MEMOS FROM A MUSIC FIEND
BY ALEJANDRO MAGAÑA
The John Coltrane Quartet: Africa/Brass
(Written the day after what would’ve been John Coltrane’s 94th birthday, and the day after the Breonna Taylor verdicts.)
Had to throw this album on this morning, one of my absolute favorite records of St. Trane’s, his eighth studio album as band leader and his first for Impulse, the fledgling label that he would shepherd out of obscurity, becoming a go-to label for many of the hottest jazz players in the ‘60s era that went from hard bop to experimentation and free.
It is the classic Quartet playing with an ‘unusual orchestra’ according to my book, “The John Coltrane Companion”: “dark and brass heavy – two trumpets, two euphoniums, four French horns and a tuba, leavened by three reeds and driven by Elvin Jones and two bassists.” The orchestral arrangement was done by the incomparable Eric Dolphy, who played alto sax, bass clarinet and flute during one of the sessions, and the legendary McCoy Tyner.
The record is really about “Africa” which takes up all of the first side on vinyl, with Coltrane’s workout of “Greensleeves” and a tasty “Blues Minor” on the B side. Put on “Africa” and play it LOUD. You will feel and first hear the bass pulse, as though the core of the earth is rumbling, Tyner doing a kind of glissando underneath, then Jones comes in, getting the heart rate up in expectation, then the reeds, as though the gestation of all life on the planet just over the horizon, and then the Trane comes over the horizon with his majestic sound, almost a roar, like a sonic solar flare, a flash of brilliance, as various horns, (the euphoniums?) split the sky like lightning with whoops and hollers, yelps of primordial life, then the rest of the brass, no the entire orchestra, explodes and PAHM PAHM! PAAAAH! PAHM PAHM! PAAAAH! and so WE ARE BORN! And chills… Every. Single. Time.
Every solo is exquisite, it’s just the planet forming, that’s all, first Trane’s sax, life, green and blue covering the earth, animals going to their rightful kingdoms, then the ‘sturm und drang’ of Workman’s bass and Tyner playing off each other, trading flurries, and Jones, Jones, architect of the skeletal sky, stars, galaxies, clouds then the thunder, Workman Mos in’ mourning, those reeds buzzing again, the howls of horns askew and on fire again and so on…until we find ourselves here.
Blue turns to red outside the veins, Breonna Taylor’s murderers will not meet justice, our blood is still blue, her family is red I’m sure, her blood was red all over her apartment where she slept, SLEPT, but something continues to happen, beasts awaken, angels and demons summoned to front lines, ST. TRANE BLESS US ALL FOR WE KNOW NOT WHAT WE DO. AMEN.
Happy Belated Birthday, John William Coltrane.