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Discernment. Online

A Coltrane album with the title 'Spiritual' arouses expectations of bewildering music
In Association with

  On the final track, Trane exchanges the haunting sound of soprano saxophone for his more regular tenor sax



Contemplative jazz, but engaging

Spiritual comes from a period when saxophonist Coltrane was on a journey of spiritual self-discovery that brought forth tortured musical outpourings

John Coltrane: Spiritual
Universal Music
Rs 125

In the early '60s, John Coltrane was at the height of his performing career. His music, becoming more and more intense, was still within the bounds of mainstream jazz and universally accessible to fans. By 1965, much of his work had left the public at large bewildered and even prompted his fellow-musicians to desert his bandstand. Coltrane was on a personal journey of spiritual self-discovery that brought forth sometimes tortured outpourings of sound.

A Coltrane album with the title Spiritual inevitably, therefore, arouses expectations of recondite music that demands total attention followed by a feeling of having wasted one's time listening without pleasure and enjoyment. Especially since the notes on the cover show that the musicians performing alongside Trane here include those who, in the mid-60s, stuck with him through his more arcane experiments. How rewarding it is, then, to report that the risk one thought one was taking by picking up this album paid off. Either the received wisdom about Trane's tortured phase is exaggerated - but it can't be, because one has heard some, though not much, of it or there was only a small but significant part of it that tries the patience of all but diehard fans and critics.

The album starts with Part I: Acknowledgement of Coltrane's famous suite A Love Supreme, the composition that subtly heralded the start of the spiritual trend in his music. Minus the discordance that came later, the outpouring of his personal feeling is already very intense, while McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums provide solid support. The final track, also the title track, is one of the few on which Trane exchanges the haunting sound of soprano saxophone for his more regular tenor sax. Here he is joined by Eric Dolphy on the equally haunting bass clarinet, another musician who pushed like him at the boundaries of free jazz. The range of sound textures on this track is very wide, with a piano solo taking its turn after Coltrane's and Dolphy's.

Dear Lord, with another solo by piano, is the other number on which soprano sax is featured. Song of Praise, opening with a rare bass solo lasting nearly four minutes, has most of the rest of its ten minutes taken up with an extended improvisation on tenor sax. The Wise One and Welcome, with long rhythmless passages through which tenor and soprano sax improvise freely, heighten the haunting quality of the music on the album and add to its spiritual mood.


Published on 12 July 2002

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