John Coltrane: Ascension

Rating: 8.8/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status: Genre Classic
Released: 1966
Recorded: 1965
Specific Genre: Free Jazz, Spiritual Jazz
Main Genre: Jazz, Avant-Garde Jazz
Undertones
: Experimental Big Band
Label: Impulse!

1 Ascension (Edition II)
Bonus Tracks: 2 Ascension (Edition I)

Like a seagull thrown around by the tides

This is Coltrane’s „free jazz“-album which might alienate people who mainly go for his 1950s hard bop and ballads. Up to this point, Coltrane already had been flirting and entangled with avant-garde here and there, but this is the wedding announcement. If you listen to free jazz at all, I’d say this is the second record you should pick up (you can figure out the first for yourself). And, to exactly no one’s surprise, it’s great. The energy is amazing, makes you feel like a seagull thrown around by the tides, waves and winds, and I regularly find myself having gone through these 40 minutes without really noticing in the best way – this record sort of suspends my sense of time.

While free jazz shouldn’t make you „tune out“ mentally, you really don’t have a lot of listening „work“ to do here: The sheer, frenzied soul displayed by the very unusual set-up just carries you right through the piece. The performance of the (large) collective is so good it makes your brain forget that this is, at least supposedly, „cerebral“ music. It is also a very different approach compared to Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz: While that album was more of a thoroughly collective effort, Ascension follows a pretty tight structure that has ensemble and soloists alternating every few minutes in a specific order (everyone involved gets one solo, except Garrison and Davis on the double-basses get a duet). That’s not better or worse than Coleman’s stress on collective dynamics of development, but it does give you slightly more to hold on to structurally when you’re starting out in the genre. As the record that announced Coltrane‘s complete take-off into the stratosphere, it’s pretty bold and astounding in terms of full realisation – no „transitional“ aspects here.

Sun Ra: Disco 3000

Rating: 6.6/10
Rated as
: Album / Live
Album Status
: for Fans
Released: 1978
Recorded: 1978
Specific Genre: Free Jazz
Main Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz, Jazz
Undertones
: Free Improvisation, Jazz Fusion
Label: Saturn

1 Disco 3000 2 Third Planet 3 Friendly Galaxy 4 Dance of the Cosmo-Aliens

A straight line through a Pollock-painting

A live album by the Sun Ra quartet, taken from a reportedly busy time in Italy 1978 – there are more complete versions out there, but this LP (with a side-long jam and three shorter freak-outs) was the initial form of its release. It is not an essential release, but that doesn’t mean it’s not thoroughly entertaining for people drenched in carefree free jazz.

There is a brittle trumpet dominating the first part of the jam, sound volume shifts up and down (intentionally, I think, it sounds as if Sun Ra phases his keyboards in and out as an effect) and although there are some grooves and soloing, this is not the kind of free jazz that sounds as if its creators are constantly inspired and incessantly hit by epiphanies – this is more like a bored toddler rummaging around the attic, finding a million little things to keep her entertained for a moment, only to shift attention the next second. With Sun Ra, this approach works. In true improv-manner, Sun Ra messes with the then brand-new Crumar DS-2 synthesizer which could produce programmed rhythms – he turns those beats on and off, each of them like a straight line through a Pollock-painting. They give you the illusion you can groove for a second – but then they’re gone! Begone, structure! Sun Ra wants to chant „Space Is the Place“! (some point after the five-minute mark…)

The second side is a bit more groove-oriented, with some tribal stuff and recognisable patterns – there even is something like a song, since ‚melody prop‘ of the weird and fun jungle groove that is „Dance of the Cosmo-Aliens“ is based on „Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child“. This becomes obvious about four minutes into the track. Also, check this out if you’re looking for stuff that heavily influenced Jimi Tenor.