Monday, April 17, 2006

Two giants of the saxophone

Today's musical landscape has been dominated by two giants of the saxophone, and two recordings that I've talked about before on these pages. The first is from John Coltrane's excellent 'Live In Japan', that I reviewed just a few days ago - the track in question is the opening 'Afro-Blue'. The track in it's original form defined Coltrane's stance on music for the early part of the 1960s. It was also regarded as a definitive piece of Black music, and played it's part as soundtrack to the civil rights movement as much as any contemporary R&B or soul. Having played such a major part in making him, it's incredible to hear Trane rip his own legend apart in the search for true musical freedom. Chief protagonist of this iconoclastic performance is Pharoah Sanders in one of his most intense performances on disc. After a relatively conventional opening solo, Trane hands the baton onto Sanders who, over the next 5 minutes, sheds all notions of traditional melody or jazz harmony. Fans of Pharoah's music will be accustomed to his use of overtones, but here he simply blows hard, hard, hard and drags the group along with him into his new jazz world. Trane himself never quite reaches the same level of intensity, but his second solo, on soprano this time, sees him exploring deeply throughout it's remarkable 17-minute length.

On a different tack, I've also been listening to Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, specifically his album recorded with the great Bobo Stenson in 1975, 'Dansere'. The title track is the one to look for here - at 15 minutes the longest on the album, and also the most satisfying in terms of structure and harmonic resolution - despite being inventive and going exactly where it needs to go, in the end the whole thing wraps up just as you would wish it to. Garbarek began his career heavily influenced by Coltrane (like pretty much every saxophonist of his era), and some of that influence is audible here in his tone, although Garbarek takes a more measured approach to melody and improvisation on this track than Coltrane did in his later works.

These are both hefty pieces of music, but do take the time (39 minutes) to listen to 'Afro-Blue' on the radio player, it's an experience we should all have at least once.

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