'Trane' continues to be an enigma, a musical avatar of mystical proportions, someone who went far afield of the mundane world to become a major next step in the evolution of artistic consciousness…perhaps even more than that. Of all the jazz musicians, his unavoidable presence is probably the most difficult to embody, as it was the life of the artistically spirito-secular monk living from the other side of the existential plane. The World According to does not solve the riddle that was John Coltrane, no document can do that, but it stands as a great exposition of a unique decades-long event.
Coltrane's father was a preacher, his mother deeply spiritual, and this genesis remained with him despite an immersion in the drugs, alcohol, and sex-drenched world of jazz. When young and making his way in the world, John played with all kinds of popular bands, it was the way one broke into the business, but then he heard Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, and the earthquake be-boppers, and the die was cast. Something he didn't even know he was hungering for had appeared grail-like, beckoning, and he, ever a pilgrim on a journey, followed without hesitation. 'Ere long, in his hands, jazz music reached a plateau of complexity it had never experienced previously, may still not quite be maintaining even today (an arguable proposition but one I tend to side with), and the shock waves of this gigantic manifestation have yet to subside.
A New York critic I've been e-conversing with has noted something striking that previously eluded my notice: there have been no serious all-out tributes to the towering saxist. This DVD shows why. His is the most challenging of musics, on par with Schoenberg, Bartok, Carter, and the neoclassicalists and beyond, not for the casual listener or weekend audient. Only the very best improv artists—Alan Holdsworth, Greg Osby, Steve Coleman, Elton Dean, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Yoch'ko Seffer, etc.—might ever have hoped to do the project justice and more than a few of them no longer walk the Earth. Every inch of this hour-long anthology is like a Gold's Gym workout in a think tank, grueling but transcendently rewarding, nourishing, an avenue from one world to another. The extended take on My Favorite Things grows more complex and frantic from minute to minute, brother to Sun Ra's wild excursions, a break with the terrene.
Coltrane was always searching for new musicians who shared has structurally wide open tastes and ideas, many borrowed in one form or another from Eastern modes (Arabic, Carnatic, etc.), and thus emerging titans like Eric Dolphy fell under his patronage. Few understand how far-reaching John's music truly was, but it seminally influenced the serialists and minimalists: Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and LaMonte Young, the founder of that wave, interviewed here. The saxophonist also collaborated with Ravi Shankar, exchanging ideas and knowledge. Perhaps the most riveting section of the presentation is the very end, when John went, as wife Alice put it, completely avant-garde. He thus lost much of his audience, perhaps most of it, but was digging incredibly deeply and finally adopted a body dynamic to match the intensity of what he was doing...not the theatrics of so many rockers, but the unrestrained amalgamation of his entire being with the music rushing through. I've seen it in Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Anderson, and Steve Howe in their prime in the rock realm…when they were young...and in Keith Jarrett in jazz. More, the final minutes of the documentary show Roscoe Mitchell taking up where Coltrane left off, playing with dervishes in the East, and that too short segment is literally unbelievable, Mitchell improvising non-stop, circularly breathing, nary a pause, a dynamo of sounds and inspiration, the continuation of the legacy.
The World According to John Coltrane is the series title most drenched in long sections of pure musicianship, so, if that's what you're really yearning for, over and above the educative and retrospective aspects, this is the video you want even more than the others.
This DVD is one of four issued in a second wave by Naxos / Meridian, an agglomerate in an ongoing series, all of which are the zenith of such documentaries. For the remainder of this "set" (they're available separately), see the critiques of Bluesland, a history of blues (here), Count Basie (here), and Sarah Vaughn (here).
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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