The Finnegans Wake of jazz
Eric Krupin | Salt Lake City, UT | 12/16/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It occurred to me while listening to this record just now that Coltrane's career had a similar arc to that of James Joyce.
James Joyce wrote "Dubliners". John Coltrane recorded "Giant Steps". An instantly recognized classic in a distinctive new idiom.
James Joyce wrote "Ulysses". John Coltrane recorded "A Love Supreme". A masterpiece so revolutionary that some felt vaguely disturbed by it.
James Joyce wrote "Finnegans Wake". John Coltrane - probably knowing that this would be his final spring on Earth - walked on stage in an African center in Harlem on April 3, 1967 and played this music. Either genius or madness... but only a genius could say with certainty which.
I'll call it genius. Certainly - as even its detractors must acknowledge - all-but-superhuman in its musical and emotional intensity. Knowing as we do the death-shadowed nature of this performance, it can't help but seem as if Coltrane is trying to hurl whatever dwindling force remains in his physical being out towards his Creator through the medium of a Selmer saxophone.
In light of the above drama - not to mention its contribution towards remedying the unfortunate under-documentation of one of the great unheralded free jazz pianists: Alice Coltrane - you'll excuse my not considering it a dealbreaker that it wasn't recorded in Dolby 5.1 Surround. I've got some horizon-expanding for those who consider this below-average bootleg quality... You'd be surprised how low in the fi department a truly passionate fan of the artist can still find the music. There are bootlegs marketed to these people.
To use a what I hope will be a more fixed reference point for most readers: I say it starts about halfway between FM and AM quality, and slowly degrades about halfway closer to AM quality. Is this a level that will require the listener to, you know, actively pay attention to appreciate what's being played? Sure.
But only those who recognize that - whether they end up "liking" it or not - this final, anarchic, soul-shriving stage in Coltrane's decade-long explosion of artistry must be respectfully attended to by any serious student of the work will be interested in such music to begin with.
I personally experience the sound quality as almost a protective shield between my eardrums and the savagery of the rasping overblown notes. While I bet it would indeed have been an almost religiously cathartic experience to attend this concert in person, I also bet that few of those who did left without a headache."