garrett form a Griot horn trinity blowing at times deliriously, at others meditatively across an undulating savannah of piano, bass and myriad drums whilst Lewis intones an urgent Afro-Creole chant above that shimmers with emotion. This is one of Coltrane's most nakedly roots-based performances and it's a beauty to behear. 'Selflessness,' shaped at the same session pares down the group but retains the hand percussion of Lewis, which is far up in the mix against the weaving tenors of Trane and Sanders.



The remainder of the disc gathers tracks from various sessions recorded by the Classic Quartet at Rudy Van Gelder's Englewood Cliffs enclave. 'Welcome,' crafted around an elegant melodic line by Tyner, is a tune of unremitting resplendence. Tyner and Garrison sit out on 'Vigil' allowing for an absorbing dialogue between Coltrane and Jones and though the piece lacks the unpinioned exploratory edge of Coltrane's later duets with Rashied Ali it's still an rare opportunity to hear both players in the stripped down setting. Two takes of the mid-tempo Tyner/Garrison feature 'Dusk Dawn' (one of which was conspicuously absent from last year's Complete Classic Quartet box set) close things out. Not that it needs to be said, but this is essential music!

Track Listing: Kulu Se Mama/ Vigil/ Welcome/ Selflessness/ Dusk Dawn/ Dusk Dawn (alt).

Personnel: John Coltrane- tenor saxophone, percussion; Pharoah Sanders- tenor saxophone, kalimba; McCoy Tyner- piano; Jimmy Garrison- bass; Donald Rafael Garrett- bass, bass clarinet, percussion; Frank Butler- drums, percussion; Juno Lewis- hand drums, conch shell, percussion, vocal; Elvin Jones- drums.

Title: Kulu Se Mama | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Impulse!

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