Thursday, January 19, 2012
John Coltrane, THE OLATUNJI CONCERT: THE LAST LIVE RECORDING
Impulse!, 2001; available
3 tracks, 63:46
While the late John Coltrane needs no introduction, this album definitely deserves a better reputation. Taking up tenor and soprano sax, Coltrane is accompanied by drummer Rashied Ali, pianist (and wife) Alice Coltrane, Bata drummer Algie DeWitt, bassist Jimmy Garrison, Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax, and a percussionist who was possibly Jumma Santos*. This show was the first of two concerts performed on April 22 of 1967 at New York's Olatunji Center. After a brief introduction by Billy Taylor, the group launches into an extended free-form version of "Ogunde". Based on an Afro-Brazilian folk tune, it's completely ferocious high-energy jazz. Coltrane and Sanders trade screeches and fluid lines, with Sanders providing most of the former. Alice and Garrison do a good job, but admittedly the rough recording quality makes a lot of their contributions inaudible. The three percussionists, on the other hand, are VERY audible throughout. The constant crash of standard kit drums and exotic percussion never lets up, and by the time "Ogunde"'s twenty-eight minutes are over, you wonder how it could possibly get more intense. A brief respite comes with Garrison's extended introductory bass solo on "My Favorite Things". This mellow rhythmic excursion is soon transformed into an extended (34:38 with the bass solo!) version of that old chestnut. Don't expect this to be ANYTHING like the "My Favorite Things" you know! This is easily one of the most intense performances caught on tape, and by the time it's over you wish the second show of the day (and the May 7th concert, Coltrane's last) had been recorded. Unfortunately, the previously mentioned audio deficiencies have cast a negative light on this album. Most listeners have complained it's bootleg quality; well, this was recorded for a radio broadcast and not for general release. I personally think the sound quality adds to this particular recording's ferocity and energy, and wholeheartedly recommend it to free jazz fans.
*Yes, the credits say "possibly". Nobody seems to remember if this percussionist was Jumma Santos or somebody else, but the odds are in Santos' favor.