JOHN COLTRANE — Concert In Japan (review)

JOHN COLTRANE — Concert In Japan album cover Live album · 1973 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
js
“John Coltrane Concert in Japan” does not have very good sound quality, but it is an important example of an important group at a time of important development. Back when this album was recorded (1966), it seemed all avant-garde jazz was poorly recorded, as if that was one more way of avoiding commercialism and/or the establishment. To this day I sometimes wonder if that was the case for some of the early free jazz albums. By 1966, free jazz was not exactly new anymore, but it was still fairly new to a lot of people and it would still take a few more years for free jazz to become an accepted part of the jazz world.

Although very much an avant-garde album when it was recorded, Coltrane’s playing on here is mostly tonal as he delivers sheets of modal scales and pentatonic colors. Pharoh Sanders, on the other hand, is more apt to slip into screams and exclamations, as well as making his saxophone sound like a pre-colonial African reed instrument no where near the European concert invention it is. Rashied Ali’s drumming continues the African vibe as he is able to sound like a large African percussion ensemble by himself. Alice Coltrane supplies cascading scales and chords, often imitating an Indian tamboura in the way she provides a constant background for the soloists. Jimmy Garrison on bass is the only person left from Coltrane’s more traditional previous group, but unfortunately you can barely hear him at all.

If Sanders and Ali bring an African sound, the Coltranes often seem to be channeling classical Indian music with John’s relaxed opening to “Peace on Earth” sounding much like a morning raga. The way the two Coltranes build their improvisations again recalls Indian ragas. Although, “Peace on Earth”, mostly lives up to its name, the rest of the music on here is quite intense, especially when Sanders gets everyone fired up with his fierce repeating atonal scales. On the closing track, Sanders and Coltrane finally solo together and what a hell raiser that is. Too bad there was not more of their simultaneous improvs on here.
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