JOHN COLTRANE — Meditations (review)

JOHN COLTRANE — Meditations album cover Album · 1966 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
1.5/5 ·
Abraxas
If you read the title, Meditations, then you’re aware about Coltrane's albums prior to this, you also know about Pharoah Sanders' solo albums, and finally you read: "Meditations is an extension of A Love Supreme", you go wild and think you'll listen to one of the greatest 'spritual' jazz albums ever. This is what I imagined: John and Sanders unite to play an anthemic tenor line full of strength and spiritual powder, McCoy gently enters and so does Garrison. Then the double rhythm section create an awesome African tribal rhythm, and the music evolves from there, with soulblowing solos from both sax men.

Sadly, no, it's nothing like that. There's nothing meditative on this album. Coltrane barely plays memorable and original melodies and solos. Sanders is just showing one part of himself, his chaotic side. Concerning this being labelled "..an extension of A Love Supreme", well, only the names of the compositions follows the idea of spiritual elevation and peace.

The music? Ah, it saddens me, slightly. I really don't know what John had in his mind. I mean, I sometimes fear it was the LSD or it was the damn critics that wanted him to fully embrace the "new thing" (free jazz) just for racial/social purposes, that made Trane make such dark and noisy music and yet he went and titled them like 'Compassion', 'Om', 'Love', etc.

I don't completely detest free jazz, I even find the idea pretty fascinating, like Coleman's music. But to create such turmoil, it seems pure rage without a sense of control, just free. And probably that's great for some, I've read that people liked every time John went into even nosier grounds, but I actually doubt he, the artist, was satisfied with that. I don't know why he had so much trouble finding satisfaction in his music, he was a virtuoso at his instrument and as a composer he was great, he also had great ideas, that of fusing Eastern and African music to his jazz, but he never actually did it. He added another drummer, Rashied Ali, alongside Elvin (more than a capable drummer), maybe to have a more percussive backup, but that was not it, it generated a wall of sound. McCoy sounds rather forced in making dissonant sounds, since his soloing is still his usual powerful post-bop one. Garrison could have perfectly not played at all, and we wouldn't notice any difference.

And although John and Pharoah occasionally pick-up some bells and eastern percussive instruments, it has a superficial meaning; it seems that they play them once they got bored of tearing their saxes off.

Mind you, this is not like Om which is: "1, 2, 3, NOISEEEEEEEE stop". Trane did have some ideas on his mind for this album, while restraint is sparse, on each composition you can figure out a sax melody which, however, evolves into cacophony. 'Compassion', for example, has its restrained moments, but it just seems like his older modal tunes with a busier rhythm section, while Tyner sounds so damn nervous he's hitting all the wrong chords.

'Love' and 'Serenity' seem the only tunes which are fairly listenable, with some noteworthy tenor line, although the band is there disturbing rather beautiful melodies.

I'll be sincere, this is not nice music. And I agree, not every music one listens to has to be beautiful, finely polished, etc, but I think Trane at this moment of his life, can be compared to a sort-of death metal band or something alike, it's the artist's deepest and most dark emotions set loose without a minimum conscience of what it sounds.

What really disappointed me was the idea that this album is titled Meditations and all that that I said at the beginning. Yes, now I'll state it: I do think that he made this to prove critics that he belonged to the "new thing", otherwise he could have released First Meditations instead, which is the quartet version of this album, and it's actually what I was expecting this to be.

Fan of free jazz? Get this, you'll hear tenor god, Coltrane, blowing hard, while tenor half-god, Sanders, squeaking like no one else. You'll also hear Rashied Ali and Elvin Jones fight for the drum place. Tyner? He's creating an obscure atmosphere. Garrison? Not there.

If you're not a fan of free jazz, or don't really want to hear much noise from Trane, get "First Meditations, the real extension of A Love Supreme". I’ll just add that it saddens me that Pharoah could never join forces with his master, Coltrane, to make something truly worthy.
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Abraxas wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Yeah, I get your point and respect it, and like I've said in my review, I don't hate free jazz. It was initially geniune, like most new art forms, so that was cool, even if it was hard to digest haha.
And the comparison with Pollock is great, I just want you to know that I'm actually with you on this, just that our taste diverges. I've always have celebrated originality and innovation, and stuff like Pollock's, Coleman's, the minimalist composers, which seem to be easy to play, they're fantastic.
The problem for me is when it gets into politics/social content, and just doing that for the sake of being that.

more than 2 years ago
Good point, Trane would would have been a strict adherer to MLK's non violent form of protest, and the Militant Movement which latched on to free jazz in the 60's did begin to develop a more angry attitude with much of the imagery added for affect.But it would not explain a guy like Peter Brotzmann and his Free Jazz Masterpiece Machine Gun, which sounds angrier than anything Trane did, maybe any American artist. Art is in the eye of the beholder of course, Many people still think any Monkey could do a Jackson Pollock action painting, And yet he was the only American artist of note who influenced any of the European artist to come. and I feel some Conservative jazz critics act as if this music could be done by any one just messing around, your not in the minority at all, most fans of Coltrane pretty much can't find much they like after Elvin Jones Left, and both Jones and Tyner hit the road after this, they didn't like this direction either.
Abraxas wrote:
more than 2 years ago
That's why I may not consider it actual geniune art, it was in the case of Trane that he actually didn't dig the whole separation like those black militants. He was a more peaceful guy, I think he was rather caught in between, and people expected him to join.
more than 2 years ago
Free Jazz, and Avant Garde jazz to a lesser extent, seem to have no middle ground, as polarizing as it was then, it still is, for some reason I took to later period Coltrane right off, Peter Brotzman, Ayler, Alan Silva, Cecil Taylor and others in Free Jazz. Something within the music draws me, as Brutal and Mean spirited as it can be, it was a product of the times, Everything was being challenged, all the social norms, and this music reflects the Militancy of those challenges to the system, I hear the cry of a people who were desperate to get their piece of the dream, and some of the power they lacked, this genre exclaims, Power or freedom, is not given to you, it's something you take.

Coltrane's Live in Seattle is also a worthy Trane Sanders collaboration, for those who dig Free Jazz that is.

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