Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

331

John Coltrane: Meditations

Robert Spencer By

Sign in to view read count
This is it, friends: the last recording (November 23, 1965) McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones made with John Coltrane. One need only turn from this to The Real McCoy or any other McCoy Tyner or Elvin Jones album of the period to get a clue as to why they left the "classic quartet." In the first place, Meditations isn't a quartet album at all: the leader has added an additional drummer, Rashied Ali, and another tenor saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders, to his own tenor, Tyner's piano, Jones' drums, and the mostly inaudible bass stylings of the nevertheless underappreciated Jimmy Garrison.

Garrison wasn't the only inaudible one. Tyner left the group lamenting that he couldn't be heard either; Jones' drums had to compete with Ali's for attention. The sound is crisp and clear on this new 20-bit reissue, but clearly Tyner and Jones had a point. The opening section, "The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost," which steams uninterrupted into the second part, "Compassion," is a maelstrom of unrelieved intensity. Jones and Ali put up a tremendous din, challenged by Coltrane's freest-ever solo and Sanders' chicken-slaughtering act. "Compassion" signals a certain calming, in which Tyner returns to the prominence he normally enjoyed in the quartet. Here it's a prelude to one of his most passionate and inventive solos. Then Coltrane wraps it up cleanly, with a brief coda featuring Garrison, backed skillfully by his old mates. Rashied Ali's band Prima Materia recently released a version of Meditations in which "Compassion" devolves into a bass solo that begins the third section, "Love." Probably Coltrane would have opted for such an arrangement in this age of the CD, but when this original version was recorded it was time to get up and turn the record over. Garrison's angular solo thus begins "Love," preparing the way for a gorgeous entrance from the leader, after which the heat steadily rises, Sanders returns, and it's time for "Consequences," another maelstrom. Tyner's solo following this one is especially striking in its originality and emotional power; for my money, it's his best ever. "Serenity" is another brief coda, and the meditation is over.

So. What is this music for? What is the point? After thirty years, how does it hold up? Well, how one hears it depends on one's expectations. Its slower sections are quite beautiful, giving it an element Ascension and other late Coltrane fire storms don't possess. Still, it ain't Burt Bacharach. If one expects music to be "pretty," go buy some Kenny G. But surely Coltrane knew that Meditations and the other recordings he made during this period were anything but pretty. He was trying to do something else with music: to reach and touch and communicate human emotions, human conditions, of more importance, depth, and lasting significance than prettiness. Especially in his "late period," he thought that his music meant something: he thought it performed a function that mattered. Of course, this sort of thing was in the air. Archie Shepp was lecturing in Down Beat, everyone was recording music about freedom, and it was hard not to have contempt for music that didn't try to matter.

But does it matter? I vote yes, but you should really ask me again in 100 years. Bach was considered dissonant in his day. So was Beethoven, Wagner, you name it. They all made music of such originality that it struck many of their less imaginative contemporaries as noise. Will "The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost" be someday similarly respected?


Title: Meditations | Year Released: 1997 | Record Label: Impulse!


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Baby It's Cold Outside CD/LP/Track Review Baby It's Cold Outside
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 13, 2017
Read Paimon: Book of Angels Volume 21 CD/LP/Track Review Paimon: Book of Angels Volume 21
by Don Phipps
Published: December 13, 2017
Read Wrong Turns And Dead Ends CD/LP/Track Review Wrong Turns And Dead Ends
by Mark Sullivan
Published: December 13, 2017
Read Lavaman CD/LP/Track Review Lavaman
by Mark Corroto
Published: December 13, 2017
Read Bad Hombre CD/LP/Track Review Bad Hombre
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 12, 2017
Read Aladdin's Dream CD/LP/Track Review Aladdin's Dream
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 12, 2017
Read "Nellie Bly Project" CD/LP/Track Review Nellie Bly Project
by Paul Rauch
Published: August 11, 2017
Read "Midnight Sun" CD/LP/Track Review Midnight Sun
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 8, 2017
Read "Verisimilitude" CD/LP/Track Review Verisimilitude
by Troy Dostert
Published: August 1, 2017
Read "Triloka: Music for Strings and Soloists" CD/LP/Track Review Triloka: Music for Strings and Soloists
by Ian Patterson
Published: March 16, 2017
Read "Rising Tide" CD/LP/Track Review Rising Tide
by Geannine Reid
Published: May 16, 2017
Read "Vitamina D" CD/LP/Track Review Vitamina D
by Budd Kopman
Published: December 28, 2016

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!