Ninth Week: October 11th – 17th, 2015

Very late this week. I had a few things come up last week and I didn’t have enough time to listen to all the records in the allotted time-frame, but who cares? The point of this is to listen new music, so I listened to a few records on the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday after Saturday the 17th.

Ten records a week, it shouldn’t be that hard, but it is!

1. Idris Muhammad – Black Rhythm Revolution [1971]

I learned of Idris Muhammad because I saw that Pharoah Sanders played with him (though not on this record).

This record is funk/soul jazz, and I think it’s alright, but that’s it. It doesn’t groove the way other funk records of the time do, and it doesn’t jazz like other stuff from that era. I think that allmusic’s review of it kind of nails it, “Black Rhythm Revolution is not a bad album at all; in fact, most of the tracks are good to great, with the lengthy bookends ‘By the Red Sea’ and ‘Wander’ both featuring memorable grooves and tight, compact solos. It’s just considerably less intense than the title might lead one to believe.”

I agree, particularly with the last sentence, and I think that By the Red Sea is probably the best track on this record. That’s the one song that doesn’t feel like someone tried to force jazz and funk together.

2. John Coltrane – Ascension [1966]

Pretty dope record, but you know, Ornette Coleman did this already in 1960 with Free Jazz. Now I’m not saying that no one else should have made a record with collective improvisation, but why is Coltrane getting the credit for “lighting the free jazz candle” with this record?

Anyway, I like it, and it’s a little easier to digest than Free Jazz, and maybe that’s why people gave Ascension more credit. Some of the solos on this record do this thing where they start playing a line, but only play 4 notes. Then they’ll play those 4 notes again, then do it again and add a few more. Kind of like starting a car in the winter. As a kid, whenever I heard solos like that, I thought they try and play something but get it wrong. Now I think that it’s just a weird embellishment.

3. Don Cherry – Symphony for Improvisers [1967]

Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, free jazz! What’s not to like? I don’t know, probably nothing, but I’m not that into it on the first listen.

I do like that it’s a bigger group, and sometimes more than one person solos. I also think that Manhattan Cry is better than the title track.

4. John Coltrane – Meditations [1966]

Oh man, this is a hoot so far. The Father the Son and the Holy Ghost is a complete mess. The drums and bass sound like a giant boulder rolling down a mountain side, and Coltrane and Sanders are like two deranged birds of prey that follow it. It’s similar to the free jazz that I like (Ornette Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Sharrock, Anthony Braxton), so that’s maybe that’s why I had an immediate connection to it.

The next two songs are different from The Father the Son and the Holy Ghost. They’re more ballad-y and bebop-y. Then Consequences is like the first track, but not as extreme.

5. Pharoah Sanders – Black Unity [1971]

Long, tenacious grooves, but different than Izipho Zam, Karma, and Jewels of Thought. Less “spiritual”, sounds of the forest stuff, and there’s a piano which I don’t believe those three other records have. Also, some synthesizers.

I think I dig it more than those three.

6. Funkadelic – Maggot Brain [1971]

Whoooooooa!

How did I never listen to this record before? I’m realizing that I don’t really know a lot of Funkadelic and that’s bringing me down. I think what happened is that when I was a kid I got a P-Funk collection and knew it front to back. Then immediately after that, downloads became a thing and I probably downloaded some more songs, but not full records. But that’s a good thing, I have more awesome music to discover. (I do know and love Mothership Connection, so not all street cred is lost).

Anyway, stone cold grooves here left and right. The title track, which is the first track, might sound campy at first. It’s got a guitar playing arpeggios that’ll make you think you’re listening to Nothing Else Matters. Anyway, then Eddie Hazel solos all over the place and it’s incredible.

7. John Coltrane – Kulu Sé Mama [1967]

So far (just finished the first track, Kulu Sé Mama) and this is a very different record from Coltrane’s other stuff (but in the vein of the two I listened to this week). This song sounds like it could be on a Pharoah Sanders record – it has the same groove Sanders’ records have, percussion, someone singing in a language I don’t know, but it’s also grittier.

The second song, Vigil, has an excellent drums sound that I would put against any more recent recording. Also, I think it’s just Coltrane and Elvin Jones playing together and it’s pretty dope. Didn’t Coltrane make a whole record of just him and a drummer? I want to listen to that.

To be honest, I’m not a fan of Coltrane’s earlier stuff like Blue Train and Giant Steps, so I always took him as this jazz guy who’s obviously a great player, but I never bought 100% into the fuss. This record, along with Meditations and Ascension, makes me look at him differently and have a new appreciation for him and his music. I’m excited to hear more of his later records.

8. Albert Ayler – New Grass [1968]

This record is semi-free jazz and semi-R&B. Most songs are basically soul or sound like they could be on the soundtrack for The Blues Brothers, but Ayler’s playing over them is, you know, nuts. The record also sounds happier compared to his other records, but maybe it’s just the R&B. “Happier”, the hell does that mean in this context?

New Generation is probably my favorite song, but there are a lot of other good tracks here, so I need to listen to it a few more times.

9. Albert Ayler – My Name is Albert Ayler [1964]

This is Albert Ayler’s first record. It only has one composition that he wrote, and the rest are standards, like Bye Bye Blackbird, Billie’s Bounce, and Summertime.

So the first track is Albert Ayler introducing himself and talking about how he started playing, and it’s kind of a nice touch. The music is interesting for several reasons. One, I don’t think he played with that band very long. The musicians are all Danish and the record was made in Denmark, so I feel like he met them a couple of days before recording, or maybe not even that, and went in the studio. Then their playing is the straightest playing you can imagine, none of them is trying to do anything crazy, and they really sort of just “stick to the program”. They’d make a great Mariano’s band, and I don’t mean that as an offense to them or to the Mariano’s dudes, but you know, they don’t do anything that would cause someone to turn their head. On the other hand, Ayler’s playing is free. On Bye Bye Blackbird his soprano saxophone sounds out of tune almost the whole time. Same thing on On Green Dolphin Street, except it’s a tenor here. However, it’s not as wild as his playing on his other records.

The last track, CT, is Ayler’s composition and it’s also the one where the rest of the band is stepping outside of the frame and try something new. The drummer still swings a little but goes back and forth between accentuating Ayler’s playing or the bass player’s playing. It’s pretty great and makes me think that maybe he did know these guys for more than a couple of days. There’s no piano on this track, which makes sense, because I always feel like the piano is holding the free jazz bands back.

10. Alice Coltrane – Ptah, the El Daoud [1970]

Woof! This record sounds great! It’s huge and has an amazing mix. It was recorded in Coltrane’s home studio and a picture of that place from 1970 shows one mono Ampex 440 and one stereo Ampex 440. Maybe it was recorded live to stereo?

Musically speaking it’s a very good record and has some great solos by Pharoah Sanders and Joe Henderson on the title track. Turiya and Ramakrishna isn’t as impressive because the piano is a bit corny, but I still dig it. Blue Nile sounds a lot like something that could be on a Sanders record (harp, flute, the way the drums are played).

Overall, I like this record better than Journey in Satchidananda, but I wonder if it has to do with the fact that I listened to Journey on a week where I listened to freer jazz, so it didn’t seem all that mind-blowing in comparison. This week I listened to a lot of John Coltrane records and other stuff that sits close to Ptah, the El Daoud.

I think Mantra might be my favorite for now.

Spotify playlist here. They didn’t have that Idris Muhammad record, and also didn’t have Albert Ayler’s CT, so I had to improvise.

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