Rocking A Love Supreme

Karl Evangelista/GrexA Love Supreme (Brux, 2017)

coversmallYou can tell from the start that this isn’t a conventional reading of A Love Supreme, and not just because it’s guitar-based. Karl Evangelista and the band Grex start the piece with the same kind of wide-open introduction as the original, but in a voice that suggests what’s to come: a hard-digging psychedelic guitar opera.

With guitar and keys, bass and drums, and a couple of sparkling trumpet solos, it’s a satisfying treatment — a 25-minute EP being released as precursor to Grex’s next album. The structure of the four-movement piece remains intact, and there’s even a drum solo to open “Pursuance,” as on the original. What’s different is the transformation of the themes into rock form. Check out “Resolution,” where Evangelista plays the snakey composed line while Grex backs him with sinister chords.

The seminal moment of the original piece is Coltrane singing the “a love supreme” chant at the end of “Acknowledgement.” I can’t┬ábelieve I never noticed this, but Coltrane sings his phrase in each of the 12 different keys. On Grex’s version, it’s the band who plays that theme, hopping from key to key while Evangelista’s guitar dances over the fast-shifting landscape.

The rock treatment is interesting when you consider that the original is based on wide-open modal playing — no ostinato, no riffs to clutch onto. Rock, of course, relies on repeated themes and rhythms that back the solos. It’s a fun translation, as “Pursuance” turns into a head-bobbing rocker with a solo of fuzz and feedback. “Psalm” becomes a cooldown study in slow-burning guitar and electric piano.

Listen to (and buy) the whole album at Bandcamp.

Coltrane, R.E.M., Beginnings, Endings

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.

Playlists: Aug. 14, 2009, for Rashied Ali

At The 20th Annual Clifford Brown Jazz Fest, source: rashiedali.comI had the privilege of paying tribute to Rashied Ali on the air twice today. He died Wednesday at the age of 76.

Seventy-six wasn’t so old to Ali. Take a listen to his new Live in Europe album, recorded very recently with his working quintet. Two of the tracks burn hard for more than 25 minutes, and his drum solo early in “Theme for Captain Black” shows he could still positively shred.

source: rashiedali.orgThat quintet builds off compositions brighter in mood and lighter in spirit than the late-phase Coltrane works that have come to define Ali’s career. Lawrence Clarke on sax blazes through his solos, keeping up the energy level propelled by Ali’s continual whirlwind.

And we’re definitely talking about compositions, a departure from the freely improvised jazz I’d come to know Ali for. The unchallenging nature of the quintet’s two Judgment Day studio CDs left me scratching my head a bit, but the live album’s got me converted. It’s not like Ali was using this band to take a breather.

Dig around this page of CD reviews on Ali’s Web site, and you’ll see him mention comparisons to Art Blakey, the drummer/bandleader who surrounded himself with younger players, to keep his mind sharp. That seems to be the MO with the quintet.

Getting to the playlists, though:

First, I subbed for DJ Fo‘s “No Cover No Minimum” (6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.), an excellent show that embraces a more mainstream stripe of jazz than my show does. That seemed a good venue for putting some Judgment Day tracks out there, and I aired the full 30-minute version of “Thing for Joe” that’s on the live album. Ali’s solo comes towards the end, so latecomers had plenty of time to catch it. Click here for the full playlist.

Then came my regular show (3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.), where I chose to pack a Rashied Ali tribute into the middle “hour.” (The final tally was 90 minutes.) Worth it. Here’s the box score:

source: mog* Rashied Ali, Louie Belogenis — “Takedawitcha” — Rings of Saturn (Knitting Factory, 1998) ….. A 10-minute opener that culminates in a terrific Ali solo. Ali recorded a few albums with Belogenis around the turn of the century, pursuing aggressive free jazz with no small nod to Coltrane.

* Rashied Ali, Louie Belogenis, Wilbur Morris — “Norfolk Street Run Down” (DIW, 2001) ….. I’d picked this one just for the flavor of active group work, expecting to fade it early, but ended up running nearly all its 13-minute length. Same concept as above, but with the late Morris adding bass depth. Ali takes the type of solo that source: squidcoconsists of a rhythmic pounding, a fast and difficult pounding that makes you sweat just listening to it.

* Rashied Ali, Peter Kowald, Assif Tsahar — “Deals, Ideas & Ideals” ….. Deals, Ideas & Ideals (Hopscotch, 2000) ….. Another sax/bass trio, but taking one big step sideways away from ‘Trane, into more abstract stylings, particularly on Kowald’s part. We were still in Fast Saxophone Land here, but the shift in styles was a welcome change of pace.

source: wikipedia* Henry Rollins — [Tracks 7 & 8] — Everything (2.13.61, 1996) ….. This is a 2-CD set of Rollins reading a prepared work: the same bile you’re used to, but delivered less recklessly. Ali and Charles Gayle provide the “score” for parts of the piece, and the final, eighth, track of the album is just the two of them, no Henry, for 15 minutes of free blowing. To avoid the CD’s minefield of swear words, I excerpted Rollins’ final two minutes, which get stoically mournful and despairing (culminating in a weary, defeated voice: “and then there was nothing”) before giving way to that 15-minute ending.

source:* John Coltrane — “Leo” — Interstellar Space (Impluse, 1967; reissued 1994) ….. It’s fast and choppy, but once you’re picked up in its momentum, you can hear “Leo” as an exercise in precision and discipline. With the disruptive opening, I can see why they left it off the original LP. But it’s an excellent track, with fluid drumming by Ali in his prime.

* John Coltrane — “To Be” — Expressions (Impulse, 1967) ….. A quiet 16 minutes, with ‘Trane on flute and Pharoah Sanders on piccolo. I considered this a palette cleanser. Ali works with brushes most of the time, filling space with fast scribbles on the snare and on cymbals. It’s the kind of track where the drummer, though source: jazz.comproviding a high percentage of the sound, is pushed to the background. It wasn’t easy trying to concentrate my ears on Ali, and I’m not sure I “learned” anything doing so, but I was glad to have included this one in the program.

* Rashied Ali Quintet — “Theme for Captain Black” [excerpt] — Live in Europe (Survival, 2009) ….. Played this one up through that shredding solo I mentioned up top. He avoids the cymbals for so long at one point, concentrating on marvelous rolling tom and snare work. The lack of cymbals feels unflashy, but the speed and showmanship just wrap you up. We should all be so lucky at 76. It leaves me feeling like Ali had a lot more work to do.

Click here for the full 3:00-6:00 p.m. playlist.