Friday, May 30, 2014

John Coltrane Live in Seattle

There are moments when the world seems to turn in a new direction, and that was the case in 1965 when jazz music appeared headed in an all new direction.  John Coltrane wasn't the first musican to explore free jazz (Ornette Coleman had already made it into an art form), but his bold steps in this direction that year turned the jazz world on its ear.

I suppose that was because listeners had become comfortable with his lush ballads like those on My Favorite Things. However,  A Love Supreme, recorded in late 1964, signaled he was ready to move on.  Widely regarded as his best album, it evoked a deeper, more meditative chord than any of his previous works, opening the door to a greater range of sounds and expressions as if he had unlocked some hidden gate with the chant that appears throughout the four parts of this singular work.

But, critics were taken aback when he went completely atonal in 1965.  It was under such a cloud of controversy that Coltrane came to Seattle in October of that year for a concert at a small club in Pioneer Square.  In addition to his well-known rhythm section, Pharoah Sanders joined him on tenor sax  and Donald Garrett added an additional double bass.

Jan Kurtis didn't know what to expect so he brought everything he had in the way of recording equipment to the show that night.  The result is a live recording that stands out as one of Coltrane's best -- Live in Seattle.  There's some unwanted background noise in parts, but that is hard to avoid.  Coltrane was apparently so impressed with what he heard the next day that he asked Kurtis to record an album in his Camelot Studio -- Om.  The MP3 recordings don't do the music justice, but at least they give you a feel.

It is easy to split Trane at this stage of his career.  There were those who preferred to hold onto the old melodic Coltrane, and there were those who chose to embrace the brash new Coltrane.  But, it wasn't like it was a great leap.  The process had evolved from the late 50s with his first exploration into Hindu and Muslim music on Giant Steps.  It was one of the reasons he left Miles Davis.  You can still sense the Blues rhythms in his later works, but they have been bent and reshaped by his greater awareness of music as a whole.

Hard to think of this music as history, especially as it sounds much more contemporary than much of what we hear today, but this was nearly 50 years ago.


  1. I was there. I remember the ambience, the equipment, the musicians. I nursed a bourbon and tried to make sense if what was passing into my brain. Two basses, Pharaoh screeching and roaring. A wall of unintelligible sound and force. I left puzzled and strangely upset. I am still mystified after49 years.

  2. I certainly wish I had been there, but I would have been in my diapers ; )