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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 20, No. 2

Off the Record: Long Ago and Far Away

by Marc Chénard / October 1, 2014

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John Coltrane – Offering - Live at Temple University
Resonance Records B0019632-02

Dead for 47 years, John Coltrane continues to release new albums … hitherto unpublished, of course. In November 1966, he appeared at Temple University in Philadelphia. At the time, he had embraced the cause of free jazz, tearing down all conventional jazz practices (including his own), while only leaving a brief opening theme, quickly abandoned in favour of long unbridled excursions. Such is the case in this two-disc set comprised of five pieces spread over 90 minutes. Aside from the brief title cut of four minutes, all but one of the remaining items are 20-minute plus romps, including his old warhorse My Favorite Things, the exception being his ballad Naima that clocks in at 16 minutes. In the liner notes, a witness recalls that Coltrane concerts of the era were like political rallies divided into different factions – those were the days of the radical Black Rights movements. On stage that night were his wife, pianist Alice, the vociferous tenorman Pharaoh Sanders, drummer Rashied Ali, and a fill in bassist (Sonny Johnson). Added to the lineup were a couple of percussionists and two local alto players making cameo appearances. Particularly disconcerting are Coltrane’s two vocal interjections, performed, we’re told, as he beat his chest. For late-period Coltrane, this recording is not as essential as the Japan concerts cut three months earlier, unless you can live with the low-fi recording quality, which is just a tad better than his last recorded document, the Olatunji concert of May 1967.

Jimmy Giuffre 3 & 4 – New York Concerts (1965)
Elemental Records 5990425


Largely underestimated during his lifetime, saxophonist and clarinettist Jimmy Giuffre (1921-2008) was a true visionary. His music, less spectacular than that of Coltrane, was still radical. From the West Coast musician that he was in the 1950s to the composer-arranger of works sometimes without any improvisation, this musician espoused the cause of free jazz under the influence of Ornette Coleman, his approach less boisterous, but shaped by a kind of quiet intensity. The two discs reprise two broadcasts, aired only once on Columbia University’s campus radio. The story behind this sessions is told in detail in the liner notes, but in the space allotted here we will just list the personnel: drummer Joe Chambers, bassists Richard Davis and Barre Phillips (on the first and second discs respectively), and pianist Don Freedman (on the second). The music presented here is astonishingly modern, so much so that these tracks could have been recently produced. Giuffre plays with boldness uncommon for the era, his playing sometimes reminding us of today’s leading figures in improvised music (saxophonist John Butcher for example). The notes imply on more than one occasion that the music was ahead of its time (and Giuffre paid the price, being marginalized from the scene and forced to take a teaching gig to make a living). But as Varèse said so well, no music is ahead of its time; rather, it’s the people who are behind. Yet, this document sounds remarkably more contemporary than a host of current-day recordings.

Translation: Rebecca Anne Clark

Version française...
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