Coltrane, R.E.M., Beginnings, Endings

September 24, 2011 at 1:05 am Leave a comment

September 23 is John Coltrane’s birthday, right?

It’s for that reason that when the last-minute opportunity came up to sub for DJ Fo early Friday morning, Sept. 23, on KZSU, I took it, against my better judgement. (Because I’d have to get up early, because I have a job… stuff like that.)

I figured I could make it easier on myself by celebrating Coltrane’s birthday with a couple of long tracks and an album I’d picked up a couple of years ago: Live in France, July 27/28, 1965, a two-CD set on Gambit Records.

All the jazz greats have scads of random, piecemeal albums in their names — live sessions, “best-of” compilations, that sort of thing. The reason I bought this one: It’s got “Ascension” on it, twice. Played by just the classic quartet (Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison, Jones), not the full, screaming version. It was too much to resist.

And you know what? Pared down, “Ascension” comes across like a normal Coltrane song. The solo has its overblowing and dissonance, but it feels more polished. McCoy Tyner’s piano, eclipsed by the band on the Ascension album, comes back to being the center of gravity.

Anyway. “Naima,” “Ascension,” and “My Favorite Things” — the latter two segueing into each other via a tremendous Elvin Jones solo — made for a 40-minute block that I could use to work on other tasks, unobtruded, while legitimately spreading the word the way college radio is supposed to. I’d originally planned to let the CD continue into the 21-minute version of “Impressions,” but I was mentally ready to step back into DJ mode by then, so I decided to cut things short.

It turns out these July 1965 recordings are indirectly famous, partly for not being released before Gambit’s CD pressing in 2009, and partly because they’d happened one and two days after the only known live performance of the complete “A Love Supreme.” You can read more about it at JazzWrap (or in the liner notes of the CD.)

(I’m listening to the original “Ascension” now. Coltrane’s solo is so primal, so intense. It’s as if he needed the energy of that large grouping to get the escape velocity he wanted. Dewey Johnson turns in a more-than-capable trumpet solo — gotta find out more about him someday — and then Pharoah Sanders comes in like a chainsaw.)

I did one other thing on this show that I thought was cool. It’s customary for jazz radio hosts to celebrate musicians who have recently passed. In that spirit, and because R.E.M. had split up less than 24 hours earlier, I broke format for about 4 minutes to spin “Wolves, Lower,” off the Chronic Town EP from so very long ago. It was a celebration partly of my own youth and partly of the influence and effect R.E.M. had on college radio. They were part of the era that, for me, really defined what college radio is supposed to be, a spirit that’s fading fast. I hadn’t heard this song in years. Those four minutes meant a lot to me.

Full playlist can be found in KZSU’s database, here. I stuck to Fo’s format, which is a wider spectrum of jazz than I play, so you’ll see a more accessible selection of music than on my normal playlists.

Entry filed under: blather, playlists. Tags: , .

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